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Bill Bergeman


How to Be a Good Friend

All my life I've been shy.

While I think I have an open, friendly demeanor, the shyness tends to overshadow any friendliness, and often people end up thinking I'm aloof, even strange.

Over the years, this conundrum has forced me to be more thoughtful about how to develop positive relationships with people.

From observation, I believe that people who breezily get along with others usually don't know how they do it - it's just something they're naturally good at, so if you ask them to break down the steps they would just give you a strange look.

On the other hand, I've had to think through specific tactics to connect with people. Today, while shyness is still a challenge for me, I think I'm significantly better at making and maintaining friendships than when I was younger.

    1. People remember how you make them feel.

    So if you want to establish a positive connection with someone, give them the feels. Tell them they look good in their outfit, tell them they appear fit, applaud them on some achievement, whatever. You want to make sure each interaction with them is an opportunity for them to feel better about themselves.

    2. Calibrate the amount of time you speak.

    How much you speak should change depending on how much the other person is comfortable speaking.

    If you're an introvert and you're trying to connect with another introvert, you may need to dial up the conversation more than you're comfortable doing. On the other hand, if you're trying to be friends with a chipper extrovert, feel free to dial down the chatter.

    A good rule of thumb is to speak about 30% of the time and let the other person speak about 70% of the time. From that baseline, calibrate up or down based on the other person's comfort with dialogue.

    3. Always, always follow through with your word.

    If you say you're going to do something, do it. Every time.

    If you say you're going to pick someone up at the airport at 8, be there at 7:55. If you promise to join someone for a run at 6:00, don't skip it and don't show up at 6:20 thinking everything will be okay. I've made this mistake far too many times.

    Trust is the glue that holds any relationship together. Break it at your own risk.

    4. Join the club.

    It helps to make friends with people who share similar values and interests. That said, we are not always able to connect with such people. For those occasions, it helps to have a level of flexibility to do things the other person wants to do, even if it's not typically in your wheelhouse.

    Don't be afraid to join their club. You might end up liking it.

    5. Don't be a jerk.

    It never ends well. Just don't do it.

    6. Be "enthusiastic +1."

    It never hurts to be the upbeat, positive person in the room. If you bring positive energy, you'll attract positive people.

    I think of this approach as "Enthusiasm +1."

    In other words, be enthusiastic and then add just a bit more positive energy above that point. It's subjective, but you'll know where your enthusiasm comfort level ends. That's the point to dial it up +1.

    Don't go beyond +1, though. Then you just become clownish and annoying!

    7. Be an intentional listener.

    Everyone has had the experience of talking with someone and that person is clearly not present. They're looking at their phone, they're looking over your shoulder, and they're scarcely making eye contact.

    Do the opposite. Make strong eye contact, really listen to what the other person says, repeat back what they say, ask sincere questions, and keep the damn phone in your pocket. We love when people do this for us, so we need to do the same when creating a positive bond with someone.

    8. Remember the little things.

    Whether it's their favorite meal, a trip they've always wanted to take, something they said about a particular film, or whatever, you want to remember these things. Because when you bring them up later, they will be impressed you remembered and it will create a strong bond. See #7 above for more information.

    9. Know when you need time to recharge.

    This is especially true if you're an introvert, but it applies to everyone. If you're tired and lack enthusiasm, you're not going to have a great interaction. Sometimes it's best to just tell someone you need to skip the hike or the party so you can rest. Live to fight another day.

    10. Know when to walk away, and know when to run.

    Sometimes, despite your best intentions, you end up in a friendship with a toxic person. In this scenario, no matter what you do things will not work out. It may happen quickly or it may take years, but eventually, the relationship will end.

    Sometimes, you have to be strong enough to walk away from these relationships. Other times you need to RUN. If you've been friends with such people, you know what I'm talking about.

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