2 ways to build and maintain friendships

I've written various posts on the topic of friendship in recent weeks, and with good reason. Friendships constitute an integral part of our lives, and, let's be honest -- it doesn't get any easier to make new friends or attend to the ones we already have as we get older and busier.

Still, with a little time and effort, we can continue to forge new friendships while maintaining existing ones.

Here are two ways to help facilitate this:

1. Zero in on commonalities, but express interest in other aspects of the person's life as well. If you're like me, you share different interests with different friends. Maybe you have a health-conscious buddy with whom you dine and hit the gym, a fellow sports-loving friend who accompanies you to ballgames, and a friend from high school whom you occasionally visit at home to catch up.

Whether it's a friend who haven't spoken to in a while or someone you've just met who seems to have "friendship" potential, bringing your shared interests to the fore makes the other person like you more. It's just human nature for us to gravitate to those who like the same things we do.

In addition, you should also express interest in other things in the person's life that mean a lot to them, even if you can't exactly relate to the individual in that regard.

For example, if your friend is a new parent (and you're not), it would mean a lot to them if you asked how the baby is doing and offered to babysit should they ever need a hand. Or, perhaps they got a new job and would appreciate friends like you inquiring into how things are going for them.

2. Doing little things goes a long way. As I've noted in other posts, reciprocity can make the difference between a long-lasting friendship and one that fizzles out after a month. In social psychology, it means people are compelled to give back (reciprocate) the kind of treatment they receive from others. If you scratch people's backs -- say, do them a favor, give them a gift, or pay them a nice compliment -- they'll be much more inclined to scratch yours.

We not only like people who share our interests, but those who take the time to do nice things for us.

Does this mean these strategies will work with every current and prospective friend?

Not if the other person refuses to do their part.

If they are too busy or indifferent to put at least a little time into the friendship, they're more likely to take your efforts for granted. If that's the case, they're not much of a friend at all, and you're better off redirecting your energies to people who show you mean more to them.

There's a reason why most people need only one hand to count the number of true friends in their lives. They're the ones who will be grateful for these kinds of gestures and return them in kind.

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