I met my high school boyfriend when I was upset and swung open my locker door so fast I banged him on the head as he was leaning into his locker. Not everyone can take such a first encounter in stride let alone retort with a grin, “If this is how you treat strangers how do handle enemies?” This unflappable humor made us instant friends and helps in his work now as an ER doctor.
I met one of my closest girlfriends at a fundraiser dinner when a big donor at our table made a snide comment to us about a homely woman at the adjacent table. My soon-to-be-friend responded warmly to him, acting as if he meant his insult as a compliment about that lady. In so doing she warmed us up towards her and deflected him from continuing that line of “humor.”
“The best time to make friends is before you need them.” ~Ethel Barrymore
Here are six ways we draw people to us:
1. When someone is snide or otherwise rude, thoughtless or difficult in front of others, rather than acting affronted, interpret their words or actions as if they meant well. That way that person has the opportunity to self-correct and save face rather than feel cornered by your correcting him so he escalates his negative behavior.
2. Use self-deprecating humor that highlights an admirable trait in her – especially one that matters to her, at the expense of your own related trait. In so doing she flourishes around you. When others like how they feel when around you they will like you.
Some effortlessly make friends with all kinds of people. For the rest of us it helps to understand how they draw people to them. Having just a few close friendships is especially vital in this increasingly connected yet more transient world.
Thankfully even apparently small behaviors can make a huge difference in our ability to make friends.
“In my friend, I find a second self.” ~Isabel Norton
3. College students living in the center of dorms tend to have more friends than those at the end of the halls. Those in center offices have more relationships with colleagues than those who work in the corners of buildings. Those who sit side-by-side in just one meeting will feel more comfortable with each other later than with others in the meeting yet will not usually know why.
This so-called Proximity Effect is discussed in Rom and Ori Brafman’s new book Click. When you want to get to know someone, find a way to sit or stand next to them in some situation – the more times the better.
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too?” ~ C.S. Lewis
While it’s obvious that people like people who are like them the extent of this so-called Similarity Effect is considerably deeper than I would have thought. For example, in a study cited in Click, if a woman asked me for a donation, she would have double the chance of getting me to give if she was wearing a nametag with my name on it.
That’s why bonding happens when people first meet and ask those innocuous yet safe questions about where they live, work, went to school or grew up. Once you find a shared interest – the deeper the better – explore it further. I’m drawn, for example, to other avid readers.
“Probably no man ever had a friend that he did not dislike a little.” ~E.W. Howe
To connect with someone, here’s the warning – we are wired to respond sooner, longer and more intensely to the negative rather than the positive things someone else does. It’s our primitive brain wiring to survive – Fight or Flight Syndrome.
Yet when we are physically close to someone when seems much different than us then we are likely to feel, not more positive, but more negative towards that person than if she was further away. That’s why, for example, that students in racially mixed high schools are more likely to be racist.
People like people who are like them and people like people who like them.
Here’s why that’s important, especially when you first meet or re-meet someone. Focus on finding the things about that person that are most like you and that you like:
A. Speak first about those traits you share.
B. Speak next about what you honestly respect or like about that person.
Keep those feelings and thoughts top-of-mind so that you feel, act and speak to that side of the person. That’s relationship glue-building. If you start to get irritated about something don’t focus on the feeling. Instead turn your mind to one of their positive traits.
There’s a double benefit for you in practicing this. Your capacity to befriend those who are not like you enables you to:
A. Lead a richer, more varied life where you may have diverese adventures and work and social opportunities.
B. You will be able to recognize and express more facets of your temperament and use your talents in more varied ways.
“Friends are relatives you make for yourself.” ~Eustache Deschamps
5. Those who make friends most easily are what psychologist Mark Snyder has dubbed “high self-monitors.” The Brafmans call them social chameleons. When done consciously, followers of NLP call this mirroring and matching. Without effort or an attempt to manipulate however chameleons instinctively bring out the facet of their personality that is most like the person they are with.
As Rita Carter suggests in Multiplicity, we have many people inside of us. Some people bring out our worst sides and we dislike them for that effect.
“Without wearing any mask we are conscious of, we have a special face for each friend.” ~Oliver Wendell Holmes
These chameleons bring out the best side on more kind of people. Sometimes that makes them adept instigators of projects, or facilitators of teams with diverse personalities. They may become the glue that sticks the group together. See how much of a self-monitor you are.
The downside is in deepening friendships as high self-monitors may not demonstrate how they feel but rather what they feel is wanted by others. As with any strength there’s a flip side. The good news is that, in understanding both the strength and the disadvantage of such chameleon behavior, we recognize the value of it in the beginning to create the familiarity that builds trust.
“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive.” ~Anäis Nin
6. I love to design and arrange furniture and glass lighting yet have difficulty with even minor computer problems. One of my dearest friends is a gadget geek who helps me with computer fixes and advises me about if and when to buy the shiny new thing. And I thoroughly enjoyed creating Danish/Italian-style sofas, chairs and a dining table for the home he just bought.
Those who keenly aware of their talents are more likely to see the benefits in befriending individuals with different ones because such relationships enable them to accomplish greater things for each other – or together. This is the Complementarity Effect. Sure we can find most anything online yet we can’t be an expert at everything. Having friends who have different talents and interests makes life easier and more enjoyable.
“If a man does not make new acquaintances as he advances through life, he will soon find himself alone. A man should keep his friendships in constant repair.” ~Samuel Johnson
We have to go out of our way to keep such friendships strong because we have different top interests and ways of thinking, talking or doing things. Yet research shows that we tend to take for granted that which comes easily to us and to value that which we work at maintaining.
Here’s to cultivating and keeping ever-deepening relationships to savor life together.
“It takes a long time to grow an old friend.” ~John Leonard