As human beings, we’re social creatures. This means that friendships are a crucial component of our wellbeing and growth as a person.
There are many different types of friendships, but usually they begin when we find ourselves in the same situation as another person. For example, we might meet someone in a tutorial group, a sports team or at work. You may find yourself developing a familiar relationship because you know each other's names and have a shared experience to talk about. Over time and as you get to know each other better, casual relationships like this can develop into closer friendships.
Close friends are people you not only like, but trust. They're the sort of friends you can talk to about important topics and personal issues such as family, health issues or concerns, and relationships. Difficult issues can come up in friendships that we struggle to talk about. From sensitive political topics to issues we fear others will judge us on, avoiding challenging conversations in any relationship can fuel resentment or damage our connection with each other.
Below you will find three common blocks (barriers and misconceptions) that can prevent us from forming healthy friendships.
I don't meet anyone
Put yourself in environments where you come in contact with people. A great place to start is attending all your tutorials and lectures. This way you are seen and people are more likely to recognise you. This familiarity can then make it that bit easier to smile and say 'hello'. To broaden the type of friendships that you have, consider joining clubs, classes or sports that interest you, rather than sticking to the places where your friends normally spend time. If circumstances don't allow you to attend in person, attending virtually can be just as useful when trying to make new connections.
I'm shy or afraid
Acknowledge that while you may not feel comfortable putting yourself out there, it won't hurt you. Challenge yourself knowing that others don’t view shyness as something offensive! It is ok if you are someone who tends to be more introverted and operate better in small group environments than large ones. Aim to meet and socialise with others in these types of settings if you can. It can also help to think of speaking to new people as a skill to be developed. The more practice you get, the better and more confident you will become.
People don't like me
Is there hard evidence to support this idea? Has someone told you this explicitly? In most cases, it is the fear of someone not liking us that leads us to think this way. When we think in this way, we then might not make an effort to speak to other people, which means they don’t get a chance to know and like us!
If you have received some feedback that people aren't relating to you well, then it can be useful to reflect on your behaviour. A third party is useful to help you see what is going on. This could be someone you know well or trust, or an independent person that can help you explore what is happening.
Below are three things you can do to boost success.
Yes, it takes courage to get out there. Courage won't suddenly appear, it grows from practice. Bravery comes from action.
No one is guaranteed a 100% success rate at making friends. Not even people who you think make it look easy! The more you try, the higher the chances are that you will make new friends.
However, it is also important to read the situation. If someone is not reciprocating the same level of interest as you on repeated occasions, then don’t force it. Move on to developing friendships with others instead. If an approach isn’t working, try a different style of interacting and connecting with others.
If you are from another culture then consider joining social programs such as those run by the International Student Support service: Events.
Be kind and respectful
If you need to have a difficult conversation with a friend, try to come from a position of kindness and respect. Emotionally charged topics can be really hard to talk about so it helps to keep your breathing in check. Pushing your feet into the ground helps bring you back to the moment and provides an opportunity to change tack. Using "I" statements is a good way to share how you feel. Asking to pause or take time out can also help you manage your feelings if you start to feel really angry or upset. For more ideas and tips, check out the 6 steps from Reach Out or the navigating respectful discussion blog through TalkCampus.
If you are looking to connect more regularly with people more generally or want to show a friend you care, there are lots of 'acts of kindness' that help brighten someones day. Simple acts can make others feel good and the bonus is that it makes you feel good. These 'acts' can be anything that selflessly offers support or assistance to someone else. Ideas might include:
- Smile at someone
- Pick up shopping for someone who is stuck at home
- Message a friend and let them know you're thinking about them
- Send a card to a friend with a nice message
- Leave a partially used parking ticket in the machine for someone else to use
- Stop a lift so someone can get in
- Share your umbrella with someone
- Let someone into traffic
- Practise acts of kindness to strangers
If you notice that you are doing the talking the majority of the time when with people, consider asking others some open-ended questions (i.e. questions that don't simply require a yes/no response but need at least a sentence to answer). For example, instead of saying, "Was your weekend good?" try, "What did you get up to on the weekend?" Listening tells the other person that they are valued and important to you.
Need more info?
- Making friends - Allianz
- Make friends in Adelaide - We3
- Make friends - BetterHealth Victoria
- Make friends and keep friends - the greatist
How to have difficult conversations
- How to have a difficult conversation with your best friend - LinkedIn
- Navigating respectful discussion around polarising content - TalkCampus
- 6 steps to help you tackle difficult conversations - Reach Out
Places to connect
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