This post is a continuation of the Practicing the Virtues Series. This week, we’ll talk being a better friend.
I’ll give a brief recap of where we’re at.
- We become more virtuous through practice. To be a better friend requires doing the things to be be a better friend – not wishing, wanting, or intending to do those things.
- The virtues are interconnected in a very important way. Improving one virtue tends to improve others, and you’ll see those others listed.
I’ll spend a little bit of time on the Doctrine of the Mean, as it applies to be a better friend, since many people think you could never be too good of a friend. Recall that the Doctrine of the Mean places any virtue on a spectrum, and excesses of that virtue is just as vicious as deficiencies of that virtue. To be deficient in this virtue is of friendliness is to be quarrelsome, i.e. constantly picking fights with people or going out of your way not to connect with them, and to have the excess of this virtue is to be a flatterer, i.e. going out of your way to connect with people.
Why we shouldn’t be quarrelsome is fairly evident. This is not so with why we shouldn’t go to the other end. Simply put, if you have too many friends, you’re not able to connect with them in a mutually beneficial way while maintaining proper balance with the other aspects of your nature. The amount of time and energy that it takes to develop and maintain true friendships is far too great to have 452 friends. Your mileage may vary, but the main point is that trying to have too many friends is self-defeating.
Lastly, it’s difficult to talk about friendship sometimes because there are, in fact, two different things to think about: 1) how to make new friends, and 2) how to keep the friends you currently have. It turns out that there is mostly a good deal of crossover between the two when it comes to personal interaction, for the same ways that you interact with people you’d like to befriend is the same things that you’d new to do to maintain quality friendships. But there are some minor differences, as you’ll see when we get to the specific tips below.
This post is not about how to choose people to befriend or how to evaluate your friendship. It assumes you have chosen the right people. The post on how to choose people to befriend and how to evaluate those relationships is in the queue and should be out by early next week.
So, with all of that setup in place, here are the promised 15 ways to be a better friend.
1. Volunteer to Help Your Friends With a Project
Getting involved with your friends projects without them asking you is a great way to let your friends know that you care about them. It also continues the basis of the friendship and provides new memories to connect with.
(Reciprocal Virtue(s): Generosity, Benevolence, Industriousness)
2. Email Friends With Stories from Your Past
I have a few friends that still live in Arkansas, and we don’t talk very often since none of us are big phone talkers. Occasionally, though, I’ll be thinking about saying hi. Instead of just writing a quick email asking what’s going on, I’ll say “Hey, The other day I was thinking about that time we did X.” Having and remembering strong memories together helps maintain friendships through time and space.
(Reciprocal Virtue(s): Wittiness, Truthfulness, Spiritedness)
3. Make a “Contact Your Friend” Log
We’re all busy, and sometimes we need reminders to catch up with people who we have lost touch with. Also, if you’re anything like me, you get caught up in so many projects that you just forget who you’ve contacted, when you contacted them, and why you contacted them. Here’s a relatively quick way to dummy-proof this tendency:
- Create a list of all the friends you’d like to reconnect with.
- Create a “Contact Friend” repeating calendar item that has that list as a note and set it for whatever schedule you can feasibly execute.
- Contact the first friend on that contact list in whatever way you and your friends communicate.
- After you’ve contacted that friend, put that friend on the bottom of the list.
- Rinse and repeat.
Is this tip methodical? Yes. Is it spontaneous? Depends. You could use HassleMe and randomize it a bit. Does it help you stay connected with your friends? You bet.
(Reciprocal Virtue(s): Temperance, Spiritedness)
4. Ask a Friend for Advice or Perspective
Asking a friend for advice lets them know that you care about their opinion and input as well as letting them know that you trust them enough to open up.
(Reciprocal Virtue(s): Industriousness, Truthfulness, Courage)
5. Call Them Out
We all slip sometimes and are not the people who we want to be. If we’ve got the right type of friends, they know who we are, what we’re trying to do, and how to let us know that we’re slipping. Think about times this has happened to you. After you got over your initial anger and frustration, wasn’t it nice to know that your friend tried to keep you on track? Let your friends know that they’re slipping, but don’t overdo it.
(Reciprocal Virtue(s): Courage, Truthfulness, Spiritedness, Conscientiousness, Benevolence)
6. Follow Through With Commitments
This one should be relatively straightforward, but unfortunately a lot of people constantly make plans with friends only to bail on them later when things happen. Everyone understands that we’ve all got other ties and such, but consistently bailing on friends is a good way to undermine the trust in the relationship. If you see that you’re not going to be able to honor the commitment, let them know as soon as possible.
Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to schedule friend time and then firewall it like hell. If Tuesday Night is Girls Night Out, schedule it every week and let others know they need to plan around it. Not planning on spending time with friends is, the way life is, planning to not spend time with them.
(Reciprocal Virtue(s): Truthfulness, Spiritedness, Conscientiousness, Industriousness, Wittiness, Temperance)
7. Ask Them Questions About Their Lives
People love to talk about themselves. By asking them about their lives, you are making them feel important, you keep track of what they’re doing, and, most importantly, you’re listening. As the saying goes, there’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth.
(Reciprocal Virtue(s): Benevolence, Spiritedness, Conscientiousness, Indignancy)
8. Unplug when You’re With Them
I know the idea of turning your phone off, getting away from the interwebs, and turning off the TV may seem abominable, but all these things distract from the quality of time you’re spending with people. If you’re with a group of people, designate a person as the Designated Hub. The Designated Hub is the only person that gets to have a phone on in case the unlikely emergency happens and whose number you give to people in case they need to get in touch with you. This has several benefits:
- You’re not distracted by gadgets and hence actually interact with the people sitting in front of you
- You don’t get to pull the “what if something bad happens” excuse, since, if anything were to happen, you’re still just a phone call away
- You don’t drunk dial.
After you’re all done hanging out, turn your phone on and check your messages. Life will resume without a hiccup.
You’d be surprised how big of a statement it is to people when you make the conscious choice to be completely together for the moment in this way. Few things make people feel as special as when you show, through action, that they are worth your undivided attention.
(Reciprocal Virtue(s): Spiritedness, Conscientiousness, Wittiness, Temperance)
9. Look Them in the Eyes While Talking to Them
This one takes a bit of practice and understanding to do, since doing so can be too weird and intense for some people. The reason it’s important, though, is much like the last tip: it shows that the person you’re interacting with is the center of your attention. Additionally, you pick up on all sorts of emotions and layers of conversation that you miss when you’re otherwise distracted. Try this, and you’ll see the truth to the saying “the eyes are the window to the soul.” (For males: this also ensures that you are having a conversation with a woman rather than her chest.)
(Reciprocal Virtue(s): Spiritedness, Conscientiousness, Wittiness, Temperance, Benevolence, Courage)
10. Spend Time With Them One on One
Hanging out with groups of people is all fine and good, but sometimes people have issues that are best discussed in one on one settings. This is yet another way to show your friends that they, as individuals, are important to you and the center of your attention, since, by spending solo time with them, you’re not killing multiple birds with one stone.
(Reciprocal Virtue(s): Spiritedness, Conscientiousness, Wittiness, Truthfulness, Benevolence)
11. Invite Their Significant Others/Loved Ones to Events, Where Appropriate
Spare your friends the difficulty of having to balance their other relationships and responsibilities with their relationship with you by inviting their significant others, friends, and families when you invite them. Throwing a house party? Invite your friend’s kids, too, if you can. That spares them the sitter and shows that you care about their loved ones, too. Going camping? Invite the parents of friends, especially if they’re a little older. The plus side is that you get to meet new people with fresh perspectives!
(Reciprocal Virtue(s):Wittiness, Temperance, Benevolence, Courage, Generosity)
12. Always Try to Give More Than You Take
Friendships, like all social interactions, are give and take. Make it a daily practice to give more to the communal pool than you take from it. If you approach people in this manner, interacting with you becomes a win for everyone. Be careful with this one, as it’s highly exploitable, but it’s a powerful way to improve relationships.
(Reciprocal Virtue(s):Temperance, Benevolence, Conscientiousness, Generosity)
13. Try Something New With Them
Having strong memories of things you’ve done in the past is a great thing to share with friends. Trying new things together, however, has been shown to improve connections with people. It also keeps you from having to make the minnow you caught back in the Spring of 1996 even larger than the whale it’s already become…it’ll give you new tales to exaggerate!
(Reciprocal Virtue(s):Truthfulness, Industriousness, Spiritedness, Wittiness, Courage)
14. Be Their Fan
Root for the successes of others as much as you root for the success of your team or business. If they slip, encourage them to keep working at it. Let them know you support them. If they create something and sell it, buy it. Promote what they’re doing. Let the emotional momentum you give them carry them through their work. (This is especially helpful for freelancers, bloggers, writers, and anyone of the corporate structure since they don’t interact with people day in and day out by default.)
(Reciprocal Virtue(s):Truthfulness, Industriousness, Indignacy, Spiritedness)
15. Accept That You Don’t Have to Be Friends With Everybody and That Not Everyone Will Befriend You
This is probably one of the most important things to learn throughout our lives, as many of us spend a lot of time trying to befriend everyone we meet and getting upset if they don’t return the favor. Understanding that there are personal incompatibilities, misunderstandings, and so forth and accepting that some people will never reciprocate your attention is one of the best ways to ensure that we spend the time, effort, and energy on those that are the most important to us and not on those who are not worth the time.
(Reciprocal Virtue(s):Truthfulness, Industriousness, Indignacy, Spiritedness, Temperance, Conscientiousness)
The quality of our friends and friendships is one of the most determinant aspects of our flourishing. Developing strong bonds with those around, maintaining those bonds, and practicing friendliness on a daily basis is one of the surest ways to live The Good Life.