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Dear Michael:

 I don’t seem to be very good at making – or keeping – friends. I’m kind of a loner and always have been, but I’d like a friend to hang around with, especially at this time of year. I’ve not been a very good friend in the past: I get impatient easily, frequently get annoyed with people and don’t like talking on the phone. What would you recommend?

 Friendless in San Diego


Dear Friendless:

Years’ ago, I facilitated a group that helped my clients develop and fine-tune their social skills. Making and keeping friends is a skill and, like any skill, it can be learned.

Friendships take time, energy and commitment. If you’re not good with communication or understanding social cues (what is often called “emotional intelligence”), relax. You can, with some focus and effort, become better at being a good friend and attracting quality people into your life.

From years of helping clients go from friendless to friend-ful, here are some ideas for your consideration in how to master the skills of friendship:

Loneliness – Most of us want friends so we don’t feel lonely. Loneliness is an emotional response to not feeling connected to other people or it can be experienced even when we’re surrounded by other people but not relating to them. To me, loneliness is a kind of psychological “alarm clock”, letting us know that we are drifting towards isolation and that we need human interaction (e.g., friends).

Impatience – Many of us lack patience when it comes to making new friends. We want great friends and we want them NOW! Unfortunately, it rarely works like that. Some people are impatient with friends they already have: they interrupt their friends with some version of “Get to the point, already”. If this has been a problem in your friendships, try this the next time you get impatient and annoyed: take a deep breath, make eye contact with your friend and repeat something that they said (to encourage yourself to really listen). If you typically find yourself rehearsing what you’re going to say when a friend is talking, bring your attention back to your friend and tell yourself “My turn will come. Let me listen to him/her as I want him/her to listen to me.”

Forgiveness and flexibility – Every friend, no matter how great they are, is going to mess up. Can you forgive them, or do you hold a grudge and try to “make them pay”? It’s got to be okay for YOU to mess up and for THEM to do the same; otherwise, your friendships will be very short-lived.

Enjoying your own company – what makes you attractive to potential friends? Usually, it’s when someone sees you somewhere and experiences you as happy and confident. It’s hard to be attractive when you’re miserable. So, how can you enjoy your own company more and be better friendship “bait”? Do things and go to places you enjoy. When you’re enjoying yourself, you naturally appear more attractive.

Finding Friends – How do you meet like-minded people? Well, what do you enjoy doing? Don’t put yourself in situations that you don’t enjoy: if you’re not a party person, don’t force yourself to go to parties in hopes of meeting friends. For example, if you love being outdoors, get yourself out there and start to notice other people a bit more. You could even smile and say, “Hello.”

Phone Challenges – Lots of people don’t like talking on the phone, you’re certainly not alone. Texting is a good back-up. Some people don’t like phone calls because they feel put on the spot when the phone rings: they don’t know what to say. I suggest you use caller ID so that you can decide whether you are in a good place to talk to the person calling. If not, you can listen to their voice message and call (or text) them after you’ve thought about what you want to say/ask/share. If you do want to talk with them, take a deep breath before you pick up and greet them with some neutral phrase like: “Hi Chris, how’s your day going?” or something equally friendly and benign.

Give some of these ideas a try and soon you won’t be friendless anymore.