“I’d love to make new friends, but I never know what to say or how to become closer friends with someone. I feel awkward during conversations and get really self-conscious. How can I learn to relax and bond with others?”
Friendships are great for our mental health, but it’s not always easy to form a friendship bond with someone. In this guide, we’ll look at some strategies to help you start and build a friendship. You’ll also learn about a method that’s been scientifically proven to build a bond between two strangers in under an hour and how to adapt it to real life when making new friends.
Even if your conversation skills are good, you are unlikely to make friends with someone if you appear unapproachable.
Being approachable means:
- Making confident eye contact
- Using open body language, for example keeping your arms and legs uncrossed
- Smiling when you greet someone or say goodbye
- Daring to be warm towards other people; try to assume they will like you
Read our guide on how to appear more approachable and look more friendly for further tips.
If you feel nervous, it may feel hard to relax and be friendly. But remember that nervousness is a feeling. It doesn’t have to determine your actions. Just as you can feel bored but still work or study, you can feel anxious yet still socialize anyway.
When you use small talk, you are sending a reassuring message: “I know basic social norms, I’m open to interaction, and I’m friendly.” Small talk may seem like a waste of time, but you only have to do it for a few minutes. Think of it as the first step towards becoming friends with someone.
You will probably find it easier to talk to someone if you already know that you have something in common. If you want to make more friends, start by joining groups or meetups based around your interests. For more ideas, try reading our guide on how to make friends.
Mutual self-disclosure builds liking and rapport. In one study, the more participants disclosed about themselves to a partner, the more socially attractive they were perceived to be.
When someone asks you a question, give enough detail to keep the conversation going. For example, if someone asks, “What did you do at the weekend?” a very short answer like “Not much, really” doesn’t give the other person anything to work with. A more detailed answer outlining a couple of activities you did would be better.
If you worry that others will judge you, it can be hard to share your thoughts and feelings. If you work on improving your confidence and self-esteem, self-disclosure may feel more comfortable. Check out our articles on how to get core confidence from within and what to do if you feel inferior to others.
You don’t have to disclose very personal information to someone you’ve just met. It’s best to start with slightly personal opinions or information. You can venture into deeper topics after building trust. For example, “I get a bit nervous at large events like this,” or “I like movies, but I love books because I find it easier to get lost in written stories” give others an insight into your personality without oversharing.
When you talk to someone, aim to have a balanced conversation. It doesn’t have to be exactly 50:50, but you should both have an opportunity to share.
To encourage someone to open up:
- Ask open questions that invite them to give answers beyond “Yes” or “No.” For example, “How was your trip?” is better than “Did you have a good time on your trip?”
- Ask follow-up questions that invite them to share more details, e.g., “And then what happened?” or “How did that work out in the end?”
- Use brief utterances like “Mm-hm” and “Oh?” to encourage them to keep talking and show that you are listening.
- Adopt an attitude of curiosity. Allow yourself to be genuinely interested in the other person. This will make it easier to come up with things to say. For example, if they mention their college course, you might wonder whether they are enjoying it or what career they hope to have after graduation. Focusing on the other person also has the benefit of taking the focus off yourself, which can help you feel less shy.
- Give them your full attention. Don’t look at your phone or gaze at something else in the room.
People tend to find other people likable when they share some similarities, such as hobbies and beliefs.
Try introducing a range of topics when you want to connect with someone. You can usually make some educated guesses about what someone might like to talk about within a few minutes of meeting them. If any of these potential topics overlap with your interests, try introducing them into the conversation and see if you can find any common ground.
For example, let’s say you love animals. You own a dog, and you volunteer at your local pet shelter.
You’re chatting to a new acquaintance, and they mention that although they now work in marketing, they used to work in a pet store part-time when they were in school. You could make an educated guess that they probably like animals, so steering the conversation around to this topic could pay off. If they didn’t seem interested, you could then move on to another subject.
Check out this guide for more tips: How to find things in common with someone.
When making friends online, join communities that are based on your interests. Make it easy for someone to start a conversation with you by sharing a few things about yourself on your profile.
Agreeable people are more likely to experience “friendship chemistry”—a feeling of “clicking” with a potential new friend—than less agreeable people.
- Are slow to criticize or condemn other people
- Do not play devil’s advocate unless the other person is clearly interested in having a debate
- Ask questions in good faith when they want to learn more about someone else’s perspective or experiences
- Are generally optimistic and friendly
- Are not pedantic
Our article on how to be more agreeable has more advice.
Remember that being agreeable isn’t the same as being a pushover. If you need to get better at defending your boundaries or standing up for yourself, check out our guide on what to do if you’re being treated like a doormat.
Research shows that sharing a humorous moment can increase closeness between two people who have only just met.
You don’t need to be a gifted comedian to use humor. You just want to show that you can appreciate the lighter side of life or appreciate the funny side of a situation. Don’t rely on canned jokes or one-liners; they often come across as clumsy or as though you’re trying too hard.
See our guide on how to be funny in a conversation for advice on how to use humor in different situations.
People who feel a sense of connection to one another often behave and move in a similar way. This is called “behavioral synchrony.” But mirroring someone else’s movements can be difficult and can become awkward, so trying to mimic someone when you’re talking to them isn’t a good idea.
Instead, try to match their overall energy level. For example, if they are in an upbeat mood, smiling and speaking quickly about positive topics, try to behave in a similar way. We have more examples and advice in this guide: How to be chill or energetic in social situations.
When you ask for advice about a personal situation, you can disclose something about yourself, which invites them to disclose something in return. Asking for advice also gives them an opportunity to share their personal experiences and opinions in a way that feels natural.
Make sure you are truly interested in their advice. Don’t pretend to be enthusiastic or make up a backstory for the sake of it, or you may come across as fake.
For example, let’s say you are unhappy in your job and you’re thinking of retraining in a new profession. If you’re talking to someone who has mentioned that they retrained as a nurse in their 30’s after a decade working in IT, you could ask them for advice on choosing a new career.
They might open up about what they liked about nursing school, how they choose their college, and what they most enjoy about their new vocation. From there, you could start talking about personal goals, values, and what you want most from life.
You might assume that doing favors for someone else will make them like you, but it can work the other way around: research shows that helping someone in a small way can make us more inclined to like them.
For example, when talking to someone, you could:
- Ask them to lend you a pen
- Ask them to look something up on their phone
- Ask them for a tissue
Research shows that when people eat together, they have more positive social interactions and perceive each other as more agreeable.
If you’re talking to someone and it’s nearly time for a coffee break or meal, ask them to eat with you. For example, you could say, “I could use a coffee after that meeting, maybe a sandwich too. Would you like to come with me?” or “Oh look, it’s nearly lunchtime! Would you like to have this conversation over lunch?”
It takes around 200 hours of shared quality time to become good friends. The more often you hang out, the more quickly you’ll become friends. But don’t try to rush the process by pressuring someone to hang out all the time. In general, hanging out once per week is often enough when you’re getting to know someone.
Shared experiences are also key to building long-distance friendships. You can hang out online, for example, by playing a game, watching a movie, or taking a virtual tour of an attraction.
When you meet someone you click with, take the initiative and exchange contact details. Follow up within a couple of days and ask them to hang out. Pick an activity that relates to a shared interest. Our article on ways to ask people to hang out without being awkward can help if you aren’t sure what to say.
Stay in touch between meetings. Talking over text, social media, or on the phone can help build and maintain your friendship. These guides may help: how to keep in touch with friends and how to become friends with someone over text.
Scientists at Stony Brook University in New York have designed a method where two strangers can build a close connection in less than 60 minutes. If you want to know how to make new friends, the results will interest you.
What researchers call the Fast Friends procedure will not only help you build deep relationships quickly, it also helps you know what to say next in a conversation. Professionals such as police, interrogators, and psychologists have learned how to build trust and befriend strangers rapidly based on these findings.
The Fast Friends procedure works best when you’re talking to someone one on one and face to face. This means the procedure is perfect to use when you meet friends over a cup of coffee, while traveling, or at a party. You could even use this method with people that you have known for a long time to strengthen your existing friendship. The best part is that you can use it with anyone, including business colleagues, an old friend, or even a relative you’d like to get closer to.
At Stony Brook, researchers have tested the Fast Friends procedure again and again and have found that it’s an efficient way to feel comfortable with someone. It’s been shown repeatedly that this procedure of how to become friends with someone works and that it has long-lasting effects. Different variations of the original experiment have shown that the Fast Friends questions are even successful in creating cross-cultural friendships and increasing intimacy within a couple.
The original Fast Friends experiment was completed in 3 parts:
Strangers are randomly put into pairs. Each participant is handed 3 sets of 12 questions. Participants in each pair take turns answering and asking the questions. They’re encouraged to be as honest as possible without making themselves feel uncomfortable.
The questions are increasingly intimate, with more “shallow” questions toward the front of the deck and more “intimate” questions at the end.
This process takes around one hour. Once they’re done with the 36 questions, they’re sent their separate ways and are asked not to contact each other while the experiment is still going on.
During this next meeting, the couple is asked to repeat the process described above, but with a different set of 36 questions.
Again, they’re asked to not contact each other until the experiment is completed.
The participants are given the chance to collect contact information from their partners. More often than not, participants want to keep in touch with their partners and see them again after the experiment is over.
If you came into this experiment to make a friend, you were almost guaranteed to leave with one. The participants weren’t just cordial or friendly to each other; they wanted to keep in touch and continue their friendship because what they experienced simulates the same experience that otherwise takes months or years for friends to go through.
The first set of 12 questions the researchers used were shallow and basically scratched the surface. The questions are designed to get the participants warmed up:
- Would you like to be famous? In what way?
- What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
- When did you last sing to yourself or to someone else?
The second set of 12 questions used were to let the participants become close friends in a less superficial way:
- What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
- What is your most terrible memory?
- If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
The last set of 12 questions is where the real friendship building happens. These are questions that even best friends don’t always ask each other. By asking and answering these questions, participants get to know each other fast:
- What things are too personal to discuss with others?
- If you were guaranteed honest responses to any 3 questions, who would you question, and what would you ask?
- Do you believe in any sort of God? If not, do you think you might still pray if you were in a life-threatening situation?
Of course, the researchers didn’t start the questioning with philosophical questions about their beliefs because that would scare participants off. The key to using the Fast Friends procedure is to ask intentional questions from the start, disclose information about yourself to the other to establish trust, and then dig deeper to get to the good stuff.
Psychologists carry out experiments under heavily controlled conditions that are usually similar to real-life scenarios. Sitting down with a new person and a deck full of flashcards might not be everyone’s idea of a good first meetup.
Here’s how to apply the principles from the Fast Friends procedure to your real life:
During a period that can be as brief as 45 minutes, you’ll go through a series of questions that gradually become more and more personal. In the lab, participants read questions from a set of cards. In the real world, you have to come up with relevant questions on the fly throughout your ongoing conversation.
Remember that the Fast Friends procedure works because of its progressive nature. It’s important that you start off with fairly superficial questions and progress to deeper questions over time. After about 10-25 minutes of small talk, you can start asking about more personal matters if the person you’re talking to seems receptive.
Start by asking something that is slightly personal. Make sure that you relate the question to what you are currently talking about so the question won’t feel forced.
For example, say that your friend is talking about an unpleasant phone call he or she recently had to make. You can ask, “When you make a telephone call, do you ever rehearse it beforehand?”
After your friend has answered, remember to reciprocate and disclose something personal as well. You could say something along the lines of, “I actually rehearse several times when I’m about to call someone I don’t know that well, too.”
If your questions become too personal too quickly, they might be perceived as unpleasant, probing, and scary, so take your time and trust the process. You’ll get closer and start bonding as time goes on.
After about 30 minutes of talking, you can start asking about deeper matters. Again, make sure that the questions are relevant to what you’re discussing.
If you’re talking about family, an example of a deeper question could be, “How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?” Give your friend the time to answer if they feel comfortable doing so and answer the same question that you asked them. Give them the time to ask you follow-up questions, too.
If the conversation is going well, you can ask even more personal questions. You could talk about a vulnerability if they’re previously mentioned their insecurities and ask something like, “When was the last time you cried in front of someone else?”
If you have gradually gotten to know each other through the easier but still personal questions, then it’s fine to ask deep questions without them feeling unnatural. Your friend will let you know if at any point they don’t want to continue the conversation.
Remember to reveal as many personal things about yourself as your friend is disclosing. You can even switch the order of the questions (like in the original experiment) and start off by revealing something personal about you and then asking the person a related personal question. If you reveal personal things first, your friend should become more comfortable opening up to you.
The Fast Friends procedure works because it mimics the way that relationships actually develop. Though the description above is helpful, you don’t have to use the full method in every conversation you have with a new person to get to know them better.
Read more: How to make any conversation interesting.
To get a deeper understanding of how the method works, we asked one of the developers of this procedure, Dr. Elizabeth Page-Gould in the Psychology Department at the University of Toronto, two questions.
Dr. Elizabeth Page-Gould
Here’s what she had to say:
What is your advice or precaution to people who want to use the Fast Friend Procedure principles in their personal life to make friends?
When entering a new social group (i.e., meeting people for the first time), it’s always helpful to have some questions like the Fast Friends questions to get the conversation rolling.
Generally, people like to talk about themselves, and they will appreciate that you want to know more about them. The two things to remember, though, is that not everyone is the same, and there is a big difference between interacting with a stranger than interacting with a friend.
In my research, some people become stressed during the first Fast Friends session, although pretty much everyone becomes comfortable by the second time they do the Fast Friends with another person.
So, you always have to feel out a new interaction partner: back off if they seem like they don’t want to share and be sure that you reciprocate in kind by sharing equivalent levels of information with them. For the most part, people like to be asked about themselves, especially with questions that are somewhat unique and quirky!
In short, what do you think it is in the procedure that makes it so effective?
The Fast Friends procedure is effective because it mimics the way friendships develop naturally. When you first meet someone, you move beyond mere strangers by getting to know one another. The other person may tell you a little bit more about themselves, then you respond in kind by telling them a little more about you, and the process continues back-and-forth like that. The Fast Friends procedure just formalizes and accelerates this process!
So, you want to use the fast friend procedure in real life? Here’s what you need to do to make it work for you:
- Comment below telling us your thoughts on the fast friend procedure and if you’ve used any similar technique before
- Find a person you’d like to become friends with or get to know better
- Start a conversation with the person and make small talk
- Begin to ask your friend questions related to the conversation
- Listen to what your partner says and disclose information about yourself
- Continue asking questions in increasing intimacy to get to know the deep stuff about each other
- Celebrate because you’ve made a lasting friend!
It usually takes roughly 200 hours of social contact to become close friends with anyone. This has to be quality time where you have the chance to get to know each other. To build trust and intimacy, you also need to show mutual vulnerability. You also need to show mutual respect and loyalty.
It takes approximately 50 hours of social contact to turn an acquaintance into a friend. However, research suggests that if you are both willing to ask and answer personal questions that encourage self-disclosure, you can develop a connection much faster.
Show a genuine interest in your friend’s life and experiences. Ask them questions that encourage them to open up and be ready to open up in return. Be prepared to make an effort to stay in touch and ask them to hang out regularly. Show that you are willing to listen and help them in times of need.
Mutual self-disclosure and sharing experiences are effective ways to bond with a new friend. Look for things you have in common and suggest activities based on your shared interests. Taking a trip, sharing a meal, or going on a short adventure together can also help you feel closer.