Making Real Friends In A Digital World

Digital WorldHow much effort do you put into making friends? If you’re like most people, I’d guess you focus more on networking, than on making friends. After all, friendships take care of themselves. Only they don’t. [Tweet this]

According to Shasta Nelson, friendships don’t just materialize. You need to make them happen. Friendships typically start with some initial attraction, usually based on shared activities or interests. But there’s more. As Nelson points out, there are five steps to friendship: being open, consistently initiating, adding positivity, increasing vulnerably, and practicing forgiveness. Certainly, these steps take time and regular interactions online and in person.

In other words, friendships require investment.

So Much More Than Business

Yet, if you’re like a lot of people, investing time in making friends may seem too demanding. After all, you’re life is already busy. Really busy.  Besides you’re already meeting new people at business functions and meet-up events.  Yet, you’ll likely regard the majority of people you meet as business contacts.

Why is this so? Aside from the nature of the events themselves, I think it’s because we tend to overly subscribe to the notion that business is business. Perhaps it’s a cultural artifact from The Godfather. You know, it’s not personal, it’s just business. Somehow, that theme is so strong that it’s easy to miss an even more powerful message. One delivered by Don Vito Corleone himself:

“Friendship is everything. Friendship is more than talent. It is more than the government. It is almost the equal of family.”

If research is any guide, friendship is also equal to health, happiness, and longevity.

Actually, making friends is personal. It goes well beyond the aims of networking objectives. True social connectivity is so much more than big numbers of friends, fans, and followers. With lots of contacts but few friends, you’re at risk of being lonely. [Tweet this]

Real Friends

Fortunately, our digital world supports us in pursuing friendships. [Tweet this] Certainly, it’s one way to keep up with friends we already have. Yet, it’s also possible to start and nurture new relationships online. Thanks to Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and other social media platforms, the idea of online friends is not quite as inconceivable as it once was. Well, as long as you’re able to get past the distinction between online friends and real life friends.

Friends

Over time, if you take a real interest, the people you interact with online not only emerge as real people, but can also end up as friends. Sure there are differing depths to these friendships, but where possible to connect by phone or in person, these friendships can blossom into some of the most important relationships in your life. Case in point: One of my best friends ever is someone I met and long interacted with on Facebook and Twitter – before ever chatting by phone or meeting up!

Digital Chemistry

Frankly, the shared activities and interests that are the basis for growing friendships typically happen in person. Yet, interacting with people online can nurture the consistency and intimacy that makes bonds stronger. It also helps to when you “click” with the people you meet.

While you probably wouldn’t associate chemistry with online relationships, social media is not without relationship dynamics.  In fact, online relationships can be driven by subtle influences that create a kind of digital chemistry. [Tweet this]

One influence is the mere-exposure effect, also known as the familiarity principle. As it applies to people, it means that the more you see someone, whether in person or online, the more likeable they appear to be. [Tweet this] Sure, there are going to be exceptions. Yet, overall you’re most likely to warm up to and interact with the people you see most often.

The other influence on digital chemistry is something called ambient awareness. It is a peripheral awareness that comes with exposure to fragments of social information. As discussed by Clive Thompson, in the “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy,” this awareness “…brings back the dynamics of small-town life, where everybody knows your business.”

Sure, that’s not always a good thing. Yet, what it does for budding friendships is truly powerful. Online social information about people we meet gets us beyond mere familiarity to allow for enhanced intimacy. [Tweet this]

It Starts With Genuine Interest

Of course, not only do friendships take time, but they grow out of two-way sharing and caring. Yet, as Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” So, for new relationships to have a chance, especially online, the first step is showing you care.

Showing you care means taking a genuine interest. This involves showing empathy and establishing rapport. It also means getting others to share what they enjoy, and making them feel good about themselves.  In other words, make your initial interactions about them, not you.  Doing so conveys your interest, caring, and generosity. As well, putting others first, is time-tested advice for making friends.

In the long run, becoming adept at the art of friendship will enrich your life[Tweet this]

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How do you distinguish between connections and friends? How important is it to you to cultivate friendships? Do you have online friends, and how did you meet them? Have you experienced digital chemistry? Just leave a comment. I’d love to know.

Why Making Friends Matters To Your Success

Make FriendsAh, networking and relationships! How well they fit together into a larger framework of success. And while it’s easy to complain about having to network, most of us want success. So, we work at becoming better networkers. I get it.

Still, I often feel an obsession with becoming better networkers can blind us to what it takes to build longer and stronger relationships. That is, the kinds of relationships that enrich our lives – even when a there’s no business or career advantage. Okay. Yes. I’m talking about friendship.

What Networking Often Lacks

If you’re like me, and a lot of other people, you know that having the right connections is critical to success. You also know that those relationships often come your way via networking. At a most pragmatic level, you realize that growing and tapping into networks opens doors. You may also be starting to see that the broader your network, coupled with your ability to navigate it, the more valuable you become.

Of course, while giving a passing acknowledgement that “relationships matter,” many people keep their eye on the prize. That is, they pursue specific new opportunities, such as qualified prospects and sales or job leads. In short, networking often becomes transactional.

This networking approach too often leads to shallow connections. What’s more, it’s typically transparent and off-putting. Nor is it a sustainable approach to achieving continued success. After all, there’s little long-term benefit in linking with people with whom you have only passing acquaintance. Most often, the people who think of you, when they see a relevant opportunity, know you well, and like and trust you. [Tweet this] Those kinds of relationships take time to build.

 Genuine Sharing, Genuine Caring

Perhaps one of the biggest drivers of the transactional mindset has been the common advice that networking is about “giving to get.” It’s not. So, approaching it that way is a turn off. Overall, I believe the sounder approach is to focus more on creating and nurturing bonds with others.

Traditionally, people have developed and strengthened their bonds via meeting up for coffee, meals, and other shared activities. Clearly, meeting in-person is a key part of cultivating relationships. These days, however, you also can take advantage of technology tools to support bonding. Used well, social media increases your ambient awareness and supports brief interactions over time. [Tweet this] As a result, you can interact more regularly, adding depth to your relationships.

Yet, however we connect, basic social niceties matter. When you begin to pay attention to the little things in other people’s lives, you not only get to know them better, but also may discover more areas of shared interest. And the more you do, the stronger your bonds can become.

A Lot Like Making Friends

Over time, as bonds become stronger, you may find you have the basis for true friendship. If so, it’s worth investing more in those relationships. For as Shasta Nelson points out in her excellent book, Friendships Don’t Just Happen!  Although making friends seems like it ought to be automatic, it’s not. In fact, she says, if you’re simply waiting for friendships to develop, chances are you may be well networked but lonely. [Tweet this]

So what’s it take to develop friendships?

Well, genuine sharing and genuine caring. And time. In Shasta’s words,

“The strength of our friendship isn’t as dependent on how much we like each other, but more on how much time we spend together developing our friendship in broader and deeper ways.  …two primary factors that create friendship…[are]… consistency and intimacy.  …consistency is regular time spent together, and intimacy is sharing that extends to a broad range of subjects and increases in vulnerability.”

Since these factors can change with time and circumstances, there are different categories of friendship. Yet, a key point to grasp is this: Making, keeping, and even changing friends is perhaps one of the most important skill sets you need to have. [Tweet this]  Especially if you want to enhance the overall quality of your life.

Friends Are Key To Life Success

An old saying reminds us that on their deathbed no one says, “I wished I’d spent more time in the office.” It’s a sad reminder that in the pursuit of success, people can miss out on life. Yet, if we measure success based on a better quality of life, then friendship is surely a critical element. In reimagining success, it’s clear that while networking is driven by self-interest, making friends is about enlightened self-interest. [Tweet this]

Cultivating friendships requires, among other things, a spirit of generosity. Friends and SuccessBeing a friend often means that we act in the interest of others. Yet, in the long run, we also serve our own interests. For what we create for our friends, as well as ourselves, is a brighter and more promising future with a greater sense of belonging, more happiness, and even enhanced longevity.

I will have more to say about friendships in future posts. Meanwhile, even if you already have friends, you could probably make more. Look for opportunities to make new ones both in-person and online.

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What are your perspectives on friendship? How are you making friends?  What are some of the shared interests or activities that are at the basis of your friendships? Just leave a comment. I’d love to know.