How To Make Friends Without Having To Influence Them

How To Make Friends Without Having To Influence Them

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is one of the only books that exist on how to make friends. And it’s wildly successful, selling millions of copies.

But after reading the book and the reviews, I realized there were critical components on how to make friends that were missing. People complained about the following in the book:

  • Short-term manipulative tactics are used that can destroy your long term success with making friends.
  • Some of the tips are focused on ways of getting people to like you for business and networking, which is different from making friends because you’re encouraged to be someone other than your true self.
  • The tips to smile more, be nice, and be interested fail to account for the female gender. When women do this, it can be misinterpreted as a sexual advance and encourage harassment.
  • Pretending to be interested in something you’re not and being too agreeable can cause you to end up with friends you don’t really want and you don’t actually connect with because you’re lying about your interests, overlooking their glaring faults, or befriending selfish people who drain your energy.
  • A lot of the advice is generic or repetitive and focused on common sense tactics to be a decent, average person.

I want to address these issues and give some advice on how to actually make friends without having to put on a fake persona or manipulate. My advice is based on what I have learned from my own experiments and/or asking people who seem to naturally good at making a lot of high quality friends.

I think most people are unaware of all the great benefits of creating an established network of healthy, supporting friends. Many are also unaware that social skills are an acquired skill that almost everyone can develop with practice.

This topic means a lot for me because I struggled immensely to make friends growing up. I even sat alone at the cafeteria often in school.

I believe you can make quality friends that have similar values and hobbies — who will support you — who you will be a lot of fun to hang around even if you’re starting from scratch. It won’t be easy but you can do it. And I’m going to teach you how to do it without having to manipulate, lie, or influence others.

If you prefer listening to reading, here’s my podcast episode on this topic:

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts.

What is a Friend? A Real-World Definition

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a friend as “one attached to another by affection or esteem.”

There’s more to it than that.

A more modern definition would be “someone you enjoy hanging around who shares similar hobbies, goals, experiences, and/or values.”

I would define a best friend as “someone who you enjoy hanging around, shares similar values, experiences, hobbies, and who you can trust to share deeply personal information with. This is someone who supports you and cares for your well-being. You talk to each other at least once a week (if not every day) and both feel the same way about each other.”

You don’t need many best friends but having at least 1 to 3 is important for your mental health and success.

Now, keep in mind that there is no strict, rigid definition of what a friend that has been handed down by the Universe or God. Therefore, there is room to bend the definitions mentioned.

Understanding what a friend versus a best friend versus and acquaintance is important because not defining them properly can lead to not letting potential friends in.

I didn’t truly know what a friend was and I treated many friends as acquaintances. If I had only recognized that they were willing, let them in, and classified them as friend, I would have been in a better mind space and position earlier in life.

Why Should You Make Friends?

Let’s talk about the science of having a strong network of friends.

In books like Social by Matt Lieberman, we find that having friends increases your emotional resiliency, well-being, and happiness tremendously — so much so that it was worth more than a considerable amount of money:

How to make successful friends

Humans are, by nature, social tribal creatures. Even introverts can go mad without any social contact for extended periods of time (the movie Castaway is a good example).

A lack of any friends can have other serious consequences.

Through my studies, I have found that successful people have more failures and thus more successes. It can be severely more difficult to recover from failures or setbacks when you don’t have a strong network of friends to support you emotionally and/or financially when you are down.

Life will always through things at you: break-up’s, divorces, unexpected business or health issues. A group of the right type of friends that provides a net for you to fall on and bounce back from could dramatically reduce the time that you are miserable.

Funny and successful friends can lead to social or business connections, happiness, laughter, and greater health. Friends can benefit your dating life and your career because your network can introduce you to new people.

Now that we’ve established why, let’s give you some actually useful, ethical tips on making friends…

Be Interested: Find What Interests Them (The World’s Most Successful Gold Digger)

Wendi Deng has been reported by media to be history’s most successful gold digger.

She was born from humble beginnings in China. In college, she met an American businessman and his wife, who taught her English and sponsored her student visa to move to the U.S. to study at California State.

Wendi had an affair with the businessman, 30 years his senior, and got him to divorce his wife and marry her, obtaining a green card. The relationship lasted 4 or 5 months.

Through a finance and corporate development manager of Fox TV, she entered and climbed the ladder of a big Chinese TV company, Star TV. Wendi was the only Chinese executive of Star TV and that is where she met Rupert Murdoch, a media titan with a current net worth of $13.3 billion.

They married 2 years later on his yacht, shortly after Rupert divorced his last wife.

People tend to demonize others, so maybe Wendi didn’t do all this intentionally with a motive to get more money. But maybe she did. Natural selection has been favoring males who have more resources and status since the dawn of time.

What interests me is what made Wendi so magnetic and charismatic?

One thing people said was that Wendi was able to make almost anyone she met enthralled with her. She was able to make people like her immediately.

And that was because she was interested in others. People liked to talk about themselves and what they do for fun rather than anyone else — we’re egotistical.

When I heard this, I didn’t quite buy it. My first reaction was “Well, maybe she’s just very pretty. Plus, why learn from someone like this when I can learn from people who used their powers for good?”

But was is good and bad? The world isn’t so black and white. Is it really wrong to use your powers for just money if that’s what you want? Also, I looked her up on Google and she isn’t that attractive. She’s not bad looking but there are plenty of girls who are prettier. Maybe she did have incredible social skills.

Figure out what really lights them up and what they are really interested in. Then let them talk. And listen.

If you hit a real winner, they could talk for hours on the topic.

In the real world, I have tried this and it works. However, it must be done right so you don’t become an annoying interviewer asking 10 questions in a row. See How To Keep A Conversation Going on that point.

Also, you must learn to be genuinely interested in new topics or areas you’ve never heard of. Over the years, I have learned to be more open to new topics and have learned how amazing they can truly be. Adding humor helps.

Talk about that person’s interests.

When being interested and agreeable doesn’t work…

Finding out what interests others is a core strategy in Dale Carnegie’s book. But what if it doesn’t work?

People who read the book left reviews expressing their discontent with just being interested in others. They found themselves listening to someone talk about a topic they didn’t care about for up to an hour. They felt unhappy with pretending to be someone they are not and being so agreeable that they attract friends that exploit them or have glaring issues.

These are red flags that you have gone too far in the other direction and the key is to pull back and have some standards and be a little more honest with how you really feel.

There is a healthy middle ground between being the stingy person who isn’t open-minded in the slightest and pretending to be someone you’re not by faking interest in hobbies you don’t give a crap about (classic “Nice Guy” move that rarely works).

The truth lies somewhere in between.

Dial it back a bit. Hold your ground with some of your interests and what bores you. Be honest and change the topic of conversation occasionally. Sure, you may repel some people by being honest about what doesn’t interest you. But you attract more of the people who get you.

There are billions of people in the world. You’ll find someone. Don’t fall into a scarcity mindset here.

I think many people, myself included, have feared missing out on a friend because they don’t have any and they’re clawing at anything they can get, even if what they can get is bad for them. By doing so, you lie about who we are and attract people who you will only feel lukewarm with. Don’t do this.

What if someone’s boring and you don’t think you can find something interesting about them?

Tucker Max, a successful entrepreneur, gave me a great tip in his podcast The Mating Grounds: No matter how boring someone is, there’s at least one interesting fact about them. Your first job is to find that out. 

This really helped me because it’s really opened me up to learning interesting things about people I overlooked and really being less bored of people. I’ve found that a lot of top talk show hosts are always genuinely interested in everyone’s story no matter who they are.

Be Willing to Get Rejected. Realize You Can Only Do So Much.

Throughout my life, I have met people who just seemed to be holding back when I tried to be friendly. On a subtle level, they seemed to not show the enthusiasm and openness they do to other friends I see them with.

There was another person who was Indian, my age, and my neighbor. But every time I spoke, the response was always quick, cordial, and distant. This is fine. Not everyone is going to click with you.

I remember a group of Korean Americans in school that hung with 99% other Korean Americans. I tried my best to enthusiastically get involved but it always seemed like I was treated as an acquaintance. They never talked to me first and if they did, it was quick and more formal.

I may never know if it was because I was Chinese American. If so, that’s ridiculous. We’re all humans at the end of the day. Plus, I was Asian, just like them. But realize this: it’s a two-way street. You can’t control everything.

It’s easy to get caught up in believing that you have full control over who can be your friend from all the self-help advice out there. But the truth is, just like dating, both parties have to choose to be involved.

There could be hundreds of different reasons outside of your control that aren’t your fault as to why someone doesn’t want to be your friend.

Come to terms with this. Be fine with it. Don’t beat yourself up over it.

As long as I realize that I have done my part fully to show that I want to be friends (in a warm, enthusiastic, polite, non-creep way), the rest is up to the other person. What I can’t allow is for me to screw up on what I can control, such as being too shy to make friends.

It still stings for me when others don’t want to be friends but don’t take it too personally. Sometimes, you don’t really have that much in common anyways and you’re just trying to make friends to satisfy ego.

Balance Rather than Extremism

One key issue brought up constantly is that a good portion of the book is not on actually making friends. It’s on getting people to like you, even if it means manipulating.

From brutal real world experience, I’ve had to face the ineffectiveness of social advice given to me online and in books. I’d had to find my own ways.

One key to the problems is avoiding extremism. You can be open minded enough to have a partial interest in a hobby of the person you’re conversing with without going overboard and having to stay there for hours listening to that person. 

There’s A Difference Between Open-Mindedness and People-Pleaser

Yes, Dale Carnegie tells you to pay particular interest to others. But that doesn’t mean having no spine and excusing yourself when it truly bores you or changing the topic of conversation. Give it five to ten minutes and then shift.

You want to stray from the rigidness of only talking about your own interests, especially if you only care about video games and porn because that will drastically limit who you can talk to. But you don’t want to seek validation or approval so much that you become a completely fake version of yourself.

Men Misinterpret Smiling, So Be Tactful

The same goes for smiling. Women have to deal with the timeless issue of men misinterpreting their warmth as a sign that they are sexually interested. Studies have shown that men are biased to assume women are interested more often than not because it was evolutionary better to err this way.

But how do you counteract this? Smiling has proven to be a key biological facial behavior to display warmth and open people up. Well, you don’t go to an extreme. You don’t smile too much. You aren’t too bubbly. You display warmth in other ways, such as with positive intonation and a good handshake.

You avoid being too cold and distant but not too friendly. How about a friendly handshake rather than a hug?

Being Too Nice To The Point Of Becoming Someone You’re Not

Carnegie recommends being nice, pleasant, and agreeable. To avoid arguments.

But by taking this to an extreme, you become a servant. You become someone you’re not. You become manipulative. And people see this. They recognize that you’re doing something nice only to get something back. They detect that you’re lying about your true opinions and interests.

how to make friends out of college
Fear can turn you into pretending to be someone you’re not. Fear of rejection and judgement can cause you to be overly quiet or take on personality traits that aren’t you. Ironically, your fake identity ruins you since the people who like you only like the fake version of you rather than the real you.

You don’t express your true self by suppressing your opinions and agreeing with everything someone says to get them to agree with you.

Why doesn’t this advice work? It is more focused on getting people to like you whether you want to be their friend or not and whether you agree with their opinions or not. Perhaps, this might work in a government, quick-interaction business, or political scene, which is mainly the situation the book was written for. But you’re looking to make real, quality, lifelong friendships.

This is a common theme in the dating realm and why the phrase “nice guys finish last” is common. Nice guys often will become a shell of a person by agreeing with everything a girl says. In reality, he’d do a better job by occasionally expressing his own opinion and sharing his own interests that may be different from the girl. Girls do like having things in common but they can SENSE when you’re lying or being too agreeable to win her over and it turns her off.

Here’s the solution:

Become somewhat outcome independent. Stop being kind in order to get something. Be kind and give for the sake of giving and enjoying the experience of being nice. Be assertive enough to stand up for yourself and value yourself so you don’t get taken advantage of when you give too much to the wrong person.

How To Improve Your Social Skills To Make More Friends

I read in Napoleon Hill’s book Positive Action Plan that in order to make a friend, you must be a friend. You attract the type of person you are. Hill studied 500 of the wealthiest people in the world over 25 years to discover this. Apparently, Bill Gates agrees:

I’ve learned many things from Warren over the last 25 years, but maybe the most important thing is what friendship is all about. It’s about being the kind of friend you wish you had yourself.

Everyone should be lucky enough to have a friend who is as thoughtful and kind as Warren. He goes out of his way to make people feel good about themselves and share his joy about life. –Bill Gates

I will be citing Dale Carnegie’s book How To Win Friends and Influence People. This man has helped thousands of people successfully with their social skills, including Warren Buffett.

Be Present and Listen

Be present. Actually listen. Spend less time interrupting them and let them talk.

You are not present if you are thinking of the next thing to say instead of just listening and hearing what they say.

If you listen and ponder what they say, it will open you up to a bunch of interesting topics you can branch off of from there.

For example, if they answer with “I went to the mall and ate at Chick-Fil-A but the line was so busy.” There’s 3 things I could rant about: Chick-Fil-A, malls, or busy lines.. which I can then transition into anything really: I can talk about malls, add in a story about malls linked to something I want to talk about: maybe a bad hair day, transition to hair, and so on.

Meet Them In Meetings and Groups Of Interest

People can sense if you’re really not interested. You can only take it so far. There are some topics you are just not that into. Rather than lie, pretend, and stretch yourself immensely, find people who actually like stuff you’re into. It’s easier. Examples include: video games, anime, rap, or yoga.

If you kiss up too much and pretend to like a hobby you truly do not no matter how much you try, it’s detectable and a huge turn off, especially in the dating scene.

Also, try new hobbies you’ve never done before to possibly open yourself up to new people and new interests.

Say Their First Name Often

It’s so true. When people I have just met say my first name like they’ve known me for years, I just feel more connected and friendly with them.

Do the same thing in the same way. Keep it in a tone like you’ve known them for a while. There’s a certain level of familiarity and respect when you take the time to remember their name.

I’m really bad at first names so I am really working on this.

A great memory trick I learned from world record memorization experts is to make a funny, unique, and quirky visual representation around their name and how they look to remember their name.

Find Things In Common

I wanted to throw in my own thing here. This didn’t come from Dale Carnegie. This came from my own experiences, observations, and learning from the most social people I know.

It’s not rocket science.

On a very essential, primal level, we humans seek to connect by relating to eachother and finding things in common. We do this very naturally.

Technique You Can Use: 

Find 1 thing in common and 1 thing interesting about someone you meet.

How To Keep A Conversation Going

Scared of a conversation going dry? Scared of asking too many questions and boring people?

Add in statements, your own opinions, and sentences in between your questions. 

Honestly, that right there will put you above most people. I have met elderly individuals who still really suck at social skills and will ask 10 questions in a row, then trail off..

Many people haven’t invested a moment of their time in bettering themselves.

The Art of Smiling

Note: for attractive girls, you may be able to skip or tone down this one because men are already drawn to you and/or misinterpret this section.

Simple but missed because you may think you are smiling but you are not. That’s why it’s good to get feedback from others and/or record yourself in the mirror practicing.

A smile does a lot behind the scenes. It works mirror neurons in other people’s brains to emulate it, it’s recognizable and gets them to open up, and it makes you appear more attractive and approachable.

You know that guy who is always looking  down and looks like he doesn’t want to be talked to? Don’t be that guy. Open up your body language. Be friendly. Smile more. Studies show that smiling activate mirror neurons which cause others to smile and make you look more attractive.

By being more open, you increase your chances of meeting people.

Smiling is a deceptively difficult yet powerful skill. Many people suck at it. They picture in their head that they have this warm, kind smile. In reality, it comes off as a smirk, a slight twitch of a corner of the mouth, or a creep stare of a serial killer.

Smiling is a deceptively difficult because people never understand how important it is. So they won’t spend more than a couple seconds practicing it when it deserves at least a couple hours of attention, just like practicing the piano.

The Benefits of Smiling

Why is smiling so powerful? An effective, proper smile can open almost anyone up to you. Rather than walking past cold, distant people in the halls, you will warm them up and they will smile kindly back.

Smiling can also get people to talk to you first. You can get busy, successful people in a networking event to stop and consider talking to you rather than ignore you. You can get the attractive person you want to talk to maybe even talk to you first. Like humor, you can disarm people who may not know if you are a safe, cool person.  

Smiling reveals clues to others that you have good mental health, are happy, and likely a friendly person. Sad, mentally ill people have hard times smiling genuinely. A simple smile can convince that attractive person you want to talk to that you’re someone he or she wants to know more about.

A great smile can cause positive reactions from other people that they can’t even stop. They will smile back and/or give a friendly greeting before they consciously realize they did so.

Smiling can help your mood. Researchers who have studied the so-called “facial-feedback hypothesis” say smiling can intensify a person’s pleasure.

My Story

I’ve learned the power of smiling the hard way: by years of avoiding the power of smiling. I’m a moderately invisible guy. I’m not that attractive and don’t stick out. It kind of sucks when I walk past people in the hallways, whether they are delivery guys or people I’ve seen from a distance.

The situation usually ends up awkward, cold, or a non-event. They will pretend they don’t recognize me. They will avoid eye contact. Or they will just have a cold or neutral vibe that doesn’t make me any happier and sometimes gets me a little down.

Before I studied the science or really acknowledged the power of the smile, some part of me deep down already knew it. Perhaps, an unconscious part of me had picked it up from all the social skills and dating advice I consumed.

The point is that I naturally made an semi-conscious attempt to smile. It wasn’t really good. It was more of a twitch of one corner of the mouth into a smirk. You’ve probably seen someone do this yourself. I see it all the time. It’s a bad attempt at being cordial to friendly acquaintances you see.

The results were better but not great. For the next few years, I saw an increase in positive response. Because I made an attempt to make eye contact and smile with anyone I passed — even though it wasn’t a good attempt, I got some smiles or positive greetings back. Still, I got some awkward, quick acknowledgements and I still got ignored sometimes. I don’t blame them. My smile was barely a smile most of the time and almost a smile occasionally.

These first two stages are where most people stay for their entire lives. I’ve seen grown adults who will pretend like they don’t even know you are there when they pass you.

Actionable, Overlooked Smiling Tips

Science says the best smile involves softening your eyes and smiling with your whole face. If you’re not smiling with your eyes too, it can come off as a fake, forced smile — because it usually is. You’re not actually happy.

Have solid, focused eye contact. Train both eyes to look at a specific focus point. Practice this. This will prevent your eyes from drifting out of focus. When you practice this with real people, focus both of your eyes on just one of their eyes.

Relax your face muscles so they don’t tense up. This isn’t rocket science. Start with creating a bubbly, happy feeling inside of you. By genuinely being happy first, your body will naturally express the smile.

Smile with your mouth. Go in front of the mirror and see how your mouth smile works. For some people, the smile is too small. It’s more of a smirk. Practice on opening it up. Maybe you want to open it up to show your teeth because your mouth and lips are too small to make out a smile. Or maybe you want to hide the teeth because a grin looks more genuine to you.

Bonus points: Get someone who is socially skilled to assess your smile and see where you can improve. Ask them if you should show more teeth and/or if it looks genuine enough. Also, make sure you have good posture. Imagine the top of your head being pulled up to the sky by a string.

Putting it all together: Now, use all the tips you just mentioned together. Try to do your best smile with the mirror. Then, do it without the mirror and see if it was accurate. Keep practicing and adjusting if it’s not accurate.

Now, I suggest practicing and testing out your smile on real people. Of course, if you live in a huge city like New York with hundreds of strangers you pass daily, I’d recommend using common sense and tone it down. These people are busy and walking fast.  

A great opportunity to practice this would be in a small to moderate sized tribe of people you interact with on a recurring basis. This is because it’s more slow-paced and they already kind of know you so will give you more of a chance. This can be a fitness class, your workplace, or people at the park you always jog in. Likely, there will be people there who you have not introduced yourself to (maybe they’re in a different department or neighboring company) that you see semi-regularly. Maybe even on your trip to the bathroom.

Instead of just acting like they’re ghosts when you pass, give a genuine, warm smile. Gauge their response as a whole, not by an individual. You want a large enough sample size to see how effective your smile is.

You may immediately start seeing some good responses. People will be opening up to you more and being more warm. If not, keep practicing.

Smiling Lessons I Learned

I found out I’m a horrible smiler. After trying out the smiling mirror exercise, I found that any smile I do without using teeth makes me look creepy. In my head, I looked warm, friendly, and inviting. But when I looked in the mirror to check, I found out I looked strange.

For my small mouth, my smile can only stretch out so far so it doesn’t look like a smile.

I used to prefer not doing a smile with teeth because I have to really stretch my mouth to do so and I thought it seemed to overenthusiastic. But after doing this exercise, I realized that only smiles with teeth work for me so I make a conscious effort to resort to them.

The result? What I intend to convey to others is now more correlated with what my body displays. Instead of looking creepy when I want to look friendly and evoke warmth, that is what I do by consciously making sure to smile with teeth.   

Final Note: When Smiling Too Much Can Be An Issue

There are special circumstances when smiling too much can give off the wrong message you don’t want.

For a guy, smiling can backfire when I’m around young, attractive women my age as I feel like they think I’m hitting on them and it repels them but maybe I’m just paranoid. For women, smiling too much with men your age or moderately older can give off the vibe you’re interested in them as more than friends when you’re not. This may come off the wrong way in job interviews or at work.

Don’t Be Negative, Complain, or Criticize

I look at talk show hosts like Ellen Degeneres, Oprah Winfrey, or Jimmy Fallon to model myself after for this point. They never complain, criticize, or do anything negative towards their guests. If they do, it’s with humor and not malicious.

In a world of paparazzi and media, that can be tough to do.

Oprah has written a book called What I Know For Sure with some great life lessons on this.

Ellen has written tons of her own books, with similar insights.

The point is to keep positive. No one likes hanging around a negative person or someone who points out things they don’t like about you. There may be some average people who do, but those aren’t the type of people who you want to hang around.

Give Genuine Appreciation and Praise

With your words and actions, show thanks for what they have done for you. Thank them in detail.

Follow up, keep those relationships, and remember to praise them to others for what they have done.

Keep In Touch

To avoid never seeing them again, it’s important to keep the relationship strong and connected.

Get their contact information: phone number, email, and/or Facebook. Keep in touch with occasional messages at least once every 2 weeks, preferably more if you really want them to be a part of your circle. Add value to their lives. Help them out.

Some Places Are Tough: Acknowledge Your Past

There’s something called “ugly duckling” syndrome.

It’s when you let your childhood and past control your adult self-image. No matter your high level of social skills, there are sometimes just really rough schools to get through.

Maybe because of whatever reason out of your control, you were very unpopular. It could be that it was a very small and biased school size, a rough neighborhood, or a cultural difference. I’ve been there.

Even if you didn’t have something traumatic occur, it can still be affecting your present self-image. It’s tough to do sometimes but you need to be honest with yourself. Sometimes, it might require light, affordable therapy and/or meditation to uncover these things.

There could be hidden personal shame, embarrassment, or something else affecting your current state. There may be incidents of being left out that overshadowed other areas of your life like dating or career that you carry to this day. Perhaps a lack of friends in the past manifests in horrible self-image of yourself and low confidence.

This goes beyond the scope of expertise or knowledge available here, but remember that it can be overcome. You can become a positive, confidence, social guy.

I wanted to take a moment to address this because it’s in stark contrast to those 20 minute instant-confidence guaranteed courses out there. Some things go deeper than that.

Maybe there’s something deeper in your psychology that is holding you back from connecting or keeping in touch with people. Maybe a past break-up? Or a bad memory of a failed attempt?

Long story short: 

Be truly honest with yourself and figure out if any past beliefs or memories of lack of friends still affects your social skills, career, dating, or other areas of your life. There could be shame or low self-image manifesting to this day that you need to root out.

Realize Rules Can Be Broken

In the real world, I have realized that real life does not bow down to a process or set of guidelines.

I have seen people break these rules or random things occur that break any rigid structure.

Here are a few examples: trying to go through a 1-on-1 question, opinion, answer, question process and getting interrupted by 2 people turning it into a conversation of 4 people, conversations just going dead because you have hours ahead of you and just run out of topics or don’t connect as people, people only talking about themselves, people asking you more questions, people breaking the rules, people complain, people gossip, or people are not present themselves but own it.

I think all the “rules” work as great guidelines for most situations. However, I have realized that the real world is a bit more chaotic and a lot of people are not that socially skilled themselves.

And some even break the rules and get away with it.

Here’s What I’ve Learned From People With Tons of Great Friends..

I’ve read a lot of reviews on Carnegie’s book and I found that a lot of people complained that the book was really just a bout getting people to like you no matter what rather than speaking your opinion and finding genuine people wh o like you.

I do think there’s some truth to stuff like speaking your own opinion to attract the right people and repel the rest rather than always agree. Therefore, the rest of this article is on advice I learned from people I consider to be really good at making friends. It will be constantly updated as I want this to be THE timeless, A to Z guide.

Give Value With No Expectations of Getting Anything Back

Michael Ellesburg is someone I stumbled across through his book and a networking and career course by Ramit Sethi that I took. He frequently hangs out with billionaires like Sean Parker and other well-connected people. How did a freelance copywriter do this?

He understands that nobody is great at everything. Everyone has something that they can offer. So he helps these people for free as much as he can in the areas he’s skilled and experienced in: book publishing, copywriting, and online business. Without expecting or asking for anything in return, some of these people eventually come around to help him back. It can take years but it often pays for itself.

I wrote an article going into detail on how he does it.

A highly paid motivational speaker Sean Stephenson went on the I Love Marketing podcast to echo the exact same message. Sean says he doesn’t keep score. He just keeps giving and it comes back to him in time, often through speaking gigs through this network.

This seems to be a hidden secret of wealthy, successful people. I’ve come across this advice given from other people, including an interview of the money managers Mohnish Pabrai and Guy Spier.

The one thing I don’t like about this is that at the back of their mind, they are selecting who to give value to and are hoping to get something back on some level. Successful people especially can sense when you have ulterior motives. It’s best to truly be doing it without looking for a return. I still think always giving value is a great core principle you should have.

A few quick stories to help elaborate:

I knew this manager of a country club I really respected (he was honest, hard working, and was willing to do the grunt work). He said always give value but cut off the leeches. If someone is always taking money and favors from you for years without return, you can cut them off.

Another time, I heard a ton of social media experts keep talking about this whole concept. I got a bit frustrated and angry because I thought, “So you’re telling me if I empty my bank account and give it to a homeless person, it will come back to me? Ridiculous!” But I think what they mean is that you can give a lot of value strategically that doesn’t cost you much at all.

Remove Hidden Psychological Blocks and False Beliefs

The Mating Grounds podcast and the book Code of the Extraordinary Mind really goes into depth on this topic. You don’t have to go through traumatic childhood events to have psychological blocks.

Look back to your first interaction with making friends and see if you’ve constructed any psychological blocks or beliefs. Here are just a few examples:

  • “I’m not popular so I can’t have friends.”
  • “I’m not the same race so they won’t like me so I shouldn’t try.”
  • “I can’t afford the same clothes and I’m nerdy. I know they’ll reject me.”
  • “They’re a bad influence if they’re not successful. I can’t be their friend.”

Just like with money, we can have mental blocks that we hold into adulthood even after our financial and physical conditions have changed. Give yourself and others permission to be your friend. For even more reading, Ramit Sethi has great articles on overcoming these invisible scripts.

Hang Around People Great At Making Friends

Choose someone who is great at making friends. Take some time with your choice.  Some give a fake impression that they are but you want people who truly are good. If you can give value and hang around him or her, you can learn a lot quickly and a lot of it could rub off on you unconsciously. It’s a great way to learn all the subtle things they do quickly.

Study charismatic celebrities like Russell Brand or Craig Ferguson to learn how to be more social. A good YouTube channel for this is Charisma on Command.

Initiate First with Commonalities

If you’re not getting talked to first a lot, it’s up to you to start a conversation. It may never happen until you do. It can be anything from the weather to the latest video game. But start with topics you’re both likely to be interested in. Humans naturally seek a connection by first finding hobbies and topics they have in common. That’s why the weather always comes up; because it affects everyone.

Don’t be afraid of it being boring. I’ve listened to a ton of conversations over the years and the topics are quite mundane (from shopping to what they eat). If you do sense the conversation going dry, try to add humor to make it more interesting or talk about what interests them.

Quality Over Quantity

I once met someone from Georgia and I asked him if it’s true that people in Georgia are more rude. He told me “I don’t know. I only make friends with nice people.”

You get to choose your friends and your standards. Just because you have few or no friends doesn’t mean you have to settle for the scraps by hanging around people who treat you horribly.

For some people, all they have known in life is scarcity of friends. Therefore, they think it’s better to have someone rather than no one and so they will put up with a”friend” who is verbally and/or physically abusive.

I’ve seen this happen firsthand in school and I’ve caught myself doing this before.

Because of these memories, it’s important you beware of swinging to the other end of the spectrum and chase sheer quantity of friends over all else. Or they develop unrealistically high standards for what they consider a friend that they don’t get any.

It’s easy to be caught in this belief that more is always better in the age of social media where you can log into Facebook and see someone you know with “thousands” of friends.

But the truth is that from an evolutionary biological perspective, a human mind can only process approximately 150 meaningful, stable relationships. This number is coined Dunbar’s Number, after Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary anthropologist.

I’ve learned directly from people with a normal, healthy quantity of friends and people with a abnormally high amount of friends. And both groups have a core group of quality friends that isn’t large. The popular people just have a larger amount of acquaintances and people they’re friendly with.

The truth is that some of the most popular people you know have a core group of best friends that may be less than 5 people. They just have a larger volume of more shallow layers of friendship outside that.

You’re naturally not going to vibe with everyone. People have different hobbies, interests, and backgrounds. You’re likely not going to become great friends with most of the people you see in a classroom and that’s perfectly fine and natural. 

Sometimes, you should disagree or cut ties with someone who just doesn’t have enough common interests; it’s normal. You’re not going to connect with everybody and neither will anyone else. You want to repel the people you don’t want and attract the people who are great fits.

Pretending too much that you like the hobbies someone else does when you don’t will be detected and it will turn them away.

And just because someone is rich, wealthy, or popular doesn’t mean he’s a good person or someone you’d enjoy hanging out with. I’d prefer a kind, friendly, funny, nerdy guy who doesn’t make that much money to an arrogant, rude rich guy any day. Define your criteria and look for who fits it. Otherwise, you won’t know what you’re after.

There could be a psychological block from childhood such as “I’ve never had friends. I need to be everyone’s friend” that could be affecting you. Once you become aware, you can start to develop standards for what you want.

What I Learned From Those Great With Making Friends

I directly reached out to some people I knew who were great at making tons of friends for their top 3 tips. This is what they said:

1) Friends always start off as strangers. Be willing to talk to new people to try to find similar interests.

2) People enjoy talking about themselves. Spend less time talking about you and more time asking questions about them.

3) It’s a lot easier to keep an old friend than to make a new one, don’t neglect old friends even when new ones come along.

That last point on making sure not to neglect old friends is vital. Where I see a lot of people fall off is failing to rekindle and keep up relationships with friends they’ve already made back in high school or earlier.

To use a business analogy, pretend you’re the CEO of a small membership site like Netflix. If you’re constantly only focused on finding new members without maintaining the value you deliver to old members, you’re going to those old members and it will be a constant fight just stay at your current number of members. Retention is just as important, if not more.

People who fail at this seem to see as a chore but it shouldn’t be. This should be fun. You are reconnecting with someone you had a lot of fun being around in the past. Plus, like she said, some of the most valuable relationships are your longest and oldest.

I’ve realized I’ve failed to do this myself and have experimented a lot with reaching out to old friends I haven’t met in years on Facebook to meet for a coffee or lunch. It works great and I’m glad I did it.

I would say one thing would be not too much self-disclosure, especially at first. It’s easy to scare people away.

Once you know someone well enough and have a feeling for them, then opening up completely is acceptable.

Second, probably a stress on equality and being humble. You never want to make someone feel like you are above them in any way, especially if you’re making younger friends.

And third, having a sense of humor, including about yourself. It’s awesome when someone doesn’t take themselves so seriously.

Just like with dating, you don’t want to seem too creepy or desperate by giving away your whole life story or getting too emotional too soon. There is a time and a place for that. Just be patient.

I also liked the point on not taking yourself too seriously and adding humor. Jokes are a great way of lightening the mood and making everyone, including yourself, feel better. Plus, it’s a great reminder you’re often taking some struggle or goal way too seriously than you need to.


Here’s a minimalist checklist on making friends if you just want the how without all the explanations:

  • Smile
  • Find out other people’s interests
  • Be genuinely interested in other people’s interests
  • Listen
  • Go to activities and meetings of groups and activities you’re interested in to meet people
  • Say their first name often like you’ve known them for a while

I’m always looking for the best advice based on scientific research or the most successful people on a topic. If you’ve found any in terms of making friends, let me know in the comments below and I’d love to learn more.

What’s the #1 technique you’ve tested to make friends that has worked? I’d like to hear your stories in the comments below. 

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By Will Chou

I am the the founder of this site and I am grateful you are here to be part of this awesome community. I help hard-working Asian American Millennials get rich doing work they love.

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