Ancient philosophers have wrestled with the concept of how to be a good friend for centuries. In 44 B.C., the Roman statesman and author Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote a book called “Laelius de Amicitia (A Treatise on Friendship).” It was a very short book. However, it was such valuable advice on a friendship that it was one of the first books that were ever translated into English and printed.
Being a good friend may come naturally to some. But if you could use a few tips on the art of friendship, read on. We’ve compiled a list of tips on how to be a better friend.
1. Acknowledge More Than Just Birthdays
It’s always nice when someone remembers your birthday. Remember to send a physical card in the mail to your friends on their birthdays. If you don’t know your friend’s birthday, ask. Additionally, take note of your friend’s wedding anniversary, children’s and spouse’s birthdays and the like. Of course, you aren’t expected to send all of your friends’ relatives gifts. But it’s good to be aware of special days and mention them. It shows your friend that you care about his or her life and family.
2. Don’t Wait Until Your Friend Asks for Help
When your friend is moving, assume that he or she could use a hand loading up the truck and offer to be there. If your friend is sick, show up with a container of chicken soup or roasted tomato soup. If your friend is recovering from surgery, offer to pick up dirty laundry, wash it and bring it back folded. Very few people are particularly comfortable reaching out to ask for help when they need it. Do your best to consider your friend’s need for help before he has to ask. Texting the phrase, “Let me know if you need anything” is nice, but it’s not the approach of a good friend. Rather, say things like, “What time can I bring over dinner for you?” or, “I have a couple of hours this afternoon. What’s the best way I can help?” These kinds of statements convey the message that you are ready and willing to lend a hand.
3. Show Your Gratitude
It’s generally polite to thank people when they show kindness. This is even more true for your close friends. Remember to show your gratitude always when a friend has gone out of his or her way to help you. Sending a card to say thanks is a nice way to extend your gratitude.
4. Listen Well
It’s nice to have stories to tell or exciting happenings to share with your friends, but listening is more important. If you tend to be a talker, remind yourself to stop and ask your friend questions. Then listen. Listening is the best way to get to know your friend’s heart. It also shows him or her that you truly care.
5. Be Honest and Trustworthy
If you want to maintain a quality friendship, be a person your friend can trust. To gain a friend’s trust, you have to be honest and trustworthy. Don’t gossip to your friend about other people’s sensitive matters. Also, tell the truth and be forthcoming. Your friends will appreciate your integrity and learn that you are a trustworthy person.
6. Be Someone Your Friend Can Depend On
Keep your word. If you tell your friend that you’ll be at his or her house at 3 p.m., be there at that time. When you agree to meet for dinner, don’t back out at the last minute because you just don’t feel like going. No one likes a fickle friend. Do your best to stay true to your word.
7. Make Time for Your Friends
Life gets busy. It’s easy to get all wrapped up in the daily grind and forget to schedule in regular meetings with our friends. Try a monthly meet-up. One of my friends and I keep a monthly Sunday dinner date at her house. On the third Sunday of the month, we both know that we have plans together. Very seldom do we miss that monthly dinner. If we’ve been busy with our own lives for the rest of the month, we can count on our standing date. Getting together regularly helps keep friendship alive and growing.
8. Always Apologize When You’ve Messed Up
This may seem like a no-brainer. Sometimes, however, with the people we love most, we get so comfortable that we forget to apologize when we’ve said something insensitive, been unkind or made some other kind of gaffe. Own it. Don’t start the apology with, “If I’ve done something to offend you …” Rather, just come right out and identify the offense, own up and say, “I’m sorry.” Your sincerity will go a long way to healing the wound.
9. Be Quick to Forgive
Equally as important as apologizing is forgiving. “That’s OK,” or “Don’t worry about it” doesn’t express forgiveness effectively. Use the actual words, “I forgive you,” when a friend apologizes to you. Forgiving someone is a powerful step toward reconciliation, which should be the goal between friends in conflict.
10. Balance Out the Give and Take
It’s incredibly important, in friendship to give as much as you take, and vice versa. While you don’t want to keep score in this department, it’s healthy for the friendship if both parties are doing favors and receiving them somewhat equally. If your friend has come to help you with your housecleaning three weeks in a row and hasn’t needed any favors of her own, it’s time to take her out to lunch or have flowers sent over. Don’t neglect to repay kindness with more kindness in your friendships.
11. Be Respectful of Your Differences
When you and a friend disagree on a particular topic, it may be best to discuss it as little as possible. When you do talk about touchy subjects like politics, religion and parenting philosophies, do so with tact and gentleness. Don’t plan to coerce your friend into agreeing with your viewpoint. Respect that each person has a unique perspective and accept your differences.
12. Learn More About Your Friends
If you’ve been friends for six months, but you don’t know what her spouse does for a living or what her regular drink is at the coffee shop, it’s time to start asking more questions. Spend time actively trying to know your friend better.
13. Be Careful When Offering Your Advice
From time to time, your friend may lean on you for advice. However, your advice is not needed on the regular. Your friend doesn’t need your input on what to eat, how to manage relationships and what parenting style to practice. In general, wait until your friend asks for advice before you offer it. Doling out advice to your friend constantly will change the dynamic of the relationship ― usually in a negative way.
14. Include Your Friends
Don’t leave your friends out in the cold. If you’re having a meaningful event or celebration, invite your friend. Even when it’s likely that your friend cannot make it, give him or her the option to decline. It feels better to be invited than to be left out, for whatever the reason.
15. Respect Boundaries
In the early 1990s, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend wrote the groundbreaking self-help book called “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life.” Dr. Cloud says, “Boundaries are basically about providing structure, and structure is essential in building anything that thrives.”
Creating and respecting boundaries in your friendships is necessary. Say “no” when you don’t want to get up at 6 a.m. to meet your friend for coffee. Decline an invitation to a cookie exchange at your friend’s house when you’ve just started a no-sugar diet. If your friend cares for you, he or she will not want you to be uncomfortable just to appease.
Dr. Cloud added, “A good test of a relationship is how a person responds to the word ‘no.’ Love respects ‘no,’ control does not.”
Respecting boundaries also means not expecting your friend to cater to your every whim. If you want a shopping buddy the day after Thanksgiving, but your friend would rather stay at home with her family, don’t get upset when she declines. Be understanding and respectful of her. Don’t attempt to control your friends so that you can always have your needs met.
16. Don’t Become Jealous
Your friends have lives, families and other relationships. Don’t be jealous when your friend takes time to cultivate other priorities in his or her life. It is somewhat normal to feel a little envious at times when your friend’s attention is divided. But never burden your friend with your own insecurities. Offer your blessing instead. Encourage your friend to be a good friend to others as well as yourself.
17. Keep in Touch Well
Even if you live in different time zones, remember to send out birthday cards and send a text once in a while. When months have passed, pick up the phone and give your friend a call.
18. When Things Seem Off, Check in
If your friend normally calls or texts once a week, but you haven’t heard from her since last Thursday. It could be that she’s super busy. But it also might indicate that there’s been a misunderstanding between the two of you.
Check-in with her. Ask if you’ve done something to offend her or if everything is OK. It’s good to know if you need to apologize. If there isn’t anything wrong, at least your friend knows that you care enough to make sure.
19. Accept Changes in Your Friendship
Your friendship will not always remain the same. Cicero covered this in his treatise. He wrote, “Friendships from youth will not be the same in old age ― nor should they be. Life changes all of us with time, but the core values and qualities that drew us to friends in years past can survive the test of time.”
When your friend gets married, divorced, has a new grandchild or gets a demanding job, it will affect and change your friendship. Embrace the changes as an opportunity for your relationship to grow through the transition. Be understanding, supportive and patient during these times.
Be a better friend. Dr. Cloud said, “The human heart will seek to be known, understood and connected ― with above all else. If you do not connect, the ones you care about will find someone who will.”
Make an effort to improve your friendships by being a better friend to people around you. Treat your friends as the true gifts that they are to you and you’ll never be alone in life.
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Cicero, M. T. (2018). A treatise on friendship. (Philip Freeman, Trans.). USA: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 44 B.C.)
Cloud, H. and Townsend, J. (1992). Boundaries: When to say yes, how to say no to take control of your life. USA: Zondervan.