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The ultimate guide on how to be a better friend

July 29, 2022 - 15 min read

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Why is it important to be a good friend?

How can having good friends improve your mental health?

How can you be a better friend?

How can you tell when you're not being a good friend?

7 extra tips for shy people

Start investing in your friendships

Friends can come from anywhere. 

You likely have close friends from childhood, new friends you've made at work, and friends you've made through your travels. You could see yourself as a shining example of what it means to be a good friend.

But are you always like that? Have you ever slipped up and found yourself struggling to stay connected and supportive?

Lots of talk goes into becoming a better version of your authentic self, but learning how to be a better friend isn't discussed as often. Our relationships play an important part in our well-being and overall health, so why not know how to strengthen that part of our lives?

Let's first dive into how to be a better friend.

 

Why is it important to be a good friend?

Friendship is a two-way street. If you aren't a good friend, why would someone feel the need to support you? 

Being a good friend allows you to continuously learn new things. As you try your best to be a good friend, your point of view could change. 

Let's say you're helping your friend adjust to a major career change they're experiencing; supporting them could show you that change is good and motivate you to embrace it in your own life.

People become busy as they try to juggle each aspect of their life. Professional commitments, family time, finishing school or certificate courses, and more take up a lot of time. 

But being a good friend means that you’re there through it all, and you support them through all of their experiences. Romantic relationships can also force friendships out of the spotlight.

Don’t forget that your best friend was there long before your significant other and find a healthy balance in how your invest your time in your relationships. 

We all get busy, but taking care of our friendships shouldn’t slip down our priority list. 

Learning how to be a good friend involves learning how to identify a toxic friendship, too. You'll become more self-aware if you're being toxic or if your friend is harming your mental health.

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How can having good friends improve your mental health?

Our friendships have more of an impact on us than simply having someone to hang out with. Strong friendships improve our mental health and influence how we go about our daily lives.

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Friendships can help alleviate stress

Knowing that you have a support system with people who will help you problem-solve and give you some good, solid advice enables you to combat stress. If you're going through stressful life changes, like juggling your new job with new family responsibilities, they're there to listen and offer help.

Our friends being there for us can really help. Researched published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that when people had a friend beside them, their blood pressure and heart rate lowered when dealing with something stressful.

Participants were able to relax more and enjoy the support and company that their friends provided, regardless of how stressful their environment was.

Friendships boost self-esteem and confidence

Friends also offer positive encouragement. The positivity they surround us with will help us become more confident and boosts our self-esteem, allowing us to better meet our goals. 

Research has shown that when we have regular positive, in-person connections with people, we feel more supported and confident in ourselves. Without it, people tend to feel more lonely, and our well-being suffers.

Some research also highlights that although social media allows us to contact people with ease, it doesn’t replace what face-to-face contact can do for our self-confidence and overall well-being.

Another study done by the American Psychological Association found that our social relationships shape how our self-esteem and self-confidence is developed at any age. Who we surround ourselves with and what kind of support they provide can influence us greatly. Positive friendships also boost our well-being, while negative social relationships have the opposite impact. 

Friendships serve as a support system during struggles

The way we support our friends may differ because everyone faces different struggles. Someone experiencing depression or anxiety might have more trouble reaching out or meeting you in the middle of friendship’s two-way street.

Being a good friend to someone with depression shows them that they aren't fighting their battles alone. Remember that you can’t do it all, but you can encourage your friend to take care of themselves and remain patient and understanding through their mental health journey.

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Sometimes, friends can’t provide the support that mental health professionals can. Know that you’re not a bad friend because you can’t offer someone support as much as they need — but encouraging them to find it is a sign of being a good friend. 

Our social networks, like friendships, are an important part of our health and wellness. Positive well-being increases when we have a social network to support us when we go through challenging moments.

How can you be a better friend?

If you've ever asked yourself, "How can I be a better friend?" then look no further. Here are 10 tips on how to be a better friend:

  1. Check in on your friends if you haven't heard from them in awhile
  2. Let them know you're grateful for their lasting friendship
  3. Be a good listener when they speak
  4. Celebrate their achievements and be supportive during their failures
  5. Be present when your friends need you the most
  6. Don't hold their mistakes over them
  7. Show more empathy 
  8. Communicate with them honestly and openly
  9. Remember to laugh and bring humor into their lives
  10. Don't be afraid to intervene for the sake of their health

Find someone to help you stay accountable as you learn to be a better friend. With BetterUp, a coach can provide the accountability you need to keep working on your listening and communication skills to strengthen your friendships.

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How can you tell when you're not being a good friend?

So we know what makes a good friend, but it's equally important to understand what makes a bad friend. If you recognize some of your own behavior or habits in these examples below, be mindful of them for the future.

1. You can't keep any of their secrets

Friends are supposed to trust one another with intimate details and things they don't want the entire world to know. If you find yourself blabbing their secrets to the next person you speak to, you're betraying their trust. 

They trusted you with personal things, and spreading their information around might feel their trust issues and how they open up to people in the future.

2. You take advantage of their loyalty

True friends will be loyal to you and support you throughout your life. People that take advantage of others' kindness and willingness to help aren't good friends. 

Rather than value someone’s loyalty and support, they exploit them. It could be in the form of asking your friends to run your errands or take on the responsibilities you don't want to have.

3. You never say you're sorry

When was the last time you apologized to your friend? For anything? If you have a hard time admitting that you were wrong or that what you did was rude, you aren't treating your loved ones with respect. 

True friends do more than recognize when they've hurt others; they apologize and try to become more self-aware of their mistakes next time.

4. You don't put much effort into the friendship

Again, a good friendship is a two-way street. Are you sending text messages and reaching out to them as much as they are to you? How often do you ask if they want to catch up? 

Putting in the effort to ask them questions, be a good listener, and understand them deeply means that you're investing in the friendship. If you aren't, you could be showing them that you aren't interested and don't value them as your friend.

5. You constantly bail on them

Life happens, and sometimes we can't make all of our plans come true. But when you always pass them up for something else, you aren't showing that you care about their feelings. Let's say your old roommate suggests you go out for dinner. 

If you already had plans with another friend to do the same and bail on them for this new person, it doesn't show much loyalty. Leaving them shows you have no regard for their time or their connection.

7 extra tips for shy people

For extroverts, opening up to friends and doing things to strengthen their relationships could seem easy. But it could be a struggle for people who are more on the shyer side.

Here are seven tips to help you become a better friend and get along with others if you feel like your shyness intervenes:

  1. Encourage yourself with positive self-talk
  2. Step outside your comfort zone to better understand your friends
  3. Be curious about your friends and ask questions when appropriate 
  4. Focus on who you're talking to and be an active listener
  5. Don't worry about your mistakes or what others think of you
  6. Come up with a list of conversation topics beforehand
  7. Form relationships on social media or other web platforms that require less in-person social interactions

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Start investing in your friendships

Moving forward, keep in mind that not all friendships are meant to last. Some people will only stay in your life when you work with them or have a class with them. That's okay. But your closest friends deserve a friend that will be there to support them, just as you deserve the same.

Perhaps you read some things that you were afraid that you'd relate to. What matters is that you're taking the initiative to build skills that will lead you to become a better friend. In the long run, your mental health will benefit, and so will your friends.

But this doesn't mean you should change yourself entirely. You can't change who you are, and your real friends don't want you to.

Now that you’re ready to learn more about how to be a better friend, find support from someone outside of your circle of friends. With BetterUp, you can work with a coach to help strengthen your relationships.

BetterUp can also help guide you when you realize it’s time to re-allocate your time in other friendships, too. Part of reaching your full potential is investing in the people who will support you along the way. Get started today.

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Published July 29, 2022

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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