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What are the qualities of a good friend? You’ve probably had a lot of amazing — and not so amazing — friends over the years. Knowing what made the great ones stand out from the rest can help you choose the right friends going forward.
Friendships make life more meaningful and are good for our health. Great friends offer emotional support and make us feel loved and connected. These are critical elements of our mental and social wellbeing. That’s why it’s so important to choose our friends wisely and treat them well.
However, sometimes finding, or even being, a good friend can get tough. For many people, making friends as an adult already feels harder. We often don't know where friendship will bloom. We have so many casual acquaintances to nurture but only so much time and energy.
Life is busy, and humans are easily distracted. In these moments, though, knowing the qualities of a good friend is even more important. We need support the most when work is stressful or personal problems are weighing us down.
Whether you have too many best friends to count or are still looking for one or two, here’s everything you need to know about what makes a true friend and how to know which friendships are worth the investment.
What are the qualities of a good friend?
Knowing the characteristics of a good friend can help you appreciate your current relationships and make new, meaningful connections.
Not every person you meet will become your new best friend. In fact, approaching meeting new people with an eye toward making a best friend is almost certainly going to create stress and possibly make people uncomfortable. A network of loose social connections is valuable to both your well-being and success, too. These loose friendly connections are what form a community.
Many people in our lives will move somewhere along the spectrum between acquaintance and best friend. These different relationships are all important. Understanding where someone fits on your spectrum and differentiating what you expect from the relationship is helpful. However, anyone you call a friend should live up to certain standards if you are going to invest yourself in the friendship.
From casual acquaintances to “besties,” here are 11 qualities of a good friend:
1. They live with integrity
A friend with integrity acts in alignment with their values and commitments. They have strong moral principles, know the difference between right and wrong, and will speak or act when their principles are violated. They know themselves and behave and speak in ways that are consistent. Because of this, you can believe in them even when you disagree with them.
2. You can trust them
A close friend is honest and speaks from the heart with good intentions. They tell you what you need to hear in a way that you can hear rather than gossip behind your back. A quality friend is trustworthy, not only are your secrets safe with them, but so are your vulnerability, fear, and weirdness.
3. “Dependability” is their middle name
Good friends show up, keep promises, do what they say they will do, and stand up for you. You don't have time for fair-weather friends. That doesn't mean a friend will be dependable across all dimensions — they aren't superheroes any more than you are. A friend can make mistakes, but you have to feel you can rely on them in some core way. For example, I have a friend who is always late and overwhelmed, but I know that I can depend on her to listen to me talk and accept me unconditionally.
4. They’re loyal
Blind loyalty is never a good idea. But, if your friends have integrity, they’re likely loyal to the people they care about and who have been with them through ups and downs.
They don’t speak negatively about you, they listen to your side of the story, give you the benefit of the doubt, and they defend you when you deserve it.
5. They have empathy for others
A good friend has that amazing ability to put themselves in your shoes, otherwise known as empathy. They do their best to understand what you’re feeling and react accordingly.
6. They’re good listeners
Listening skills are essential for a good friend. If someone has the qualities of a good friend, they give you room to speak, ask questions, validate your emotions, and help you find perspective. Some friends are good at helping you see things in a new light.
7. Their confidence is contagious
This is an important trait for any friend. They are comfortable with themselves and comfortable with you. Real confidence will inspire you, draws you out, lends you courage when you don't quite have it, and helps you feel confident to take on the world.
8. Spending time with them makes you feel good
Is this trait number 8? This could easily be #1. Otherwise, what’s the point? A great friend can have down days, but overall they have a positive mindset. Just being with them cheers you up when you feel down. The bottom line is that time with them should be something you look forward to.
9. You wonder how they’re not a professional comedian
Granted, this trait isn't absolutely necessary. But a sense of humor is helpful. A friend doesn't have to be professionally funny, just share a similar sense of humor to help you both find the lighter side when things get tough. They know how to hit your funny bone and appreciate your quirks. Someone who rolls their eyes at your jokes might not feel good to be around.
10. They're non-judgmental
Real friends never make you feel bad for being yourself. With a good friend, you can come to the table as your true self.
11. They’re low-maintenance
No drama here. If you’re busy, they won’t hold it against you. And when you reconnect, it’s like no time has passed at all.
If your friend has any or all of these qualities, remind them that they’re awesome. That kind of positivity helps keep relationships alive.
How to spot a bad friend
1. They constantly “one-up” you
They always make their issues seem more significant than yours. If you tell them about your bad day, they tell you how their day was worse. If you’re proud of an achievement, they’ll mention how they did it better.
This constant competition only invalidates your feelings, and good friends don’t do that.
2. They’re a bad influence
They encourage you to participate in risky behavior or activities that make you uncomfortable. If they don’t respect your boundaries, they’re not worth having in your life.
3. They bully and belittle you
Some “friends” only keep you around to make you feel bad. They want to feel better about themselves, so they take it out on you. Don’t let them.
The importance of good friends
It’s important to cut toxic people out of your life. This can be scary, but you have to create space for people with the qualities of a good friend to enter your life.
Maybe you’ve known your toxic friends for a long time. You could be afraid of being alone. Neither are good enough reasons to keep people that don’t treat you well around.
When you have good friends, your mental health will thank you. They’ll lift you up when times are tough, celebrate your wins, and help you feel whole. These people are out there — you just have to find them. It might take some work, but it is possible.
How to find good friends
Making new friends as an adult is difficult. Between work and other obligations, it’s hard to put yourself out there, but it’s worth it.
Here are some tips for finding more positive and meaningful relationships:
1. Try new activities
Look for things to do that involve strangers. It’s especially a good idea to do things that you love — studies show that we seek friends who are similar to us. Who knows? A new best friend could be waiting for you at your next dance class.
Here are some ideas to consider:
- Attend local events: A block party could be happening right around the corner. Or there could be a singles meetup at the local park. Don’t be afraid to go alone and strike up a conversation with someone. Chances are, they’re looking to meet people, too.
- Volunteer: Find a cause that you’re passionate about and go help. This is a great way to meet people with similar interests as you.
- Take up a new hobby: Try a new sport, take a class, or join some other kind of group activity. Many of these things have weekly meetups, so it’s a great way to get to know people.
2. Become your own best friend
Don’t depend on others for your happiness. Learn how to make yourself happy. Take yourself out on dates, see a movie by yourself, or plan a cozy night in. When you treat yourself with respect and love, others notice. It comes out as confidence and high self-esteem.
3. Be a good friend to others
Remember, friendship is based on reciprocity. Make sure you embody all of the traits we listed above. Be a good friend to the people who deserve it and cut out those who don’t.
The tough part of friendship
True friendship isn’t always sunshine and roses. You might fight, fall out of touch, or be jealous of each other — all of which can put a strain on an otherwise great relationship.
And sometimes, your friend’s decisions won’t make you happy. You might have to confront them about their poor romantic partner, take their car keys away while they’re drunk, or intervene if they’re behaving recklessly. These things aren’t easy, but they’re necessary if you want to be a good friend.
You have to trust that your relationship can survive any rough patches through open and honest communication.
The bottom line
Building meaningful relationships takes work. It requires you to be vulnerable with others, be honest about how you feel, and step up for the people who need you. You’ll also have to trust your gut about cutting negative people from your life.
But remember: the struggle is worth it. Now that you know the qualities of a good friend, you can find people who will support you during hard times and help you feel more fulfilled. This will improve all aspects of your life.
And if you need help, BetterUp is here. We can help build your confidence, set personal relationship goals, and become a better friends. These skills will help you as you search for your people.