3 Ways to Spark New Friendships (and 3 Reasons You Should)

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Photo credit: iStockphoto.com (Mary Long)

One of the big myths about friendship is that we think it should happen naturally—that is, without deliberate effort on our part. 

There is good reason for this. After all, at certain times and places, it does happen organically. Remember college? Or even high school? Friendships seemed to bubble up. That’s because school environments have three conditions that research has shown help friendships arise organically: close physical proximity with others, repeated/frequent contact, and a setting that encourages us to confide in each other. 

However, according to Conferences for Women speaker and psychologist Dr. Marisa Franco, all three conditions are only sometimes present in many other environments, including workplaces.

“We may, for example, see people every day at work. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we might not be as unguarded and vulnerable with our colleagues as we might have been with friends when we were younger and in school,” says Franco, the New York Times best-selling author of Platonic: How The Science of Attachment Can Help You Make—and Keep—Friends. Some research finds that the more time people spend together at work, the less close they tend to be.

So, there’s no getting around it. If you want to make new friends–and you should, says Franco–you must make the effort. 

Why Friendships Are Good For You 

“Connection is vital for our physical and emotional health,” says Franco. The strongest characteristic of “very happy people” is their connectedness. Connection also supports physical health, strengthening immunity and even longevity. 

But why, you may ask, should you make an effort, especially if you are happy with a partner and perhaps even children? 

“A myth a lot of us have been fed about connection is the idea that we only need a nuclear family, and that’s connection enough,” says Franco. We may even think that spending time with friends and spending time with a partner are antithetical to each other. 

“But in fact, the research finds that if we spend time with friends, our marriages, our relationships with our partner, will be even stronger,” she says. 

So, how do we deliberately spark new friendships and overcome our hesitation to reach out? 

How to Cultivate New Friendships 

Franco has three suggestions: 

Assume that people like you

People commonly fear that others will reject them if they reach out to initiate a connection. However, research shows that people are much less likely to be rejected than we think. To put it another way, we tend to underestimate our likeability.

Recognizing this can help you overcome hesitation to reach out and become more likable. When you envision others liking you, you tend to be friendlier, making you seem likable. 

Overcome overt avoidance

Sticking to your routine – of, say, work and home life – isn’t going to make new friendships emerge. “You have to put yourself in situations where you can meet people, whether that’s a professional development group, an improv class, language class, or your alumni group,” says Franco.

Reduce covert avoidance

“Covert avoidance happens when you show up physically, but you check out mentally,” says Franco. “You’re on your phone. You’re standing physically distanced from everyone else. You’re talking to that one person you already knew instead of initiating with new people. 

“And so overcoming covert avoidance looks like approaching new people and saying, ‘Hi, it’s nice to meet you.’ How have you been enjoying this so far? Tell me more about yourself.’” 

And if you still don’t feel comfortable? 

“Start with people in your past that you used to be connected to, that you are no longer connected to, that you wish you’d never fallen out of touch with,” says Franco. The most common reason why friendship ends is because we just fall out of touch with each other. 

“You may think, ‘They’ve moved on with their lives. They don’t want to hear from me,’” she says. “But what we find in the research is that they might want to hear from you and enjoy active reconnection.” 

Dr. Marisa Franco spoke at the 2023 Texas Conference for Women and the 2024 National Conference for Women.