How to Be a Good Friend

March 22nd, 2013 by Nick Notas 8 Comments

Zach Braff and Donald Faison

Good friends are family.

They aren’t just buddies we have a fun time with but people we treat like our own blood. They can be profound connections that are forged for a lifetime.

I remember sitting in the car with my girlfriend and a close friend when he opened up to us. “Listen, you know how much I care about my mom and brother. They have the best intentions but sometimes they don’t truly understand me. But you both do. And I want you to know that you’re my family, too.”

It was one of the most honest and meaningful statements someone had ever said to me.

The other day I was excited to see a “How to Be a Good Friend” article appear in my feed. Reading through it was severely disappointing for a topic so important. When I searched for similar articles on Google, I was amazed to see how many contained idealistic advice that lacked any substance.

Here’s my list of ground rules that I follow to be a good friend.

  1. Don’t be a fair-weather friend. You have to maintain your own life and set boundaries for your time. However, being there only when it’s beneficial or convenient for you is selfish. Friendship should be a mutually valuable connection.

    This especially applies when starting a new relationship. Don’t forget about your friends or let your partner dictate who you’re allowed to see. Even though you have less free time, keep in touch and make plans when you can. How can you expect the friends you ignore to welcome you with open arms if the relationship ends?

  2. Never pressure or guilt them into something they don’t want to do. And don’t allow it to happen to you, either. Everyone has to take responsibility for their actions, but we’re easily influenced by our close friends.

    Back in the day, some friends thought it was funny to push our already drunk buddy to take a huge dose of shrooms. He then had an intense mental breakdown, sobbed for hours, got caught by his father, and was taken to the hospital. Moral of the story: recognize when a friend is being pushed too far and respect their wishes.

  3. Be happy for their success, even if it’s something you wanted. Don’t be another crab in the bucket. I see this especially when dealing with self-improvement and confidence with women. Men get jealous that they aren’t pushing themselves and try to deter others from excelling. Support your friends in all their productive endeavors. Don’t let your own insecurities prevent you from being fair and supportive.
  4. Don’t talk about them behind their back. If you have a problem with a specific person, speak to them directly. You have no right to complain if you haven’t addressed the issue with the right party. Also, when you speak behind someone’s back, the listener is usually wondering what you say behind their back. Which leads me to…
  5. Don’t fault them for what they don’t know. Give your friend a chance to resolve the issue or share their side. They may not even realize they’re doing something wrong until you explain it to them.
  6. Listen intently. That means much more than hearing the literal words coming out of their mouth. Care deeply, be genuinely interested, and empathize with their emotions. Most of all, listen without judgment.
  7. Be a source of positivity. It’s perfectly okay to express when you’re feeling down. But always being cynical, whiny, and negative is taxing to those around you. Your endless drama will eventually lose its impact and become a burden. We’re attracted to friends that enhance our quality of life.
  8. Give them space when necessary. Just like in dating, nobody wants to deal with a clingy person. If they can’t spend time with you, don’t hound them about it. If they never make time to see or even speak to you, then they’re not as great a friend as you think.
  9. Communicate honestly. Let them know when they’re crossing your boundaries. Be a voice of reason when they’re acting irrationally. When asked for an opinion, give them a constructive yet candid response.

    Don’t just tell them what they want to hear, tell them what they need to hear. Say your friend’s girlfriend dumped him because he was treating her poorly. Don’t tell him, “You’re way too good for her anyway.” Instead, go with the truth, “I understand this sucks. But, you have to admit you weren’t investing that much time in her.” It may be hard to hear but a true friend will appreciate your input.

  10. Keep your word. Don’t share their secrets. Follow through and show up when you say you will. Be someone they can count on. Your word is your bond and it’s the most powerful tool you own. Once you break it, it’s extremely hard to get back – and sometimes you’ll never regain it at all.
  11. Stand up for them when disrespected. If your friend is the instigator, no one is asking you to jump in. But if someone is attacking them, you should be there to help. That could mean telling them to walk away or speaking up. Most men know this rule but overlook that it applies with women, too.

    I’ve called out and walked away from many girls that were rude to a friend. Unfortunately, I’ve also watched many men stay silent or even playfully join in against their companions. Then they try to defend their actions as “I’m just having fun!” No, all I see is a guy who’s so desperate for sex that he disregards his friend’s feelings.

  12. Never hook up with their ex without talking to them first. If you care about your friend, you owe that much to him. If he gives you the go-ahead, awesome. If he doesn’t, you’ll have to decide if she’s worth it but understand that you may lose your friendship.

    I had a friend who pursued a girl I dated the day after we broke up. When I confronted him about it he said, “All is fair in love and war.” I would have given him my approval but his lack of respect was hurtful. Needless to say, he’s not a friend anymore.

  13. Give when you can but not when you can’t. Only guarantee your time and effort when possible and reasonable for you. It’s better to set your limits than backtrack on your promises. You shouldn’t feel entitled to the same from your friend, either.     
  14. When you give, do it with no strings attached. The worst thing you can do is help someone out and expect something in return. It shows that you only did that favor for selfish, manipulative reasons. If you can’t give freely, you shouldn’t give at all.
  15. Don’t be desperate for their approval. Do you know how awkward it is to have someone constantly trying to impress you out of insecurity? You don’t need to “win” friends over. You just need to treat them with respect and have a fun time together. A real friend likes you for who you are and not what you can offer them.
  16. Know when to distance yourself from negative influences. Cutting ties with friends is painful but sometimes necessary for your mental health. You have to be aware of when someone is adding unnecessary stress, using, or abusing you. If you’ve already addressed your feelings more than once and nothing has changed, it may be time to separate yourself — at least for a while.

    Part of being a friend is self-preservation and surrounding yourself with good company.

  17. Be a great wingman and never fight over women. You should be assisting each other in meeting women, not sabotaging one another’s chances. Only insecure men try to one-up their friends, tear them down, or steal the girl they’re talking to.
  18. Educate and grow with each other. I can talk about anything with my best friends. Yes, we enjoy bro-ing out about video games and hot women (who doesn’t?) But we also have deep conversations about humanity, our greatest fears, and becoming a better person.

    We’ve shared our life lessons, insights, and failures. We discuss ideas that benefit all of us. We aren’t afraid to open up and be vulnerable because we trust each other. And our lives are enriched because of it.

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  1. Martine on March 22, 2013

    These are all great points, no matter what gender you are! And is actually kind of similar to a post I just wrote about friendships (read it here: http://tothewindow.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/on-friendships-lost-and-found/). Thanks for this!

    • Nick Notas on March 23, 2013

      Thanks Martine! Love your post, very honest.

  2. Alex on March 22, 2013

    Thanks, some really great tips and well written!

  3. Mike on March 23, 2013

    Oh man if my buddy dropped that “all is fair in love and war” line on me i probably would have smacked him.

    • Nick Notas on March 23, 2013

      Haha, I nearly did. It took a lot of self-restraint.

      • Jim on March 25, 2013

        Why didn’t you?

  4. Billy Taylor on March 26, 2013

    Great stuff, Nick! Number four was actually my New Years Resolution.