“How can I learn to be better at bonding with people? I want to be able to form deeper connections and make closer friends.”
There have been lots of studies done on bonding. They show that to create strong, emotional bonds with people, there are several simple tips you can follow.
Here’s what we found:
1. Show that you like someone and they’ll be more inclined to like you back
Studies show that we like those who we know like us. In other words: If you make it clear with your words and actions that you appreciate a friend, that friend will probably value you more. In psychology, this is called reciprocal liking.
- Be warm and friendly
- Give compliments
- Show that you are happy to see someone
- Tell them that you think it’s fun to hang out with them
- Keep in touch
In this guide, we’ll give more specific advice on how you can show liking and appreciation.
2. Focus on what you have in common
We like those we feel similar to. Focus on your similarities rather than your differences, and people will feel more connected to you. If you have a tendency to end up in disagreements, see if you can spend more time bonding over what you do have in common.
Maybe you and your friend both love sports or Star Wars movies or Neil DeGrasse Tyson pre-controversy. Whatever brings you together, make that bond stronger by focusing on the things you like to do or talk about together. If it’s sports, join a team together. If it’s sci-fi, schedule a regular movie/series night.
3. Listen well
Research shows that being a good listener is critical to bonding. When you give your full attention to someone, to the exclusion of all other distractions and competing priorities, you’re telling your friend that you value them and their needs the most.
So put down your phone. Look them in the eye when they’re talking. Repeat back what you heard them say, so they know you understand and are following along.
It’s a strong affirmation of love and care, which will bring you closer.
4. Open up
Know that sharing a worry, insecurity, or fear with someone can help you feel closer. It doesn’t have to be something too personal, just something relatable. Perhaps you have an upcoming presentation, and you’re a bit nervous. Or your car died, and you feel stressed about having it fixed before you head away for the weekend.
When you do this, you are building trust between you. As you get to know each other better, the things you share can become more personal. It’s a process of layers. Reveal little, easy things first, then deeper, more meaningful ones. Strong emotional bonds take time to grow. Be patient and enjoy getting to know each other.
5. Stay in rapport
Rapport is when two people feel that they are in harmony with each other. They might both be calm or energetic. They might both use complicated or simple language. They might both talk fast or slow.
However, if one person is high energy, uses complicated language, and talks fast, that person will have a hard time bonding with someone who is calm, talks slow, and uses simple language.
Read more here on how to build rapport.
6. Spend time together
One study analyzed how many hours you need to spend together to form a friendship:
- A casual friendship: Around 30 hours
- A friendship: Around 50 hours
- A good friendship: Around 140 hours
- A best friendship: Around 300 hours
These numbers show us that it takes time to bond. If you see someone for 3 hours every day, it would still take 100 days to become best friends.
Therefore, you want to put yourself in situations where you spend lots of time with people: Joining a class, course, or a co-living. Being involved in a project or volunteering. If you want to develop a strong bond, ask yourself how you can spend many hours together naturally.
7. Laugh together
What fun things do you do together that’s just for you two?
Is it derpy dog videos? Or anime that reminds you of your teen years? Or Netflix stand up comedy nights?
Whatever makes life fun for both of you, and is coveted as ‘special’ stuff that you do together, will help you bond.
8. Be open to giving and receiving feedback
Being honest on both sides of the relationship is an act of caring and trust. Real friends tell you the truth, even if it’s not easy to hear. In the same way, you need to be able to give honest feedback to your friends.
When someone gives you feedback or hints about something you do, be accepting and open to change rather than defending yourself. If your friend does something that bothers you, tell them in a non-confrontational way how you feel.
9. Give real compliments
Sincere compliments show that you value your friend. Receiving praise stimulates our brain in the same way as if someone were to give us cash. The only difference is that compliments are free.
Real compliments can be simple, kind observations, like “you’re really good with kids.” “I wish I had your head for numbers,” or “I like your glasses.”
10. Share goals
“We’re in this together” is the best rallying cry. It’s why marriages work, friendships stand the test of time, and it’s why companies with a healthy culture thrive.
Close friends are in it for the long term, and you often share common goals. Sometimes it’s a phase of life you’re going through together: school, work, early adulthood, parenthood, or similar careers.
When you are building a close relationship with someone, having an area to bond over is critical.
Think about what your mutual goals are in life and how you can support your friend to meet them. Your friend will then likely help you with your goals.
11. Plan an adventure
Heightened emotion and fear can create a personal bond between two people, fast.
If you like a bit of adrenaline in your life, and you want to get to know someone better, try rock climbing, zip-lining or sky-diving together. The experience will bring you closer together, and the stories you tell later will underline your deep connection.
This also works if you are planning a date, as science has found a correlation between fear and sexual attraction. So whether you want a good friend or a partner, you may get both.
12. Prioritize meeting up over only calling or text
Texting is efficient. Phone calls are nice, but other things can pull your attention away. Nothing can replace being with someone in the same room, seeing their face and hearing their voice to understand what they’re feeling and saying. It’s intimate, and it’s part of why you like hanging out together.
It’s also a conscious choice you make to create space in your day to be together. Propose meeting up over a coffee rather than just keeping in touch online.
13. Eat together
Making food and eating together helps you bond. One study even found that eating the same meal together creates more trust than eating two different types of food together. Find ways to eat with others. Propose making dinner or going out. Have a pot-luck on the weekend. Make it a habit to share your snacks.
Sharing food makes us feel cared for, appreciated, and satisfies a constant energy need and mood elevator. It’s also fairly intimate. Building intimacy means you will bond faster.
14. Be honest
You don’t have to paint a rosy picture of you or your life. Be honest about who you are and how you feel. When you do this, people learn that they can trust what you say because you’re truthful with them.
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For example, if you’re going through a break-up and your friend asks how you’re doing, you might want to come off as strong and say, “I’m good.” However, if you’re, in fact, not good, revealing this to your friend shows sincerity. “To be honest, not great, but I’m getting there.” When you say this, it indicates you trust your friend to know how you really feel, and that is bonding.
Keep in mind, this isn’t the same thing as making it a habit to complain to people. It’s more about revealing, in private moments with a friend, how you really feel.
15. Do small favors
Spontaneously offering to do nice things, like helping on a project or walking someone’s dog when they’re away, shows you like and appreciate someone. Helping someone makes them more likely to want to help you back. In social psychology, this is called reciprocity.
Conversely, doing large favors for someone who is not yet a close friend can make them feel obligated like they are in debt to you. Doing this can throw the balance off in the relationship and make it more difficult to bond.
See more in our article on helping others but getting nothing in return.
16. Ask for small favors
If someone offers to do you a favor, accept it. You might feel like you’re trying their patience, but research shows that the opposite is true. We tend to like people more when we do them favors.
The same holds true if we ask someone for a small favor, like, “Can I borrow your pen?”
When we do something for someone, we justify to ourselves why we did it. “I helped this person out because I like them.” Now when you think of that person, you associate feeling good to being around them.
17. Use touch when you want to connect with someone
Touching someone is a sign of emotional closeness. Some ways we touch are culturally appropriate, like shaking someone’s hand or kissing both cheeks when you meet/say goodbye.
In one study, servers who touched their guests on the shoulder received a bigger tip.
Friends with a close relationship generally touch each other more the longer they’ve been friends. They’ll give each other hugs, muss up their hair or pat each other on the back.
To promote closeness and bonding, occasionally touch acquaintances on non-personal body parts like the shoulders, knees, or elbows.
18. Find out how people are doing and show you care
Good friends care about how their friend’s doing emotionally.
Don’t just talk about work, activities, events, or facts. You also want to know how someone feels about things. Do they seem upset or quiet? Ask how they’re feeling? Did someone mention a project or something happening in their lives? Ask about how it’s coming along? People don’t always want to talk about their feelings, and that’s OK. You’ve signaled that you care about them and are open to hearing about it.
19. Be slow to anger
It’s normal to have a disagreement with a friend once in a while. When this happens, friends with healthy relationships will take a step back and think about what upset them, and then approach their friend to work it out.
Before we react angrily and say something we might regret, try to see the bigger picture. Is this normal behavior for your friend? Are we overreacting? Are we upset about them or is it something else in our lives? Friends are not guaranteed. It’s important to treat them with respect and kindness.
20. Talk about things that bother you non-confrontationally
If a friend does something that bothers you, talk about what happened in an open and non-confrontational way. Maybe they didn’t realize they were being hurtful? Perhaps they are upset about something you both need to talk about to resolve? Here’s an example of a typical relationship issue and how to approach it.
“When you canceled dinner at the last minute, I felt disappointed. I’m sure you didn’t mean to do it on purpose, but I wondered what happened and if you can you give me some more notice next time.”
Bring up issues early on in a friendly manner before they grow into complicated conflicts. To maintain a bond, we have to make sure that our communication is open and honest.
21. Balance your conversations
Healthy friendships contain both deep conversations and light ones.
In the natural course of a friendship, you will likely have light-hearted, fun conversations first, as you get to know each other. This is when you find out each other’s sense of humor.
As you spend time hanging out, you’ll eventually have conversations about personal things. These sensitive topics may not be easy for them to reveal. When they do, it’s a compliment to you that they can trust you with their vulnerability. When someone opens up to you like this, you are bonding. Respond with attentiveness, empathy, and share your own experiences if you have similar ones.
Bonding this way is a two-way street, it’s important to let others into your life and be let into theirs.
However, life can’t be all deep, existential conversations every time you meet up. Make sure to balance your friendship with times you talk about nothing and just have a laugh. If you are open to both kinds of conversations, your relationships will be more fulfilling, and your bond will be deeper.
22. Forget the rules
There are lots of lists out there on how to be a good friend, but what if you slip up and have a bad day? Are you not worthy of friendship? If so, I suspect we’d all be friendless.
The more you impose boundaries on what is acceptable and what isn’t in a friend, the less likely you are to find a long term friend. No one’s perfect, allowing for mistakes will make you a better friend. Conversely, you aren’t expected to be perfect either.
To be a good friend follow these guidelines: Be a good listener. Be open and non-judgemental. Be supportive. But no advice will work if you don’t do it authentically. You still want to be you. Just remember, you can’t expect to bond with everyone, but know that there are several people out there for everyone.
23. Be You
Close friendships are a direct validation of you and all the unique weirdness and awesomeness you bring. So bring your friends into your inner world. Show them your various personality traits and quirks. What you worry may be a turn off can be what they like best about you, like an off-center sense of humor or how awkward you get when you first meet someone.
Be open, vulnerable, and allow them to be the same around you. It will bring you closer together because when we are our imperfect selves, and people still love us, it’s the best feeling.