How to Be a Good Friend (And Signs to Avoid Being a Bad One)

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How to Be a Good Friend

You might be a terrible friend and not even realize it. That should scare you. Really, it should.

You know what? Right now you should be sweating profusely, pacing the floor, and asking yourself whether or not you know how to be a good friend.

Sometimes our actions and the words that escape our mouths stop going through a filter. Then eventually we’re not even conscious of how horrible we are as a person/friend/lover/whatever.

We get so used to our friends that we become insensitive to the things we say and do. Sure, that level of comfort can be a good thing, but at the same time a lot of ugliness can start leaking out. It could be a reflection of the person you really are, but I’m not going to get into all of that.

Check out some of the signs below and see how many of these apply to you. Note that these don’t automatically make you a bad friend, but they’re still things you should be conscious of. Don’t worry, I cover how to be a good friend directly under this one (it’s also more comprehensive.)

Signs You Might Be a Bad Friend

  1. You project your own negative qualities onto them.

    After a while you start assuming that because you think a certain way, your friends and others do too. For example, if you’re prone to talking about others behind their back then you’d assume everyone else does the same. Eventually, you begin to blame others and talk about how they went and did something even though they never did. This gets annoying and yes, your friends do notice this.

  2. You start criticizing or blaming them for everything.

    You feel like nothing is your fault and you’re always right. Everything wrong is because of them. Then you start letting them know, even non-verbally, how you feel about the situation. This is how you lose friends.

  3. You only spend time with them when you need something.

    When you reach for the phone it’s never to see how they’re doing or to get together and have fun. There is always a reason to call or text. It becomes so habitual that every time you call or text, their response is “What do you need?” If that’s a common response you get from multiple people then you’ve got a clear warning sign.

  4. You evade all responsibility, leaving them to handle it all.

    When there’s work to be done or responsibilities that should be divided you just sort of sit in the back and relax. Teamwork goes out the door because you’d rather be doing something else (or nothing) than to help out. What’s worse is when you walk away when the going gets tough. Soon enough, you’ll be the one your friends will be evading.

  5. You never think about how they may feel.

    Your words hurt like knives and you might not even know it (or care,) because you have a disregard for how they may feel. You don’t stop to wonder how your decisions, actions, and words may affect what your friends think. Sometimes it’s the lack of action that hurts them most. So many things to be mindful of! Are you losing track?

  6. You have the need to “one-up” them.

    Although this doesn’t always mean you’re a bad friend, it shows some flaws in character on your part. You could begin to wear down the friendship if the other person feels like you constantly show off or downplay their accomplishments. People have enough insecurities and self-esteem issues as is. Don’t make them feel the same way around their own friends.

  7. You don’t listen to what they have to say.

    Their opinions mean nothing to you and it’s usually drowned out by your own stories. You fight for time to speak and when they are talking you’re usually tapping your feet impatiently for your turn to talk. Oh and they know when you’re pretending to listen. Tossing in a question to make it seem like you care is insincere. What’s worse is when you ask them something only to interrupt them mid-answer so you can start talking.

  8. You never stick to your word.

    Come on. If you say you’ll do something, don’t go back on your word. Punctuality goes into this too. Don’t be the person who is consistently an hour later than promised.

How to Be a Good Friend

How to Be a Good Friend

  1. Make sure they’re okay the moment you sense something wrong.

    It’s easy to go overboard, but when tactful it can mean the world to them when you show you’re concerned. Send them a text, a phone call (even better,) or surprise them by showing up at their front door. Make an excuse to spend time with them. This doesn’t mean you have to shove advice down their throat. It just means showing you want them to be okay.

    Unfortunately, there’s no universal method to being caring without being too pushy. Instead, you’ve got to figure out what works best and adjust as needed.

    Some people are very good at hiding their negative emotions. Hopefully you’ve learned when they’re wearing a mask. Masks get heavy when you wear them for so long and sometimes you forget how to take it off. I used to put on a brave face when I was going through rough times. It sucked but having good friends around who knew when I wasn’t really okay helped a lot.

  2. Know when to be serious and when to be goofy.

    When it’s time to be serious, you get down to business. No goofing off. No cheap attempt at being funny to avoid the real issues. You may argue from time to time and that’s alright. It’s natural. Be mature and aim at finding common ground instead of trying to divert the attention elsewhere.

    There are times to be messing around, but it gets tiring for others if you don’t know how or when to turn it off. If you can’t then how can others trust you enough to share important things with you?

  3. Go the extra mile when they ask for help.

    When they ask for your opinion or help on something that means something. It means they value what you think. If someone hands you an essay asking for you to help proofread or revise it then go the extra mile. Bust out a red pen and start marking it up like crazy. Show them you’re as invested as they are.

    This means never half-ass things when it comes to your friends. These are your friends we’re talking about here. It’s a committed relationship and it sucks when the other person doesn’t put in effort to help when needed.

  4. Don’t give up on them during their darkest hours.

    Going hand in hand with the first point, you don’t give up. If they’re going through really difficult times then they may begin to close themselves off from you and your other friends. They’d say no to going out and hide from the world. This annoys some people and eventually they give up, but good friends keep trying.

    Sure, it sucks to be the one trying to pull a friend out of rough times and it does get difficult to not throw my hands up in the air with frustration, but damn it, I know they’re not going to be able to get out on their own.

  5. Make them feel wanted.

    This means you listen to everything they say intently. You show you like being around them. Hell, sometimes even say it outright. “You’re an awesome friend,” “It’s not as fun when you’re not there,” or “I like hanging out with you, you know?” You should be comfortable enough together to be blunt about it without feeling weird.

    Insecurity kicks in even when it shouldn’t. It doesn’t take a lot to show you care and re-assure them from time to time.

  6. Tell them, “I’ve always got your back,” at least once (and mean it.)

    Remind them that you’re friends for life by making sure they know you’ll always be there. This means keeping in touch or being there to cheer them up when they’ve got it rough.

    If you’ve never told your closest friends this then make sure you do next time your friends tell you about a problem they’re hung up on.

  7. Understand and respect boundaries.

    Know that you don’t have to be together 24/7. I need my space to recharge and I don’t always feel like hanging out with others. That doesn’t mean I don’t like them. Good friends aren’t pushy and don’t get upset because of an occasional “no.” In fact, good friends know how to pick up right where they left off no matter how long it’s been since they last saw each other.

  8. Be honest and constructive when needed.

    There’s a difference between being conscious of their feelings and letting them ruin themselves in the long-run. If they’ve developed a bad habit then kindly point it out and show you’re concerned. They’re picking up smoking? You care about their lungs. Drinking too much? Let them know you’ve noticed.

    For less serious examples, imagine their breath smells and they’re going on a date. Do you want them to crash and burn later or would you rather let them suffer an ego hit, fix their act, and get out there in full confidence? If you feel like criticisms are harsh, offer them tips on how to improve.

  9. Introduce them to others.

    Your social circle might be tightly knit, but there’s always room for expansion. Introduce them to people they don’t know just to show you’re not afraid of being seen with them. Remember, you want to be proud of being in public with them.

    It’s up to them to decide if they want to start hanging out with these new people in the long-run. In fact, it doesn’t even matter if they do. Fun is what you’re aiming for here.

  10. Jump to the rescue when asked.

    We all get in unexpected trouble and it’s good to know people who would jump to your rescue. My car’s battery died in a parking lot at 3 in the morning last month. I called people I knew would come to my aid because they were the type to help. Guess who I didn’t bother calling? Those who I knew would have an excuse.

  11. Don’t bring up uncomfortable subjects they dislike.

    This doesn’t mean avoiding subjects that are important and possibly life-changing. I’m talking about bringing up things that serve no constructive purpose but to annoy them or to just fill the silence. Which brings me to my next point…

  12. Be okay with gaps in conversation.

    Silent gaps will naturally occur in a conversation. Be comfortable with them. Don’t feel like you absolutely have to fill every single second with a sentence. It’s okay to be comfortable and just enjoy each other’s company.

    Especially as an introvert, I need time to recharge after spending time with a lot of people. I really enjoy my time, but I need to recharge my batteries on occasion. With that in mind, learn the real differences between introverts and extroverts. You may have the wrong idea.

  13. Be dependable (punctuality and keeping promises.)

    When you say you’ll do something, be a person that sticks to your word. That means being punctual, not going back on your promises, and ensuring that you’re viewed as a reliable friend.

    Being unreliable will make your friends think twice before asking you for something.

  14. Learn how to apologize.

    It takes a lot to admit you did something wrong. Don’t be afraid of admitting to your friends that you messed up. It happens to the best of us. Someone who can swallow his or her pride and admit they’re in the wrong is a great friend.

    Don’t know how to apologize? Check out this article, courtesy of The Art of Manliness.

  15. Know how to show you’re happy for them.

    We all get too caught up in our own lives and forget how to show appreciation. Sure, we know we care, but it’s difficult for the other person to know you do if you don’t show it.

    It’s easy to tell when someone is dishonest. “Wow, I’m so happy for you,” with an non-eager face isn’t very convincing. Be invested in their successes and show in your facial expressions that you really are happy.

  16. Show small gestures on occasion.

    It can be as simple as buying them something you thought they might like. I’d be thrilled if a friend of mine bought me a Sonic Screwdriver from Doctor Who. That would tell me a lot of things. First, I know they remember what I enjoy. Second, they were thinking of me. Third, they spent their hard-earned cash to let me know they like me. Awesome feeling.

  17. Start saying yes more often to your friends and make time for them.

    It’s not a good feeling to be turned down by your friends. Sometimes life gets in the way and that’s okay. After all, remember the point about boundaries. However, I know how easy it is to say no. It becomes habitual. It’s just so easy when you’re “not feeling it.” Make it a point to say yes more often to your friends when you can.

    You’re not that busy. Unless you’re absolutely certain there is no possibility of making room for your friends, you have no reason to have no time for your friends. It’s easy to convince yourself you’re too busy. Don’t buy into your own stories. Always make time for them because it’s easy to drift apart.

  18. Keep in touch and make sure you don’t drift apart.

    Life goes on and everyone has their own thing to do. Sure, picking up where you left off may be easy for you, but it’s just as easy to completely lose contact. It takes effort, especially when there’s a lot of physical distance, to maintain a good friendship. It’s a relationship that takes both sides to work.

Share this article with your friends and let them know you think they’re a good friend.

Or… Passive aggressively pass this onto someone you’re mad at.

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Vincent Nguyen is the author of Self Stairway. After landing his dream job with Empire Flippers he dropped out of school and moved to Davao, Philippines to work closely with the company's founders. Don't worry, he still publishes every Monday and hasn't missed a single week since starting this site in January 2013.

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42 responses to How to Be a Good Friend (And Signs to Avoid Being a Bad One)

  1. Good shit Vincent. This was super comprehensive.

    Being impeccable with your word is so important. Punctuality is something I used to suck at severely. But like with all these other lessons, being a good friend requires some effort. You can’t automate that shit. So working a little bit harder to be on time is just a necessity of being a good friend.

    Do you think being an introvert plays a part when it comes to friendships? I saw what you wrote about re-charging the batteries, but I’m talking about an introvert not wanting to put in the work. It’s common knowledge that introverts like some alone time. But, I would think an introvert would have to utilize more will power than an extrovert. Especially when it comes to consciously putting in effort to better their relationships.

    • Being introverted definitely plays a factor. They have to put in a lot more effort because it’s not “natural.” Thinking about how an introverted like myself feels you realize that when we envision “going out,” sometimes we linger on the feeling of how tired we are when out and about. Then when we reach for the phone, whether to answer an invitation or form one, we think twice. That’s why it’s so easy to say no or to let friendships drift.

      I do think a lot of introverts understand the importance of a good friendship, but it’s draining. I totally get that, but once I realized I said no too often I began to start saying yes more. It’s gotten me into tons of adventures I would have otherwise missed out on if I had said no.

  2. As usual Vincent, you have offered so much wisdom here. What sticks out to me is the fact that many people fail to recognize that there is work involved in building and maintaining a friendship. There has to be an investment from both sides in order for it to work.

    Maybe it sounds a little harsh, but I tend to weed people out who continually say “no” or who dictate the friendship on their terms. I look for people who say “yes” most of the time and who demonstrate they are willing to engage in a two-way street friendship.

    • Hey, Chris. Check out my reply to Kevin. It may help you see things from a different perspective. :)

      • Sure, I get that introverts will say no sometimes because of the energy thing. I am one, so I completely understand. But I typically won’t say no because I value the relationship over my own energy level.

        I’m referring to people who don’t want to work at building a friendship. I look for people are willing to engage and don’t have to have everything little thing their way.

        • Ah, I got you. I’ve shifted to a yes mentality as well unless I genuinely don’t want to go or if there are other obligations. Laziness is no longer a valid reason.

          As for the people you’re referring to, those are exactly the ones I am as well when I had that point on the list in mind.

  3. I recently discarded two people from my life for violating number 2 on your first list. ‘Always criticizing or blaming you for everything’. One was a girl I was dating (that counts right?) and the other is/was a long term friend.

    Sometimes you just hit the brick wall and you can’t progress your friendship any further. Something has to give and it’s better to cut your ties in my opinion than keep something there for the sake of it.

    Number 17 in the second list is also important, but only if it suits you. Never go along with what your friends want if it conflicts with what you believe in.

    Actually a lot of these points weave into each other in various ways – because that’s what a strong friendship is, it’s everything – a sum of many parts and if some parts fail and the foundation wobbles, then the friendship ‘house’ will eventually crumble.

    • It must have been difficult but that tells me a lot about you. You see things the way they are and you don’t let these situations continue on to drain you. Now that’s how you grow. It takes guts to do what you did. I’m sure others on the outside can easily antagonize you without knowing the details of what was going on.

      Oh definitely, Jamie. As always, I have more faith in my readers so I trust they understand the importance of not following blindly and going on full, 100% yes mode.

  4. Your list is fantastic, Vincent, but it also illustrates how difficult it is to find and keep good friends. I’d really rather have none than settle for mediocre friends who don’t cannot bring it. I will say that I’d much rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints when it come to friends. Fun is an absolute requirement for me;)

    Have a friendly Monday!

    • It’s VERY difficult. The worst feeling is realizing that some of your friends aren’t as great as you thought. That sounds harsh, as if to say I’m somehow better, but it’s just the lack of compatibility that seems to hit you like a rock.

  5. Hey Vincent, I’m digging it. I wish I had read this awhile back. If I had I wouldn’t have had the inspiration to write “Lessons from Down Below” post.

    On point as always.

    • It’s always easier with hindsight. Don’t worry, Chris. You’re much better off with what you know now so you got a chance to make a pretty sweet future.

      • Rereading this article once again – I read it at least once a week so I am able to be the best friend possible to all the people in my life!

        I’d like to pay special attention to the “one-upping” bit! That used to be something that I was horrible at. It stemmed from my then (now significantly improved, but shaky at times) self-confidence.

        If you always feel a need to one up someone it generally stems from the fact that you care what everyone thinks about you.

        There is some really killer stuff out there on how to not need people’s approval (future guest post perhaps??)

  6. Insightful and thorough list, Vincent, as well as important topic.

    I think there’s such a variety of personalities and orientations (in terms of how you process the world and your experiences in it) that it’s always fascinating how we end up with the friends that we have.

    There’s that Goethe quote that goes something like: “No one would talk much in society, if he knew how often he misunderstood others.”

    My deepest friendships are often with people who, while we do share some commonalities, are very different from myself.

    I think there’s a lot to be said for opposite attracts. Like somehow we need people in our lives that give us access to what we don’t possess on our own.

    But those differences must be recognized and respected. The version of the Golden Rule that I like the best isn’t to treat others as YOU would like to be treated but to treat others as THEY would like to be treated.

    • I never really cared too much for the argument of whether or not opposites attract. It really isn’t absolute either way. Opposites work well together just as people who are very similar do. These patterns are attributed to our own personal experiences and observations. Then confirmation bias usually gets the best of us and we conclude it must be true. Just wanted to point out my thoughts on that whole thing.

      Spot on with your version of the golden rule.

  7. I used to be the high school girl with many friends, and now I am the 40something with very few. I like it this way as it allows me to be more attentive to my friends. I am also spending a lot less money than I used to just to be out with the crowd.

    I like how you mentioned so many points, Vincent. Thank you!

  8. I enjoyed the article, but I’d like to add my personal perspective.

    Here’s when friendship really changed for me: when I stopped using my friends to fill a void in my own life. For a good portion of my life, I made friends and hung out with people because it was something to do and because I wanted to have fun. This led to a lot of shallow relationships because I didn’t value people for who they were but instead for what they did for me.

    Things changed when I started to value people as individuals and develop mutually supportive, rain-or-shine type friendships. Creating meaningful friendships also took a lot of the pressure of social interaction away because my friendships were built on solid ground and mutual respect.

    One last thing I’ll add is to not be afraid to ask you friends for help. Doing so and being appreciative will actually build your friendship because you’ve shown that person that you need them.

    • Awesome knowledge you just shared with us, Scott. That’s very true that friendships are often used to fill a void, similar to relationship dating. Your mindset shift allows you to focus on finding higher quality individuals that you genuinely bond with.

      Hope a lot of people can learn from your comment.

  9. I sometimes feel the need to one-up people… actually most of the time, but I try to repress it. I have a lot of indecisive friends, so in the case that one of us has to take responsibility, it usually goes back and forth for so long that one of us just go like oh well, I’ll do it. And I’m very bad at keeping in touch, so that might flunk me for the sticking by people through thick and thin part. Some real food for thought in this post.. I don’t think I’m a very good friend at all by these standards.

    Also, I had a discussion with my friend about treating girl friends better.. as in gender bias. But it might come down to them being more comfortable asking for help. Any thoughts on that? Some people do have the “women are so fragile” notion really battered into them as they grow up.

    • Glad you’re not hiding anything here. You’re putting your ego on the line and being introspective, I like that. Hell, I’m not a great friend sometimes too, but remember that the first list is in no means definitive.

      Keeping in touch becomes difficult because a lot of us are a bit insecure. “Oh, I shouldn’t call or text… He’s probably busy. He’d probably find it annoying.” Now imagine both people are thinking this way? Nothing gets done.

      That’s interesting because I know a lot of people do grow up with that idea. It’s natural that us guys are going to be a tad more conscious of ourselves around women. Can you tell me a bit more about that though? It’s hard to figure out what you and your friend was talking about. Do you mean chivalry-type things like opening the door for them? Things like that you should do for everyone. :)

  10. There is a lot of wisdom here, Vincent. My new thing is to try to steer conversation as much as possible to the other person. I know that I’ll talk enough about myself and my problems – that is a given…if I try as hard as I can to make sure I focus on the other person I know we’ll both benefit.

  11. Hey Vincent,

    I like #18 – Keep in touch and make sure you don’t drift apart.

    It’s too easy to keep focusing on your own life that your close friendships start to drift away.

    Now let me get your opinion on this.

    It’s a lot easier to keep touch with a handful of friends. But once you have 10+ friends and some of them are from different social groups, it becomes a lot harder.

    How would you go about doing that?

    -Chau

    • Assuming you are all living somewhat near each other then the easiest way would be to introduce everyone to one another. Unless you think there’s a lot of clashing personalities and you know for sure they won’t get along, you can’t go wrong with hanging out as a huge group every now and then.

      Once they’re all familiar, you can decide whether or not you want to start hanging out more frequently as a large social group instead of as scattered multi-groups.

      • I’ve always been a one-on-one kind of guy, so I completely missed out on the obvious. Great point about blending the social groups and gathering everyone together as a way to keep in touch.

        -Chau
        Dating Coach for Tech Guys

        • Yeah, I know how you feel. Sometimes I prefer one-on-one as well, but groups are fun on occasion. It’s about finding what works best for you. You’ve got nothing to lose by giving it a shot to get at least one big group together and see how well it works.

  12. Not general chivalry like holding doors. Things like really helping out no questions asked. For example putting someone up for a few days while they move, or physically help them move, teach them how to do stuff etc. I know a few people that do this for not too close girl friends with no ulterior motives,(most of the time) But if you were a guy you would need to be a damn good friend to even consider asking. Is the impression I have, although to be fair I never asked. Maybe it’s because they act more cheerful and polite when talking to women, so they’re not afraid to ask for help… like I mentioned earlier. Or perhaps it’s about reputation?

    • Ah, okay so now I understand what you mean. It could just be us guys psyching ourselves out. People are more willing to help than you think and all it takes is to ask. It’s difficult to say whether or not women get more yes because it depends on who you hang around, but I’d say the majority would have more success. A lot of us grow up being told to be extra-respectful towards women, so yeah I definitely wouldn’t be surprised. But really, it can go either way.

      Plus, you have to remember most guys do have ulterior motives or at least have some sort of desire. Although they’re not always conscious, it’s sort of there. Usually it’s males who have less experience with women and it’s these guys who hold every women in high regard because they don’t realize they’re just like us, people.

      Kind of went off on a tangent there, may get some disagreements, but those are some of my thoughts.

      Overall, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. It’s just one of those things. :)

  13. Good friends are not easy to find. I like friends who don’t talk about themselves all the time but take time to listen to me and give support if needed. Sometimes you can feel closer to your friend than to your family.

  14. David Tran (Your friend from back home) October 10, 2013 at 9:00 am

    My first response to your article, my friend! I came here because I have really hurt a good friend recently, and I felt like I needed to come here to remember the foundations of a good friendship. My number one problem has always been the fact that I’m absent-minded and oblivious. I can say some really mean things and not even notice it or notice how it affects other people. There comes a point when I’m forced to step back and really think about why I am the way I am. I don’t like to think I’m a bad person, but I think I need to become more sensitive to others’ needs. I think perhaps what has happened recently to me was a huge wake up call.

    If I’m given the chance to make amends with this person, I’m going to remember to apply every concept you have touched upon here. Thanks a lot, Vincent.

    • Hey, David! Hope you’re doing well with school.

      Sorry to hear about your experience. But hey, you’re being introspective and you’re aware of your faults. That’s much further ahead than the majority who either are oblivious or delude themselves into believing there’s nothing wrong.

      Hope everything works out with your friend. I don’t doubt you’ll be able to make it up to this person.

  15. I’m a good friend but my friend is not. What should I do

  16. Joe, coooooooooooooooool!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. Thank you for this article, I needed to find something like this.

  18. The thing is, I always fear I’m being a bad friend to one of my best friends who understands me probably more than almost anyone else. I always think I’m doing something wrong, because I suck at being social and am very oblivious, so I wonder if by accident I’m saying something mean when I mean to say something nice.

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