Words by Madeleine Dore
Art by Amelia Goss
Every opportunity is attached to a person, says entrepreneur, author and founder of e-government software company Comcate, Ben Casnocha. "Opportunities do not float like clouds in the sky. They're attached to people. If you're looking for an opportunity – including one that has a financial payoff –you're really looking for a person."
It's great advice, but often when put into practice people make the mistake of focusing on building their network, rather than expanding or deepening friendships with individual people.
Your contact list might grow as a result of exchanging business cards and schmoozing with the "right people" at events, but opportunities continue to stagnate because there is a lack of trust and depth.
Friendship, on the other hand, is by definition built on mutual trust and support. Such foundations are ripe for sharing ideas, broadening our experiences, and unraveling opportunities in both work and life.
Refreshingly, friendships do not require you to work the room, you can simply be you, and unlike the draining effects of needing to always be "on" when networking, studies also show friendship and relationships have a profound impact on our wellbeing.
Another point of difference between networks and friendships is that it's not the quantity of relationships that impacts our wellbeing--we have all experienced a feeling of loneliness even while in company. Rather, it's the quality of close relationships that has an impact on overall life quality.
Perhaps we gravitate towards forming shallow networks over friendships because in adulthood, making new friends requires a certain level of openness and vulnerability. There is a perception that people already have their set friendships, and ever-expanding responsibilities in our personal and professional lives can lessen our opportunities to meet new people.
The question becomes how do we create new, meaningful friendships as adults?
From my own experience meeting a stranger a week for a year, the most meaningful opportunities came from those meetings that turned into genuine friendships. Such opportunities varied from referrals to new clients and speaking gigs, to an opportunity to learn Vedic meditation, move into a great new shared house, and meeting the friends of my new friends.
In the experiment, not only did I learn the art of connecting quickly and going beyond small talk, but also gained insight into the fundamentals of friendship-making.
1. Understand your friendship style
It turns out we all have friendship styles. Research by sociology professor Janice McCabe found that approaches to friendship can be broken into three categories: tight-knitters, compartmentalizers, and samplers.
Being a tight-knitter is the equivalent of being on the sitcom Friends. Having one large group of friends creates a great safety net and support network, but also means you can feel "stuck" or be dragged down by negativity in a group.
Compartmentalizers are those that prefer to have a few small groups of friends rather than one large group. Groups rarely mix, offering the ability to switch between them to satisfy different needs--think the group you stay out with till the early hours, versus the book club group.
Those that prefer one-on-one interactions are samplers. While typically very independent and with many individual friends from different aspects of life, samplers can at times lack a sense of belonging.
Once you've determined your friendship style, work with it to approach new friendships. For example, as a sampler you could bring people together at a dinner party to improve a sense of belonging. As a compartmentalizer, think about which group you could bring a new friend into, or try to meet new people within that. As a tight-knitter, you could seek more individual friendships to turn to when you're sick of drinking coffee at Central Perk.
2. Create a snowball effect
Do you know someone who seems to effortlessly accumulate new friendships? It could be the result of a friendship-snowball effect.
A few weeks into the 52-strangers experiment, I found that meeting one new person would often lead to introductions to one, two, even three more strangers. I'd have coffee with someone who would say I'd really get along with so-and-so, and then get in touch. In other instances, after our initial meeting I'd be invited to an event or dinner and meet a handful of new people.
What increased this refer-a-friend phenomenon was being generous in my own introductions, too. To attract new friends, connect friends. Start by switching on your friendship radar and being active in meeting new people--reach out on social media, following up after you've met someone new, and say yes to requests to meet others.
3. Cull friendships to make room for the new
We do a lot of growing and changing throughout our lives, and sometimes our friendships don't always keep pace.
While it can feel as if you're a terrible person for wanting to end such relationships (after all, there is no protocol for a friendship break-up), continuing to engage in shallow or unfulfilling relationships can impact our wellbeing.
Now is the time to experiment with what a fulfilling friendships means to you--find people who can be emotionally satisfying to you, build new and reciprocal friendships, and don't be afraid to cull those that aren't to make room for those that are.
Originally published in my new 'Creativity & Imperfection' column on inc.com on Jan 24, 2018