How to Make Lifelong Friends in 13 Weeks

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People who grow up as military brats know how difficult it is to make long-term friends. The second you get comfortable, you have to move again. But even they usually have two or three years to forge bonds. The 13-week warrior doesn’t have that luxury. The stress can be overwhelming. But as medical professionals, the health benefits of friendships are well-known by you.

But fear not, brave traveler! Making friends fast is not as big a deal as you might think. There are scientific studies that show nearly everyone can make lasting friendships in under an hour. (Yeah, you read that right.) According to research professor Arthur Aron, PhD., from Stony Brook University, gradually increasing the depth of questions and answers is the way to forge friendships between strangers in only 45 minutes (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 1997).

Since you’ll have lots of opportunity for practice, we recommend asking your new team for some one-on-one time over coffee or wine, and try this method out:

The Fast Friend Procedure

  1. Start out slowly. Gradually proceed through a series of questions that become more personal. This compressed time frame replicates the same experience that normally takes months. During the research, the test subjects had the benefit of cards to read. In actual, real-life encounters, the questions have to be part of a normal conversation—so no weird, “hi, we just met, have you ever killed anyone?” questions. Start off easy. It takes about 30 minutes until you can get to deeper things.
  2. Make your first question non-threatening. Use a situationally-relevant question: suppose your new acquaintance says that she had to make an unpleasant phone call. Asking a question about how she handles awkward phone calls is perfect. “What do you do to prepare for what you know is likely to be a difficult phone call?” Once she’s shared her thoughts, share something a little personal about yourself. “Me? I have to write down what I’m going to say.”
  3. Keep things easy and light for a while. Don’t get too personal too fast (creep much?!) Going too fast will most likely be seen negatively. It’ll come across as interrogating… not casual.
  4. When you’ve made headway, keep going. When they seem to feel safe, ask more personal questions like, “What really terrifies you?” Even questions that make her feel vulnerable are okay after you’ve gradually learned to know each other through the easier, but still personal, questions. The important thing is that they should feel natural. Scratch that. Just be yourself.
  5. It’s a two-way street. You have to be willing to reveal as much about yourself as your friend is. Shared vulnerability. Switch the order sometimes and tell something personal about yourself first, before you ask the next question. This really helps.

In general, people like to talk about themselves. They appreciate that you’re asking about them. But, all people are different, and some people may become stressed during the first Fast Friends session. Pretty much everyone becomes comfortable by the second time they do it with another person, though. Back off if they seem like they don’t want to share, and be sure that you are reciprocating by sharing as much as they are.

Some of the Questions that the Researchers use:

  • Would you like to be famous? In what way?
  • Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you’re going to say? Why?
  • When did you last sing to yourself or to someone else?
  • Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
  • If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
  • If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

For more questions ideas, see 36 Questions For Increasing Closeness.