How to Use Conversation to Make Friends Not Acquaintances

Young couple embracing on beach

How both quantity and quality of time spent together sparks true friendships

Think back to your adolescent years. Maybe you remember a best friend. Not a Facebook friend (i.e.: acquaintance) whom you validate online through “Likes” and “Shares,” but a real friend you spent time with. Some of you might remember the teenage promise, engraved in the classic broken heart necklace, “friends forever.” You wore one half; your best friend wore the other. And I´ll bet that if any of you over 40 dusted off your high school yearbooks, you would find that some of your classmates scrawled this promise when they signed it. But are you still friends?

Research demonstrates that even in our fast-paced tech-savvy world, you can create friendships that truly last the course of a lifetime. How? By proactively strategizing your use of time spent with others, with the goal of making friends as opposed to business contacts or acquaintances.

Obligatory Versus Selective Interaction

Some people are employed in jobs that require them to be “on” all day long, involved in continuous interpersonal contact. Whether dealing with customers, making phone calls, or otherwise engaging in constant social interaction, some people literally interact for a living. But this is not the key to making friends.

Not only is constant contact exhausting, the pressure to be upbeat, friendly, helpful, and positive all day long is draining. And ironically, it depletes the energy available to make genuine friends. Attending a social gathering or networking event after this type of workday might be the last thing someone with that type of job wants to do—although it is precisely the type of intentional social interaction that is most likely to yield new friendships.

So if making friends requires more than mere communication, how much time and effort is required? Research indicates the answer involves both quantity and quality.

The Priceless Gift of Time

In “How many hours does it take to make a friend?” (2018), Jeffrey A. Hall describes the types of encounters that build a friendship.[i]

His study found that hours of time spent together was linked with closer friendships, as was time spent enjoying leisure activities together. Specifically, he found that the chance of making a “casual friend” as opposed to a mere acquaintance was greater than 50% when people spend approximately 43 hours together within 3 weeks of meeting. He further found that casual friends evolve into friends at some point between 57 hours after 3 weeks and 164 hours over 3 months.

Hall´s research also demonstrated, however, that when it comes to time spent developing friendships, quality is more important than quantity. And when it comes to conversation, topics matter.

For Quality Conversation: Topics Matter

When it comes to building quality relationships, duration of conversation is not as important as content. Meaningful conversation is the key to bonding with others. Hall found that when it comes to developing friendships, sharing daily life through catching up and joking around promotes closeness; small talk does not.

You might reflect upon the logic here. Consider the inane topics that often come up when you are trapped in an elevator with an acquaintance. Discussing the weather or speculating on how many stops you will make before finally reaching the lobby does not facilitate bonding.

Nor does mere proximity. Hall found that obligatory time spent together, such as in a classroom or workplace does not promote closeness. Friendships require efficient use of time together. Someone who remembers the details of your life and asks questions about your family, your job, your latest vacation, is much more likely on his or her way to becoming someone you consider a friend, not an acquaintance.

Born to Bond, and to Belong

In previous research[ii]Hall and Davis recognized the Communicate Bond Belong (CBB) Theory, described as an “evolutionary and motivational explanation of human communication´s role in the relational functions of social interaction.” The theory recognizes that social interactions expend energy, but theorizes that only some satisfy our needs.

Hall and Davis recognize bonding as essential for survival, attachment, affection, teaching, and learning, as well as predictive of health and well-being. They explain that CBB theory “proposes that individuals are motivated to engage in communicative behaviors that form and strengthen relationships.”

Time as a Priceless Investment

Friendships are built through seeking opportunities for meaningful interaction, rather than shallow banter. With people who are important to you, wisely using time together, even if limited by circumstances or your respective schedules, can turn acquaintances into true friends.

Think of time as both a gift and an investment. We already know, especially as we grow older, that time is one of

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