Making and Keeping Friends – Even When You Have a Busy Job

Aristotle said, “In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. They keep the young out of mischief; they comfort and aid the old in their weakness, and they incite those in the prime of life to noble deeds.” Friendships are vital for well-being, but they take time to develop and maintain. In the whirlwind of life that takes over when you begin and continue practicing law, it is often hard to prioritize making (and keeping) friendships. However, as Aristotle noted, friends are a sure refuge. As an attorney, friendships can also hold the dual role of friend and client.

As for maintaining friendships that you have already made, below are a few tips for fostering and growing the friendships that you already have:

  1. For friends that live in different cities, or even friends that live in the same city as you but that you can never seem to make time for, try calling them on your commute to and from work. In Amarillo, Texas, my drive does not take me longer than 15 to 20 minutes, but that’s 20 minutes that I often spend talking to my college or law school friends that are now living in different cities than me.
  1. Keep the plans that you make with your friends. It hurts friendships when you agree to plans but end up canceling later. Everyone has things that come up sometimes, but if you’re consistently doing this your friends will think that you’re insincere. To help cancel less often, try: (1) writing plans in an appointment book, or putting them in your iPhone calendar, and committing to them as if they were a work meeting; and (2) view time spent with friends as a reward for how hard you work, rather than an interruption to your day.
  1. When you’re with your friends, focus on them without distractions. Put your phone away, and do not worry about work for the time that you are with them.

As for making new friends, which seems to be exponentially harder as an adult than it was as a teenager or in college or law school, try to find places where you can meet people of similar interests. An early study on “attraction,” as it related to friendships, assessed whether rewards were associated with how similar people are.  Byrne, D., & Nelson, D. (1965). Attraction as a linear function of proportion of positive reinforcements. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1(6), 659-663. doi:10.1037/h0022073.  To do this, researchers asked over 150 participants to read a questionnaire about attitudes (e.g., attitudes about certain television shows) allegedly completed by another participant, then rate the participant’s attraction toward the “other participant” – not an actual participant, but instead what researchers referred to as the “bogus stranger.” The researchers altered the scales to manipulate how similar the bogus stranger was to the participant. They discovered that proportion of similarity proved important for how participants rated their attraction to certain bogus strangers. Participants seemed most attracted to participants to whom they were similar on 7 out of 10 attitudes (i.e., 70%) rather than 30 out of 200 attitudes (i.e., 15%). This study demonstrates that you are most likely to make friends with people that have similar attitudes and interests as you. Ideas as to where to meet these potential friends with similar attitudes and interests are below:

  1. Volunteer somewhere where you’re passionate about the organization’s message. Immersing yourself in an organization – whether it be a local homeless shelter, local junior league, or a national organization – can be an ideal way to meet like-minded people. As an added bonus, you don’t have to make extra time to develop these new friendships; you can grow and develop these friendships while volunteering.
  1. Join local, state, and national bar associations – and then get involved in leadership or actually attend meetings. This is a great way to make friends within the legal community – both locally and from different parts of the state and country. And as an added incentive, some of the best referrals often come from other attorneys. Attorneys share many similar interests as well.
  1. Friendship and work can go hand-in-hand. Various studies have shown that having friends at work can help you be more happy, creative, and competitive in the office. If you’re an associate at your firm, make friends with the other associates there – especially in your practice group.
  1. If you’re a parent, get to know the parents of your children’s friends. Though you may not have similar “attitudes” as these parents, you have one extremely important similar interest—your child(ren).
  1. Take a new class. Whether it’s a workout class or an art class, getting involved in something you love with other like-minded people will give you something in common, and a way to greet them and have an initial awkward-free conversation.

Remember, taking time to develop and keep friendships is vitally important for both your emotional and physical well-being. Sheldon Cohen, PhD, a psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University, stated: “Friends encourage you to take better care of yourself. And people with wider social networks are higher in self-esteem, and they feel like they have more control over their lives.



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