Do you find that even if you chat with new people while out and about, these interactions don’t lead to the start of a friendship?

Don’t worry, it’s not that people don’t like you!

There are a lot of different factors that go into starting, strengthening, and keeping a friendship. While who you are as a person is of course important, the situation you meet someone in is just as important (or maybe even more important)!

Regular meetups give you rhythm

One of the most important things needed to kickstart a friendship is rhythm: regular meetups that give you a reason to get together. It’s easy to build rhythm around what we’ll call an “excuse”, or in other words, a regular activity that involves interacting with that person. This excuse can be anything: a board game, a social sports team, a knitting group (we have two fantastic knitting groups at Befriend – Check them out: Armadale group, and Kwinana group), etc… An activity like this makes suggesting to get together less awkward and gives you something to focus on, putting less pressure on the conversation.

Who you are shapes how you connect

Adding to this, if the role you have as part of an activity is more than the role of a participant, this increases the chance you’ll make friends in that situation. Think about roles such as “student”, “parent”, “co-ordinator” & “host”. Having a role shapes how you act in a situation, such as what you talk about and what you do. When it comes to making friends, being in a role means that people already know something about you and have an idea about how to start a conversation with you, even before anybody’s said anything.

For example, a student might ask another student, “Did you start the homework assignment yet?”, while someone might ask a parent, “How old is your little boy?”.

Having a defined role, or task, gives structure and meaning to your interactions with others in particular situations. It also creates a reason for your presence within the group: people are more aware of you and will approach you in relation to your role.

Does that sound too abstract? Here’s an example!

Imagine that you’re really into mahjong and you’ve gone along to a mahjong group several times. The next time you go, a new player joins the group, and you volunteer to teach them to play during the session. In the role of being their teacher, there’s a lot to talk about – asking if they’ve played before and what they remember about how to play, offering advice, joking about a rule that’s easy to forget, laughing about mistakes.

Joined together with the new player through your role, there will be opportunities to small talk about other parts of your lives as well, and at the next meetup, it’s easy to gravitate towards that person and pick up where you left off. 

Overall, working on a task together – the task of teaching and learning the game of mahjong – creates an immediate bond, giving a lot more meaning to making a connection with a lot less awkwardness. You’ll also gain a presence within the group as a teacher of the game, so that when the person you were teaching has a question, they’ll come to you; and next time there’s a new player, people might direct them to you as well.

So, why does volunteering create the perfect situation for building lasting friendships?

What we’ve just explained about how rhythm, activities, and strongly defined roles create a recipe for growing a friendship might sound great, but where can you find this in real life? Volunteering regularly with an organization – whether it’s a local soup kitchen, sporting club, community cinema, fundraising group, environmental group, or even as a Befriend host – brings together all the elements needed to create a perfect recipe for friendship. Let us explain how.

Firstly, the “excuse” for a group of volunteers to gather regularly is a pretty exceptional one. You know what we said about activities being great for putting less pressure on early conversations and making the intention to connect less awkward? Working together on a shared endeavor is one of the best “excuses”, with a couple of friendship-forming bonuses over other activities.

Working together creates a sense of camaraderie and trust, and gives you even more reason to be communicating closely with other volunteers. Things that volunteers experience together while working towards the same goal gives you talking points that are mutually interesting, while set-backs or challenges that are overcome while working together helps to build a sense of closeness within the volunteer group.

Let’s not forget the fact that you’re not just working together on any old thing… You’re working together to do something fantastic for others! It should come as no surprise that this creates a “good feeling” within the group. Within the volunteer role, people already believe the best of each other and feel good about themselves, which makes them feel more comfortable with the others and more open to

talking and meeting new people. The “good feeling” also applies to other people you’ll come in contact with while you’re volunteering – the people you’re helping, the donors, the customers, etc. Because you’re a volunteer, they’ll see you as approachable and friendly. Perfect!

Going deeper into roles, volunteering to help with something signals your passion for the cause or the activity.

For example, while volunteering at a beach clean-up, it’s likely that other volunteers will want to talk to you about things like the best snorkelling places, other outdoor activities they enjoy, and what can be done for the Great Barrier Reef. If the ocean, the outdoors, or the environment is your passion, that’s fantastic: by being in this role, you’ve invited people with the same passion to connect with you about something you’re really interested in.

Furthermore, in the role of being a cog in an organisation, you open yourself up for people to approach you to ask questions about the organisation, and for other volunteers to ask for help and advice with the task you’re working on.

For instance, if you were to volunteer as an event host with Befriend, event attendees would ask you about what Befriend is all about, while people hoping to become hosts themselves would approach you to ask about hosting. You would also have ample shared ground for having conversations with other event hosts: they would become your peers.

Befriend members get together at an outdoor concert

In short, the role of being a volunteer makes both fellow volunteers and other members of the community perceive you as approachable and trustworthy, and gives them plenty of material to start a conversation with you. The warm, low-key environment provides the perfect soil for strong new friendships to grow.

Here are some extra tips on what you can do to start a lifelong friendship while volunteering!

1. Ease into a conversation by talking about the volunteering at hand.

This is a low-pressure way to begin a connection, and you’ll both have valuable stories and information – or questions, if you’re just starting out – to share about what you’re working on.

2. Don’t forget to make small talk about other areas of your lives!

While many of us find small talk a little uncomfortable, you can try looking at it as a “treasure hunt” for shared points of connection that you otherwise wouldn’t find out about. Once you find out that the other person also plays table-tennis, or also loves Star Wars, or also has just been through a divorce, this becomes a great opportunity to connect more deeply through those things.

3.Once you’ve built up a connection with someone while volunteering, be the one to take it to the next level.

Ask them to another one-off volunteering event you’re going to, or ask them to a movie if you’ve both talked about your love of movies. Asking someone to hang out with you away from the initial context you met them in can make you feel vulnerable – but, for a friendship to last, it can’t just be based within one context. Otherwise, the friendship will only last as long as volunteering with that organisation does.

4. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.

By volunteering, you’re there to do a good thing for others, and that’s amazing. You can feel good about that even before you start making meaningful connections. Developing friendships and becoming involved in a volunteering community takes time, but that’s time you’re definitely not wasting in the meanwhile!