How to Nurture Friendships And Make New Ones As An Adult
7 min. read
For many of us, the COVID crisis marked a discontinuity in our interpersonal relationships. We could still communicate via Zoom or other platforms, but often something was missing, and sometimes it’s been difficult to get that back. To rekindle existing friendships, and also make new ones, it helps to be aware of our interpersonal needs, and of how the difference between what we show and what we actually want can present a confusing picture to others. That's where knowing more about the FIRO and your MBTI can come in!
Understanding Interpersonal Needs
We all have needs and motivations around other people, such as the need to belong, the need for influence and control, and the need for intimacy, but we're all different in how important these needs are to us. Relationships can falter when we assume our friends have the same level of need as we do, or when our interpersonal behavior confuses them. The FIRO (Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation) framework is a useful tool for understanding interpersonal needs. It looks at three aspects:
- Inclusion or involvement: Our need to belong, to be included or involved, and to include others.
- Influence: The extent to which we try to influence and control others, and how much we want to be in an environment that provides us with clarity.
- Connection: Our need for connection and intimacy with others on a one-to-one basis.
Why You Might Be Confusing Your Friends
Crucially, the FIRO assessment looks at both the extent to which we show or express each of these and the extent to which we want each of these. For example, let’s suppose someone scores high on how much involvement they express, but low on how much involvement they want. They will come across as very outgoing and sociable, enthusiastically getting other people to join in with the activities that they set up, but they are likely very choosy about which invitations they accept from others.
Other people can find this confusing, or even hurtful, and this can harm relationships. But if the individual realizes how they behave, they can explain this to others or modify their behavior. Or take someone who has the opposite result — low expressed involvement and high wanted involvement. They want to be included but their natural tendency is to wait for others to do the inviting. In the post-COVID world, they may need to change this aspect of their behavior in order to form new friendships. Of course, for many people what they express matches what they want, but that isn’t the case for everyone.
Forming New Friendships: Extraversion And Introversion
Once you have a clear picture of your interpersonal needs, you can start to figure out which are (and which aren’t) being satisfied, alongside which of your relationships satisfy each need.
When you're starting new friendships, this will help you to realize what you're looking for. But to get at how you might go about forming those relationships, then also knowing your personality type is really useful, in particular your preferences for either Extraversion or Introversion.
In the MBTI framework, Extraversion or Introversion is all about where you get your energy from, and where you focus your attention.
People with a preference for Extraversion tend to focus their attention on the external world, while those with a preference for Introversion focus on their internal world of thoughts and feelings.
It’s important to remember that this is a preference, rather than a prescriptive, rigid blueprint. Extraverts do have an inner life, and can spend some time on their own, though this will sap their energy after a while. Introverts can and do enjoy spending time with others, though they may then need to go away and quietly recharge their batteries by themselves.
Tips For Extraverts: ENFJ, ENTJ, ESFJ, ESTJ, ENFP, ESFP, ENTP, ESTP
If you have a personality preference for Extraversion, it’s likely that you enjoy meeting others and are happy to introduce yourself and strike up a conversation with people you’ve never met before. So at face value, making friends shouldn't be an issue. But it’s important to remember that not everyone is the same as you are. If you want to make friends with an Introvert, or keep that friendship alive, here are some suggestions:
- Give them space. If they don’t respond to what you are saying immediately, it isn’t (or isn’t necessarily) because they don’t understand or aren’t interested; they may be thinking through how best to answer before they say anything. Pause, let them think though what they are going to say and give them time to say it. Don’t talk over them. Be a good listener.
- Don’t be afraid of getting into deep, meaningful conversations. Introverts may not be big on small talk. Maybe find a shared interest you can talk about.
- Start off your friendship with one-to-one activities and small get-togethers. Don’t be surprised or offended if they don’t want to come along to big, crowded events.
- Allow them to recharge their batteries. Don’t be offended if they need some time to themselves, temporarily vanish during a big get-together, or don’t always want to spend time with you.
- They might prefer emails, texts, or other messaging to phone calls as a way of keeping in touch.
Tips For Introverts: INTJ, INTP, ISTJ, ISTP, INFP, INFJ, ISFP, ISFJ
If you have a personality preference for Introversion, it’s likely that you have a set of close friends rather than a wide circle of acquaintances. But it can be useful for one or more of this select group to be an Extravert; this can open doors and help you meet new people. Here are some tips that might be useful:
- Recognize that you might need to step out of your comfort zone. Try to engage in small talk with a new acquaintance; to some extent, this is a skill that you can develop. Go along to bigger, noisier events on occasion if these seem important to an Extraverted friend.
- Express your needs. Let others know that you will need some tome alone to recharge your batteries. Extraverts may not realize this unless you tell them! Don’t be afraid to say things like, “Let me just think about that for a moment,” when asked a question.
- Be a good and active listener. Show interest in what is being said. Use this as a basis for having a conversation with the other person.
- Find a connection. Don’t think that you "should" have a large number of friends; making a smaller number of meaningful relationships is likely to suit you better.
- Respect other people’s preferences. You may want to communicate by text, but sometimes you may need to meet up in person!
Identifying your interpersonal needs, having the language to explain them to others, and understanding Extraversion and Introversion are a good starting point in forming and maintaining friendships in this post-COVID world.
John Hackston is a chartered psychologist and Head of Thought Leadership at The Myers-Briggs Company where he leads the company’s Oxford-based research team. He is a frequent commentator on the effects of personality type on work and life, and has authored numerous studies, published papers in peer-reviewed journals, presented at conferences for organizations such as The British Association for Psychological Type, and has written on various type-related subjects in top outlets such as Harvard Business Review.