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How Important are Shared Political Views to Friendship?

"I can only get along with people who have a similar worldview as I have," I've heard a thousand times. Or other variations have included statements similar to "I could never be friends with someone who votes for ________." Because we're on the eve of one of the most divisive presidential elections in history, it seems a good time to remind us what does and doesn't bond us to each other.

What Do We Have to Have in Common with Friends?

Not only are we increasingly convinced what we need to have in common with someone in order to like them-- be it age, life stage, or political party preference; but we're also sounding more likely to have devaluing and disrespectful feelings toward those who aren't like us.

friends feeling divided over politics

But what does the research say about what we need to have in common in order to bond with another human being?

In fact, hard data tell us that it doesn’t matter which particular parts of our lives are similar to those of our friends, only that we end up finding those similarities. The Brafman brothers, who co-wrote the book Click, share research that reveals people bond more deeply over the quantity of perceived similarities than over the quality—the number of similarities matters more than their content.

They wrote, “Sharing a strong dislike of fast food, for example, was just as powerful a predictor of attraction as favoring the same political party.”

In other words, what we consider as the “big” thing we think we need to have in common isn’t as effective at bonding us as having two or three “small” things in common.

The Brafmans further explained, “You’d think that people who share the same religious convictions and political views, for example, would be more likely to hit it off than those who share only similar tastes in films and music . . . but it didn’t matter at all which topics underlay the similarity—it was the degree of similarity that was important.”

What might that mean to those of us who are at risk of thinking half the population is disqualified as being someone we might like?  It reminds us that we need to engage in more conversation with people who don't share our political views so that we can eventually bond with them because we took the time to find out that we have both traveled to Japan, both love green smoothies, and both enjoy reading sci-fi.

Why It's Important to Find Those Commonalities

Understandably, similarity matters.  We not only feel closer to the people with whom we can find commonalities--be it fans of the same sports team or voting for the same presidential candidate; but experiments actually show us rating those who we're told agree with us (even if they don't!) as more attractive and better people than if we have to rate those same people but are told they disagree with us. Indeed, we have a bias toward commonality.

In fact, in one study at Santa Clara University, participants were more likely to double their small financial donation if the person asking them for money shared their same name.  In another study, people were twice as likely more likely to sacrifice a couple of hours to help a stranger with a task if they discovered that they shared the same birth date with them; and 80% of them agreed to help if they were told they shared a rare fingerprint pattern!

The truth is that once we accept certain people as "like us", we start to see them differently.  And when we see them as similar to us in some way, we treat them better: we are more kind, more generous, more accepting, and more loyal.

I, for one, don't want to live in a world where we focus more on how we're different and unlike each other if we know from research and personal experience that our inability to find commonalities tends to put up walls, create defensiveness, increase paranoia, and decrease our kindness and generosity.  The answer to feeling safer isn't pushing "others" way, but rather the peace comes when we step close enough to see what we do have in common. (And there is ALWAYS a lot to be found if we're willing to explore!)

Examining Why Some Commonalities Feel More Important

I will not minimize how bonding it can be to any two people to find commonalities and feel closer and more trusting of those individuals. But just as few of us would insist that we can only bond with others who share our names, our birth dates, or our finger print patterns; as hard as it is to believe, who we are voting for is no more important to whether we can bond or not. I find it hard to remember that truth when I'm scanning my Facebook news feed, but just reminding myself that simply finding out someone is voting for the other candidate doesn't prove we couldn't be friends.

And note that in all these studies the bond wasn't actually because of the similarity, but because of how we felt about the similarity.  In other words, participants gave bigger donations not because that person's name was really the same as theirs, but because they were told it was the same as theirs.  They rated their classmates as more attractive or not, not based on real agreement that impacted real people, but because the psychologists simply told them they had more in common, or not. It was all in their heads.  Their kinder actions were based on the belief that they had something in common, even if they really didn't.

When I am reminded of the research, I feel a genuine humility. I am reminding myself how easy it is for me to create an entire narrative or story about people (and how attractive or good they are) based largely on my perceptions of whether they're like me or not. I am reminding myself of all the people I love whose vote I don't understand and am refusing to view them in any way that diminishes them down to just this one difference. And I am reminding myself that while I can't control how someone else votes, I can control whether I'm willing to look for something I have in common with them.

A presidential candidate is going to win and about half our country is prone to feel dismay, disappointment, fear, anger, and/or paranoia. The only way to heal is to practice connecting with each other.  We can do that one relationship at a time. One conversation at a time.  One commonality at a time.

Any tips you've tried that has brought your stress levels down when conversing with others who are voting differently than you are? Anyone willing to try to be someone who repairs and connects people together after the election? Anyone else up for the challenge of reminding yourself that you could still bond with someone even if they are voting for the other side?

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How Important Is Chemistry in a Friendship?

Ahhh the age-old question: How important is chemistry in a friendship? I love this question, but something tells me you're not going to love my answer.

Is Chemistry Necessary?

What you secretly hope I'm going to tell you is that it's super important and that you'll know in the first hour, or 5 minutes, of meeting someone whether you two could develop an awesome friendship.

You want me to say that because then it lets you of the hook for not yet having the all the good friendships you crave; you can just shrug and say, "Well I just haven't met them yet, apparently." You want me to say that because your ego wants to believe it's a fabulous judge of character and that like a good casting agent, it knows exactly who you're most likely to bond with down the road.  You want me to say that because you grew up believing that a good friendship is more about finding the right people than anything else.

But, give me a few moments of your time, and I'll tell you why you're going to be far happier telling you that initial chemistry doesn't matter nearly as much as you think it does.

What is Chemistry, Really?

Chemistry perhaps can best be defined as that moment when we realize that "click" with someone else.  And to "click" usually means we feel a meaningful connection of some kind with another person. And often we think that the more quickly we feel it-- the more genuine it must be.

Anyone who has dated remembers that there are some people you felt an instant attraction to who ended up going nowhere; and we all know people we've come to love who we wouldn't have been able to guess initially.

This is a picture from a recent Friendship Accelerator group-- I love watching groups of strangers create their bonds even if they don't feel them instantly with every single person in their group!

Similarly in friendship, we all have evidence of at least one woman we adored, but then never saw again, proving that chemistry isn't enough to create a friendship; and at least one friendship, usually someone we met at school or work where the frequency of interaction was automatic, that we ended up bonding with even though we wouldn't have been able to initially guess we would have.  In other words, think of some of your closest friends and try to image just meeting them at a coffee shop as strangers the first time, not knowing anything about them-- would you be so blown away by every single one of them, convinced you needed to see them again soon?  Not likely.  Especially if your life looks too different from theirs.  We love them now because we had the time to get to know them.

So we know that meaningful friendships get started without initial chemistry; and we know that having initial chemistry doesn't automatically translate into developing a friendship.

But How Will I Know Who I'll Bond With?

We also know from social science that we aren't that great of predicting who we're going to bond with or not.  We think we need someone else who votes for same political party, is a member of the same religious system, dresses similarly to us, or is in a similar life stage as we are; but hard data bears out that it doesn’t matter at all what parts of our lives are similar to each other, only that we end up finding those similarities.

The Brafman Brothers who co-wrote the book Click share research that reveals people bond more deeply over quantity of perceived similarities than over quality.  In other words, the number of similarities matters more than the content of those similarities. They wrote,

“Sharing a strong dislike of fast food, for example, was just as powerful of a predictor of attraction as favoring the same political party.”

What we consider as the “big” thing we think we need to have in common isn’t as effective at bonding us as having two or three “small” things in common. They said,

“You’d think that people who share the same religious convictions and political views, for example, would be more likely to hit it off than those who share only similar tastes in films and music… but it didn’t matter at all which topics underlay the similarity—it was the degree of similarity that was important.”

Crazy, huh? Of course now some of you might be thinking, "But everyone I'm close to is so similar to me... they're the ones I felt chemistry with." And indeed, if you look around at all your friends and they are similar to you then you'd be tempted to think that's how it works. But if all your friends are the same political party, race, religion, and life stage as you are then it could just mean you've limited who you've been willing to try to bond with because you believed you needed those similarities?

Some of the other research they share reveals that more often than not we end up becoming closest friends simply with those we see most often.  At one military base they tracked all the cadets to see whether they ended up bonding with others based what region of the country that came from (did Southerners gravitate to other Southerners?), what ethnic group they identified with (did Asians tend to friend other Asians?), or what life stage they were at (Did married cadets hang out more with other marrieds?).  Their findings?  They ended up becoming closest to others based on their last names. Because they were seated in alphabetical order-- the cadets bonded most with those they sat next to all the time.  We can think we know who we're drawn to, but in reality it usually comes down to liking those we become most familiar with an who we have the greatest chances of seeing most frequently.

So... we don't have to have this initial chemistry. And, we often don't even know what qualities will bond us as much as we like to think we do.

What Do We Need to Know About Chemistry

In short-- I'll say this: It is important that you eventually like each other and feel connected to each other. So, yes, chemistry is important in that sense.  But we don't have to feel it instantly, nor do we have to be limited by our false beliefs of what we need to have in common with each other.

We are actually able to bond with far more people than we think we can!  And that's good news!  It means you don't have to sit and wait for the "perfect person" to show up (who more often than not you think will look like your twin!) and you don't have to feel giddy with an instant girl crush to prove there is potential!

Instead, you get to be friendly with everyone and trust that as you keep getting to know people and finding the surprising things you have in common with each other-- that eventually some of those friendly relationships will develop into meaningful friendships! And in my humble opinion, that is far greater news!  It means we're not victims just left to waiting and hoping that this exact .0001% of the population needs to find us; rather, we are women who can choose to develop meaningful relationships from nearly any of the women we meet!

A Round-Up of Books to Help Your Friendships

A couple of years ago when my agent was pitching my book to publishers, a common response was, "Oh we love Shasta's writing, her platform, and her message, but unfortunately women just don't buy books on friendship." The message we heard repeatedly: women will buy armloads of cookbooks, weight loss books, romance, and parenting... but when it comes to our friendships we think we know what there is to know.  (Either that or we don't care what we don't know?!)  And yet, for all that we want our friendships to just happen automatically, stay easy, and never leave us unsure of how to respond-- chances are high that at any given time, most of us will wish we had a few more meaningful friendships in our lives and wee bit less drama, angst, or uncertainty in the ones we do have.

Furthermore, few things are showing up in our lives as having as much impact on our happiness and health as our friendships are proving to have.  To be clear, all healthy relationships boost our health, but experts acknowledge that our relationships with our kids and spouses are often associated with much of our stress, responsibility, and fear; whereas our friendships can hold the positivity, support, and joy with a little less of the stress and responsibility. So it's that feeling of being connected and engaging in love that boosts our immune system, heals our bodies after surgery, and promotes trust and wellbeing in our lives.  This is no small area of life to leave to chance.

So because most of us want more meaningful relationships AND because few of us have been well-educated on the subject--I decided to offer a little school on friendship this month.  (Did you know it's International Women's Friendship Month! Yes it is!)  And this little Friendship University is opening with an impressive faculty of 13 leading experts (and I plan to keep adding more!) on friendship so that you can have all these psychologists, authors, and experts right at your finger tips!  I'm calling it: The Friendships You've Always Wanted Learning a Better Way to Meet-up, Build-up, and Break-up with Your Friends.  (details at the end to join us! Classes start Monday!)

Here are some of the authors whose books have contributed much to the growing awareness around just how important it is that we courageously keep making new friends, even as adults.

Rachel Bertsche, author of MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend

  Ori Brafman, co-author of Click: The Forces Behind How We Fully Engage with People, Work, and Everything We Do

Dr. Andrea Bonior, author of The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Losing, and Keeping Up with Your Friends

 

Carlin Flora, author of Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are

Dr. Paul Dobransky, author of The Power of Female Friendship: How Your Circle of Friends Shapes Your Life

Porter Gale, author of Your Network Is Your Net Worth: Unlock the Hidden Power of Connections for Wealth, Success, and Happiness in the Digital Age

 

Dr. Geoffrey L. Grief, author of Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships

Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World

Dr. Jan Yager, author of When Friendship Hurts: How to Deal with Friends Who Betray, Abandon, or Wound You

 

Dr. Jan Yager, author of Friendshifts: The Power of Friendship and How It Shapes Our Lives

Diane Gage Lofgren & Margaret Bhola of Women I Want to Grow Old With: Grow Old Together with Courage, Health, and Attitude! (Volume 1)

Christine Arylo, author of Madly in Love with ME: The Daring Adventure of Becoming Your Own Best Friend

 

And the best news?  If you don't have 100+ hours to read all of them, over $200 to buy all of them, or an entire empty shelf to hold all of them, then sign up today to access an hour-long interview with each author condensing their best information in our program starting this Monday!  Or, commit to picking one book that you read through this month and put into practice in your life.

But whether it's buy a book or join "The Friendships You've Always Wanted" program where we will deliver interviews to your inbox 4 days a week-- do something this Friendship Month to invest in growing your friendship wisdom.  Because as much as we want it to, friendships don't just happen!  :)

To our growing friendships,

Shasta Nelson, author of Friendships Don't Just Happen!: The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of GirlFriends

p.s.  Here's another blog I wrote where I featured fabulous friendship books-- some books make both lists!

Three Things I Wish I had said To Kathie Lee and Hoda on the TODAY Show

We Interrupt this Programming I'm currently in the middle of a series about friendship drifts and rifts with so much more to say (and I know I specifically  committed myself last week to writing another blog about how adultery can impact our friendships-- I won't forget!) but in honor of our 500 new members in the last week, I'm interrupting my own series.  :)

My Trip to the TODAY Show

Last Thursday I was sitting in a plane on the tarmac at the JFK airport at 9 am-- the exact time I was supposed to be arriving freshly showered to the TODAY show green room for make-up and prep.  The production team had arranged for me to fly from San Francisco to NYC on a red- eye because I had a commitment the evening before that I didn't want to break. My plane had been delayed over 2 hours and my chances of arriving at the studio in time for my 10:14 am segment were diminishing rapidly.I had stopped caring about looking under-slept and un-showered on national TV and instead just hoped I'd even make it to the studio with five minutes to change out of my jeans! Sitting in Manhattan gridlock en route to the studio, I whispered the serenity prayer-- the part about giving me peace about the things you cannot change-- and then simply hoped for the best.

Two minutes before we went on air--I hadn't gone to the bathroom, sipped any coffee,  been prepped by any producers, or checked myself in a mirror--I stood as ready as I was going to be.  Three minutes later we were done. With four women sharing moments of rapid fire conversation, one simply cannot say much or say it all the way they wished they had.  Even if I had been more fully awake!

today show clip

Here are Three Things I Wish I Had Time to Say:

1)  Confirmed Friends: When Kathie Lee asked me if it was common to have a wonderful friend that she only talks with once a year since they can pick up where they left off, I wish I could have said, "Yes!  That is common.  And incredibly meaningful. Those friends from our past (Confirmed Friends: the middle circle on my Circles of Connectedness), who we may have intimacy with but lack consistency, play a significant role in our lives with many benefits.

But they are only one of the five types of friends. If we don't realize that, then what else can become too common is a sense of not feeling known, supported, and connected if we haven't also built up the Community and Committed Friends on the right-side of the Continuum--the friends who we consistently make time for and share vulnerably with.

2)  Where do women go to make friends? Way more important than where we meet each other is how we turn our friendliness into a friendship.The truth is we can meet people anywhere.  And we do.  But without starting the five steps of friendship with them-- they risk simply becoming a nice person we meet, rather than a potential friend.

The first two steps of friendship are to 1) be open and 2) initiate contact repeatedly.

The importance for us to be open to new friends cannot be underestimated.  We all too often dismiss people if we can't see us having big obvious things in common-- like both being mothers, both being retired, or both being single. But in the book Click-- the Brafman brothers say that the quantity of things in common is more important than the quality we assign to those commonalities:

"Sharing a strong dislike of fast food, for example, was just as powerful of a predictor of attraction as favoring them same political party."

In other words, if we find out we both enjoy hiking, turn our noses up to Top 40 music, and love to eat kale-- those three "smaller" things will actually increase our bond more than any of those biggies we think we just have to have in common.  We can be so much more curious and open-minded about people than most of us are. (In fact, we need to be since it takes a little longer for kale to come up in our conversations!)

And the second step of building a friendship--repeated initiation--is where many possible friendships get stopped in their tracks.  We like each other, or are at least open to getting to know each other more, but if we don't make those next few connections happen sooner, rather than later, we lose any momentum we could have had together.  We simply have to be the ones to email and say, "So great to meet you-- I would love to get to know you better, maybe we can connect for dinner after work one night next week.  Any chance you can do  Tuesday or Wednesday? If not, let me know what dates work for you and I'll schedule in the time!"

My best friends aren't always the ones I simply liked the best initially, rather they were the ones I saw regularly, giving me the chance to feel comfortable with them and fall in love with them.

3). Is it okay to let go of some of my friendships?  I stand by my answer on this one but wish I had more time to explain how friendships shift.  My gut reaction to this question is that we are all getting a little too trigger happy in ending friendships before practicing ways of showing up differently.  Our tendency is to get more and more annoyed with certain people for their behaviors until we can't take it anymore so then we just cut them out of our lives and justify it with a "they were unhealthy or toxic." Whereas most of our friendships could not only be saved, but strengthened, if we learned the skills of asking for what we need from each other, withholding judgment, working on our own self-esteem so that jealousy is inspiring, not frustrating, and learning to forgive each other.

While Kathie Lee joked that usually "it's not us, but them" who is at fault, I actually disagree.  Yes they can be annoying, insensitive, and selfish.  But who among us isn't those things? (And how easy is it for us to interpret their actions with those words when it simply means they just make different choices than we do!)  The truth is that when we can't stand someone-- it's usually showing us something about ourselves.  In those moments of blame we can see more clearly what skills we need to learn in order to best hold our peace and joy no matter what they are doing and figure out to practice showing up with different responses that might yield different results.

With that said, friendships do shift.  In my 5 Circles of Connectedness, just as people we meet can move from the far-left with Contact Friends (the least intimate) to the far-right with Commitment Friends (the most intimate and consistent) so can our friendships move the other direction.  There are good chances that several of the women we feel closest to now might someday shift to circles where our friendship isn't as vulnerable or consistent.  That is normal.  Our lives do change.  But even then, we don't need to replace all our friends with every baby, divorce, marriage, annoyance, frustration, or move.  Our call with some of those women is to figure out how to show up in those awkward transitions, hold what we've shared with an open hand, and work at co-creating something new together.

So until they make time for me to give at least a 20 or 30 minute interview-- I'll just keep blogging!  :)

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A most sincere welcome to all our new members who joined after seeing me on the TODAY show last week or read about us in the New York Times style section.  Blessings on you as you courageously connect with new women, consistently choose to show up with honesty and positivity, and as you turn the friendly people you meet into friends who matter in your life.

Pre-order my Book: Also, my forthcoming book is all about how to meet people and turn them into friendships that really matter, including the skills of forgiveness, asking for what we need from our friends, and how to appropriately increase our vulnerability.  You can pre-order it now on Amazon!