Writing

Litmus test questions for making new friends

When I meet new people, I often ask certain questions to gauge whether we could get along well and potentially make friends.

On average, if I can’t have an exciting conversation about these kinds of questions after a few minutes of small talk, then I think it’s less likely that I’ll make friends with them. (Of course depends on the context, etc.)

I experiment all the time with new questions. Here are some of the questions I ask frequently, along with the reasons I find them useful:

  1. What are you passionate about? What excites you?
    • I enjoy listening to people talk about a topic they are truly passionate about, even if I know nothing about it.
    • I find it a bit suspicious if they struggle to find a topic that excites them.
  2. What do you like about yourself?
    • Being able to answer this honestly selects for being self-compassionate and being willing to open up emotionally.
    • It also gives you a sense of the person’s confidence (being willing to say what they think makes them great) but can also select for humility (you would notice someone being a little too full of themselves).
  3. What do you appreciate about your best friends?
    • Hearing how someone talks about their friends tells you a lot about them, such as how they express gratitude. 
  4. What has been your favorite failure in your life?
    • Gives information about emotional intelligence and self-compassion. Tells you how they navigated a difficult experience to ultimately learn from it.
  5. What is something important that you have changed your mind about?
    • Being willing to change your mind and understanding how your beliefs have developed is important to me.

It is hard to fake authentic emotional vulnerability (unless you’re a psychopath, I guess). I think that makes it a costly signal and provides genuine information about someone’s emotional intelligence. All of these questions also implicitly test for high openness.

Caveat: I realize I spend my time in extraordinarily WEIRD social circles. In many societies around the globe, it is probably much less acceptable to ask such direct questions to people you only just met.

What’s one question you’ve asked someone that opened up an unexpected and meaningful conversation, enabling you to connect more deeply? Share your experience in the comments or email me.