Why It's Important To Diversify Your Friendships

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You've probably heard the saying "birds of a feather flock together." And when it comes to friendships, this statement often holds true. People often form friendships with others who are most like them.

While it's comfortable to find camaraderie with people most like you, there are some drawbacks to not diversifying your social network. This article discusses those pitfalls and provides some tips on how you can diversify your circle of friends.

Homogenous Social Circles

Many people seek friendships with the people they feel they can relate to. If you're white, you may notice many of your friends are also white. If you're BIPOC, many of your friends may be other people of color. You might also find that you associate with people who share your political or social views and hobbies.

Homophily

The paper "Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks" written by University of Arizona sociologist, Miller McPherson, discusses the concept of homophily—people's natural affinity to gravitate to other people who are like themselves.

McPherson notes that "Homophily limits people’s social worlds in a way that has powerful implications for the information they receive, the attitudes they form, and the interactions they experience."

In other words, when you're not being exposed to different types of people or points of view, you tend to be more closed off and less open to new ideas and opinions.

When you are only interacting with people similar to you, it causes you to form inaccurate beliefs about other people.

You'll likely develop surface-level stereotypes about certain groups instead of viewing people as complex, multi-faceted individuals with varying beliefs, values, and goals.

Homophily in Race and Ethnicity

When it comes to race and ethnicity, homophily may create some of the strongest divides in an individual's personal life.

Meanwhile, the more inter-racial and inter-ethnic experiences you have the less likely you are to make generalizations about other racial and ethnic groups. In fact, one study that combined results from across 515 different studies found that the more contact people have with others outside their racial group, the less prejudiced they were. 

Problems With Racial Division

If people avoid others who are different from them, this only perpetuates fears and stereotypes about those groups. In fact, they often default to what is known as "social categorization theory," which indicates that when people don't have enough firsthand experience or friendships with people across racial groups, they resort to generalizations and stereotypes.

Another factor that contributes to the divide among races is what is known as the "false consensus effect," which is a bias in which people assume that everyone's reality is like their own. When this occurs, people who have never witnessed or experienced racism themselves often assume that no one experiences racism or that it simply doesn't exist.

To keep this bias from taking root in your life, it's important to be intentional about listening to what people have to say about their experiences and ask questions. Refrain from dismissing their arguments or trying to discredit them.

Try to recognize that by listening to their stories and empathizing with their struggles, you are opening yourself up to learning and understanding. You also are creating an opportunity for a real friendship to develop.

Diversifying Friend Groups 

According to a 2013 Reuters poll, nearly 40% of white Americans and about 25% of non-white Americans are surrounded exclusively by friends of their own race.  So, it's important to break those barriers and form genuine friendships with people of different races and ethnicities.

Be Open-Minded

The first step is to approach life with open-mindedness. Put aside your preconceived ideas about other people and embrace the individuality of each person. People are more than just the color of their skin. Allow them the space to be who they are and you may find that you connect in ways you never thought possible.

Similarities Are Normal

Because similarities will always cause people to bond regardless of race or ethnicity, focus on the things you share with them instead of the things that you make you different from one another.

Maybe you work for the same company, attend the same church, work out at the same gym, or have kids in the same school. Whatever it is that brings you together initially, focus on that as the opportunity to open a door to a potential new friendship.

Make Genuine Connections

Try not to force friendships with people you work with or bombard parents of different races on your son's sports team. Instead, just be friendly, open, approachable, and inclusive. You may find that there is a friendship ready to be made among people you interact with on a daily basis. But, it will require some effort on your part.

You can make friends by saying hello and making small talk. The key is that you're open and friendly without being overbearing or trying to force a friendship with someone who has no interest in getting to know you.

Make sure you are a good friend to the people you do meet. Friends, even those who are just beginning to hang out together, invite each other to do things. They listen, ask questions, and are supportive.

As a friendship grows, people meet each other's families, have hard conversations, and get to know one another on a deeper level. They even have one another's back when times get tough. In fact, one of the best ways to form a friendship with someone is to stand up for them or support them when they are going through a hard time. Make sure you are the kind of person who is willing to be there for other people.

A Word From Verywell

At a time when race relations are on everyone's mind, it's important that you make an effort to reach out to people of other races and backgrounds. Actively looking for and working toward developing diversified friendships is the most effective way to expand your circle of friends and enrich your life. After all, when you have a diverse group of friends you have a better view of what the entire world is like rather than just your little corner of it.

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Article Sources
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  1. McPherson M, Smith-Lovin L, Cook J. Birds of a Feather: Homophily in social networks. Annu Rev Sociol. 2001; 27:415-44.

  2. Pettigrew TF, Tropp LR. A meta-analytic test of intergroup contact theory. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2006;90(5):751-83. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.90.5.751 

  3. Reuters. Many Americans have no friends of another race: poll.

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