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I used to struggle to make friends.
That motivated me to read many books on making friends and eventually become a behavioral scientist.
I’m happy I did because socializing has gone from a painful struggle to something I can enjoy.
In chapter 1, I’ll talk about how to make friends more easily with people you come across in day to day life.
In chapter 3, I’ll talk about how to keep in touch with NEW friends and turn them into CLOSE friends.
In chapter 4, I go through common issues and struggles with making friends:
What if you’re not in the mood to socialize, if you’re not a people person, if you’re low on money, if you live in a small town, if you have social anxiety, if people are busy, if you don’t have the looks, if you’re afraid it might feel forced, or if you’re worried that you’ll have to change your personality.
1. I used to think that small talk was useless. But it’s critical to make new friends
I didn’t like small because it felt false and meaningless. When I started studying psychology, I learned that it does have a purpose1.
By making small talk you signal that you’re friendly and open for socializing.
If someone doesn’t make any small talk, we might assume that they don’t want to make friends with us, that they don’t like us, or that they’re in a bad mood.
Also, you can’t go straight to the deep questions in life before warming up.
Here’s practical advice on how to make small talk.
2. To get to know someone beyond small talk, figure out what you might have in common
When you talk to someone new and realize that you have things in common, the conversation usually goes from stiff to fun and interesting.
Therefore, make it a habit to find out if you have any mutual interests or something in common.
Take chances to mention things that interest you and see how they react.
I’m, for example, interested in psychology, growing plants, and talking about the future, (like self-driving cars and those sorts of things). I also follow a bunch of TV-shows.
So if a chance comes up to mention something about that, I take it!
- If someone mentions driving to work, I take the chance and ask, “When do you think self-driving cars will take off?”.
- If someone has a plant on their work desk, I ask “Are you into plants?”.
- If someone talks about TV-shows, I ask if they watch Handmaid’s Tale which I love.
- If someone mentions a book they read or something they read about anything I’m interested in, I ask more about that.
- If someone turns out to be from the same place I’m from, or has worked in a similar field, or been on vacation in a similar place, or any other commonality, I ask about that.
Use opportunities to mention things that interest you and see how they react.
If they don’t have any particular reaction, you continue making small talk as usual. If they DO light up (Looking engaged, smiling, start talking about it) – great!
You’ve found something in common. Maybe it’s even something you can use a reason for keeping in touch.
But what I don’t have any particular interests or things I love talking about?
Interests don’t have to be strong passions: It’s just about finding something you enjoy talking about. What do you talk about with close friends? Those are the things you want to talk about with new friends, too.
Or, you can find other points of commonality to talk about: What it was like studying at the same school, growing up in the same place, being from the same country, listening to the same music, having been to the same festival, reading the same books.
3. Make sure that you don’t write people off before you’ve figured out if you have something in common
I used to judge people way too fast and assume that they were shallow, boring, or that we had nothing to talk about.
In reality, it was because I got stuck in small talk. (If you only make small talk, everyone sounds shallow.)
In the previous step, I talked about how to get past small talk and find things you have in common. Because I know how easy it is to write someone off, I want to say that it’s really important to give everyone a sincere chance.
I know that I missed out on many friendships because I lacked in conversation skills.
I wish that I’d been better at that earlier in life.
Whenever you meet someone new, make it a little mission to see if you can find some kind of mutual interest.
How? By cultivating an interest in people.
As I started asking sincere questions to get to know others, I became more and more aware that a lot of people I had first written off turned out to be really interesting.
4. You need to be friendly to make friends
Many try to be cool and stand-offish when they meet new people (I did, especially in my high school years). Others get timid because they are nervous.
But the problem is that people will take it personally. If you are aloof, people will think that you don’t like them.
It sounds obvious, but you need to show that you are friendly in order to turn people into friends.
I know why I tried to be cool when I was in high school: I didn’t want to risk being rejected or make a fool out of myself, so I played it cool.
When I studied psychology, it became clear why it’s so important to SHOW that you’re friendly.
In behavioral science, there’s a concept called “Reciprocity of Liking”2 – If we think that someone likes us, we tend to like them more. If we think that someone dislikes us, we tend to like them less.
So how do you show that you like people without looking needy or being someone you’re not?
You can still be cool if you want to and you don’t have to talk all the time. But you DO want to signal in some way that you like or approve of those you meet.
- You can do that by making small talk and asking sincere questions.
- You can smile and show that you’re happy when you see them, especially people you’ve met before.
- If you appreciate something someone did, you can give them a simple compliment.
- If you agree with something someone said, simply stating that you agree is a signal that you approve of them.
5. Make it a habit to have small interactions with people you come across
I’m naturally inclined to be in my own world, so I make sure to consciously create small interactions whenever I have the chance.
- You could say hi to that person you see at work or college every day instead of ignoring them.
- Exchange a few words of conversation to people you usually just nod to.
- Take out the earphones and make eye contact, nod, smile or say hi, if you usually don’t.
- Practice small interactions, like asking the cashier how she’s doing or telling your neighbor “it’s hot outside today”.
How will talking to the cashier help me make friends?
It helps you practice social interaction.
If you don’t, you’ll feel rusty when you DO meet someone you could actually make friends with.
Being used to talking to people is important when you really do need it3.
6. Don’t try to make people like you; make sure people like being around you.
When I figured out that I shouldn’t try to make people like me, it was (ironically) easier for me to make friends.
You see, when I tried to make people like me, I did things like bragging (or humblebragging) or pulling jokes to try to make everyone laugh. In other words, I was always looking for brownie points.
That made me needy (I signaled that I needed the approval of others). I became LESS likable.
When I instead made sure that people liked being around me, THAT’S when I noticed that I became more likable.
Here’s what I did:
- I made sure to be a good listener rather than just waiting for my turn to talk.
- I showed interest in others rather than being focused on myself.
- If I was with a group of friends, I made sure that everyone felt included.
- When I talked about myself, I stopped trying to come off as cool and impressive and talk about things they could relate to instead.
7. Meet people at events and places you enjoy and let making friends be the secondary thing. That takes the pressure off you to perform.
This was another thing I used to struggle with when it came to social events: I felt like a loser if I hadn’t “succeeded” making a new friend.
It’s better to not walk around and trying to actively turn people into friends.
DO make sure that people like being around you (like I talked about in the previous step). DO take initiatives like exchanging contact information and keeping in touch.
But don’t try to fast-forward your friendship by being too “on”. That comes off as desperate.
Bad mindset when meeting new people
- “I need to make a friend”
- “I need to make people like me”
Good mindset when meeting new people
- “No matter the outcome, just going there is a win as it gives me an opportunity to practice social skills.”
- “I’m going to try to get to know a few people beyond small talk.”
- “I’m going to try to make sure that both I and the people around me enjoy the time.”
8. People don’t want to only talk about themselves. They also want to get to know you.
You often hear that you should ask more questions. That’s a GREAT piece of advice – most ask too few sincere questions, and as a result, they never really get to know people.
However, this doesn’t mean that it’s bad to share bits and pieces about you, your life, and your opinion on things.
In fact, the most effective way to connect with someone is to alternate between enclosing things about yourself and getting to know the other person.6
It can look something like this:
You ask a sincere question, like “What do you do?” and then a follow-up question, like “Interesting, what does that mean specifically to be a botanist?”.
And then, you share a little bit about yourself.
“I’m bad with flowers but I do have a palm tree that I’ve kept alive for a few years”.
When you share a little about yourself like this, you help others paint a picture of you. If you only ask about them, they’ll see you as a stranger (because they don’t know anything about you).
I always feel like it’s uninteresting for others to hear about me
This is exactly how I felt!
And it’s true that most people don’t want to hear your life story or unrelated facts about your day.
But things they can relate to ARE interesting for people.
For example, if you used to live in Brooklyn, and then you meet someone who reveals that they also lived in Brooklyn a few years ago, that piece of information is relatable to you.
I feel uncomfortable sharing my opinion on things
It’s not about sharing your opinion on controversial stuff (like religion and politics) but being able to make statements about benign topics, so people can get a glimpse of your personality.
9. What’s a group of like-minded that you can meet up with regularly?
Some argue that we humans need three places in order to thrive: Work, home, and then a third place where we socialize7.
Research8 shows that the best places to make friends are…
- In close proximity to where you are (so it’s easy to get there).
- Intimate, so you can be personal with people (meaning not big parties).
- Recurring. (Preferably every week or more often. That gives enough time to develop friendships.)
I also think it’s easier to socialize in groups that are about a specific interest. Then you know you that you can talk about that interest with people there.
I’ve been part of a philosophy-group for beginners (where I met David who I today run SocialPro with!), I’m part of an edible-plants grower’s group and a geo-tagging group.
What’s a social group that meets up on a regular basis you could join?
If seeking out new groups is anxiety-inducing for you, read my advice here.
Also, see my guide on how to find like-minded.
10. Look for clubs and groups at your college/university or workplace
This is the easiest way to find like-minded:
Join groups and clubs where you work or study.
Even if these clubs just seem remotely related to your interests, that’s OK. They don’t need to capture your life’s passion. The important thing is if you think there might be interesting people there.
- Specifically, look for groups that meet up on a weekly basis. That way, you’ll have enough time to develop friendships with people there.
- You can ask a colleague or classmate if they want to join. That makes it less scary to go there by yourself.
11. Look for classes or courses
Classes and courses are great because 1) you meet like-minded and 2) they take place over several weeks so you have the time to get to know people.
Some cities offer free classes or courses. I joined a free improv-theater group where I met lots of interesting people.
12. Most Meetup events aren’t that good for making friends
I always hear the advice to go to Meetup.com or Eventbrite.com to find events there and make friends.
The problem is that you go there, mingle for 15 minutes with strangers (and fight agonizing social anxiety in the process), and then walk home to never meet those people again.
If you do check out those sites, ONLY look for the recurring events! At least on a weekly basis.
13. How to filter out events on Meetup.com that are good for making friends.
- Do NOT enter a search term. Then you’ll probably miss out on things you might be interested in. Instead, click on Calendar view (Otherwise you just see groups that might not meet up for a long time)
Leave the search bar empty, and choose calendar view rather than group view.
- Click on All Upcoming Events.
Select all upcoming events, so you get more ideas.
- Open up all the events that interest you.
- Check if they are recurring. (You can check the history of the group arranging the meetup and see if they have had the same meetup on a regular basis.)
14. Be active in Facebook groups and forums to find communities of like-minded
I’m a member of “The Orchid Growers community of Gothenburg” (Where I live. Orchids is one of my biggest interests.)
Through that group, I learned that there’s a weekly Orchid meetup group in Gothenburg (Which is a city of only 500 000 people, which shows that you can find niche groups not only in huge cities.)
Go to Facebook and search for different groups. Join groups that interest you (and that seem to be active).
I, for example, would search for things like gardening, plants, board games, psychology, or philosophy.
In my experience, you seldom find events on Facebook for these interests. However, you find several groups. Join those groups so you get their updates, and be active in them or at least read them.
Through there, it’s likely that you sooner or later find opportunities to find out people.
15. Volunteering and community services
16. Sports teams
Personally, I’m not a sports person (although I competed in gripper strength a few years ago, which isn’t really a team sport.)
However, I do know that a lot of people have made their best friends through sports teams.
It can feel uncomfortable to join a team if you’ve just getting started. Search for “[your city] [sport] beginners”.
Here’s a good list of team sports.
17. Avoid social media as that can give you a false sense of satisfaction
Avoid social media like Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook (Unless you use them to find real-life groups).
Usually, social media is a bit like eating candy instead of food: You get temporary satisfaction that lowers your motivation to seek out real long-term satisfaction (that real-life socializing gives).
Studies also show that social media lowers our self-esteem9 (Because we see everyone’s “perfect” lives.) Comparing ourselves to others, in turn, makes us more uncomfortable for real-life socializing10.
You can uninstall social media apps from your phones and block those pages, then replace them with chat-only apps like WhatsApp and let your friends know that they’ll find you there instead.
I use the “Facebook Newsfeed Eradicator” so I don’t have to see the Facebook feed and search out information I want to access myself.
18. Follow up with people even if it feels uncomfortable
I know that it’s scary to tell someone that you want to keep in touch or text someone. What if they don’t text back and you feel like a loser?
You want to follow up with people you like DESPITE that fear. Sometimes, people don’t text you back, and that’s OK.
But what’s worse, someone not texting back, or you never taking the chance to make a good friend?
19. If you have an interesting conversation with someone, always ask for their phone number.
If you’ve had an interesting conversation about a mutual interest, always take that person’s number.
It might feel awkward the first few times. After a while, it just feels like a natural way to end interesting conversations.
“This was really fun to talk about. Let’s exchange numbers so we can keep in touch”.
20. Use mutual interests to keep in touch
After you get someone’s number, it’s on you to follow through and keep in touch.
Do actually text them. Don’t wait for them to text you.
Text them right after you’ve split up. “Hi, Viktor here. Was nice meeting you. Here’s my number :)”.
Then, use your mutual interests as a “reason” for meeting up.
As an example, I recently met someone who’s as much of an Orchid nerd as I am. A few days later, I found an interesting article about a new Orchid species, and I texted it to him.
I wrote: “Hi, interesting about Orchids (link)”
21. Meet up with people you don’t know well yet for group activities first
If you’re about to do something social related to your mutual interest, text your new friend and ask if they want to join.
For example, if I’m going to an Orchid-meetup, I can text my new orchid friend and ask if he wants to join.
Or, just bring together some others with that same interest, “I’m meeting up with two other friends who are also into Orchids, do you want to join?”
If you meet up at a group activity first like that, it takes the pressure off to have a non-awkward conversation.
22. Activities can be more casual the better you know each other
The more comfortable you are with each other, the more casual the activity can be.
- Activity with someone you’ve only met once or twice before: Going to a meetup together or meeting up with several friends specifically regarding a mutual interest.
- Activity with someone you’ve met a few times before one on one: Grabbing a coffee together.
- Activity with someone you’ve met several times before one on one: Just asking “want to meet up?” is enough.
23. How to use self-disclosure to make friends
According to University of Winnipeg sociologist Beverley Fehr, “the transition from acquaintanceship to friendship is typically characterized by an increase in both the breadth and depth of self-disclosure.”
In her landmark study and book Friendship Processes, Fehr found that friendships were formed when individuals revealed deep and meaningful aspects of themselves to each other.(16)
The message from her work is plain and simple: if you’re finding it difficult to form solid relationships with the people you meet, then think about how much you’re actually revealing about yourself.
Do you find yourself putting up a “wall” when meeting new people, constantly deflecting personal questions or answering them with simple, superficial answers?
Or do you hold back on telling people about your own experiences when the topic moves to an area that you know only too well?
You may think that revealing potentially embarrassing aspects of your life and history may actually hurt your chances of making friends. But according to Fehr the truth is actually the opposite.
Self-disclose and you’re actually much more likely to make new friends.
But how does self-disclosure help form new friendships?
Collins and Miller found that people who self-disclose are liked more by others. They also found that other people tend to self-disclose to people that they like and that people prefer those to whom they have made personal disclosures.
In sum: friendships are based on likability, and it just so happens that revealing aspects of yourself make people like you more. When people like you, they are more likely to self-disclose to you (which in turn will make you like them more). And finally, people tend to want to spend time with people they have made personal disclosures to.
Makes sense, huh?
It is only when we put ourselves out there and tell people about ourselves that we can actually connect with people.
Of course, in order for a friendship to form, both you and the other person need to self-disclose.
It doesn’t work if only one person is revealing aspects of themselves.
But as the research suggests, you are much more likely to encourage the other person to share their personal history with you once you do so first.
However, be careful: too much self-disclosure can actually be off-putting and drive people away. You need to find the right balance between revealing too much and revealing too little.
So what kind of things can we reveal of ourselves in order to make stronger connections with other people?
Let’s look at another important scientific finding to help us make friends faster.
24. 36 questions to form stronger bonds with others
In April 1997, a study was published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin by Arthur Aron and his team.(18)
The researchers found that it was possible to increase the intimacy between two complete strangers by asking 36 specific questions.
The questions were all geared toward soliciting revealing aspects about the participants in the study.
And as we have already seen above, self-disclosing is a vital part of forming new friendships.
Here are 6 of the questions from the experiment to give you the gist of it:
- What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
- Would you like to be famous? In what way?
- Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
- If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
- Ask your partner to tell you what they like about you; ask them to be very honest, saying things they might not say to someone they’ve only just met.
- Ask your partner to share with you an embarrassing moment in their life.
All these questions will go a long way towards forming strong relationships with others.
25. How music can quickly help you bond with others
From what we’ve discussed so far, you may be thinking that you need to go deep with the people you meet in order to start new friendships with them.
Well, you will need to reveal personal and meaningful things about yourself at some stage if you want to make a new friend.
But you can also talk about more trivial things at the beginning of a friendship in order to get it moving along in the right direction.
In fact, a recent study found that talking about music was one of the most popular topics of conversation when same-sex and opposite-sex pairings were told to get to know each other over the course of 6 weeks.(19)
In the study, 58 percent of the pairs talked about music in the first week. Less popular topics of conversation – such as favorite books, movies, TV, football, and clothes – were only discussed by about 37 percent of the pairs.
But why is it that music is such a popular topic of conversation for newly introduced pairings?
The authors of the study said that the kind of music someone likes says a lot about their personality. And that people talk about music in order to tell whether they are similar or different from each other.
According to the research, an individual’s musical preferences were an accurate indication of their personality.
Specifically, the study found that those that liked vocally dominant music were generally extroverted in nature, that those who liked country were, for the most part, emotionally stable, and that those that listened to jazz were quite intellectual.
The key takeaway from this study is that we can know more about a person by finding out what kind of music they like.
So the next time you meet someone new, don’t be afraid to pull out the “what’s your favorite type of music?” card.
26. How to use social identity to make friends faster
Another interesting finding that can help you make friends faster comes from social researchers Carolyn Weisz and Lisa F. Wood and their study on the effects of social identity support between individuals.(20)
A social identity can be many things, such as being a member of a particular religion, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, socio-economic class, etc.
According to the results of the study, when you support someone’s sense of self or identity, the intimacy between you grows.
In simple terms, the results of the findings suggest that being able to relate to an individual’s position in society can help them feel understood. This can, in turn, increase feelings of intimacy between you and them.
They also found that social identity support between individuals often led to them remaining friends over the long term.
So how can this finding help us make new friends faster?
Whenever you meet someone new, try and put yourself in their shoes, and try to feel and understand what it must be like to move through their world with their social identity.
Or in other words: in order to strengthen the bond between you and the people you meet, you need to empathize with them and where they are coming from.
This means understanding their particular social position, and how they relate to the world.
Of course, this is easier said than done.
It’s hard to relate to someone’s particular social identity when we have no experience or knowledge of it.
But remember that earlier study by Aron and his colleagues and his list of 36 questions to help increase the intimacy between two complete strangers? You can use questions like that to better understand people you meet and help you connect.
A few years ago, my confidence in my abilities to make friends were really low and I had lots of doubts if I would even be good at making new friends. Because I was rusty, I also got nervous when I was supposed to socialize.
So I know that there are many challenges to overcome. Here’s my recommendation on some of the most common challenges.
27. I’m not in the mood to socialize
Someone once said that “canceling plans last minute is like heroin” and I can agree. But in the long term, it’s probably not the kind of life you want to live.
Here’s my advice for when you don’t feel like socializing:
- If you start being a little social, it’s much easier to be more social. Use any little opportunity you get to socialize to keep the wheels running.
- It’s never fun to do things we don’t feel good at. When we learn to master something, it starts getting more fun. If socializing is boring, I suggest that you pick a single goal for the interaction and focus on that.
28. I don’t really like people
“It’s hard to work up the motivation to socialize when you don’t really like people anyway.”
This is a recurring theme among my clients. This is often before they’ve mastered getting to know people past small talk. When they learn to find mutual interests, they often find socializing much more fun.
(This is when you’re done with the pleasantries and actually get to know someone)
Read more in our article on what to do if you don’t like people.
29. I don’t have a people personality
“I just not an outgoing, extroverted personality that likes being around people”.
That’s OK. Somewhere around 2 out of 5 identify as introverts11.
However, we ALL need human contact. Feeling lonely is terrible and as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day12.
I believe that I, like almost all other introverts, still want to meet people. It’s just that we don’t want to do it in extroverted, loud settings where you need to be fake.
30. I don’t have the money
“Socializing is expensive and I don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend on classes, beers, drinks, commute, and dinners”.
I can relate to this because I was always short on cash when I studied.
The most obvious step is to choose free events over costly ones. Luckily, there are loads of free events everywhere.
You should also look specifically into volunteering and community service.
I’m not a big drinker, so I usually only have one beer when I meet people – after that I just have water. No one has ever thought that was weird. If I don’t feel like drinking at all, I just order a coke.
Small costs like gas or cost for commutes is a question of priorities. If you want to make friends, it’s well invested to at least have a small budget for social interaction.
31. I live in a small town
“It’s easier to make friends in New York City than in my city of 20 000”.
Usually, even small cities have classes and courses you can attend. Look into that first. Make it a habit to look at message boards and see what shows up.
The smaller the city, the less specific you can be. If you can go to an event in New York specifically for post-modern art from Belarus, in a small city, you might instead be able to find a “Culture Club”.
32. I am bad socially
This is exactly how I felt. Socializing is never fun when you don’t feel good at it.
Luckily, it’s a skill you can practice. I recommend you to read a book on social skills. Then, use all social interaction you have throughout the day as your practice-ground.
33. I have social anxiety
Social Anxiety can be like a barrier between you and everything you want in life. I suggest that you work with it on two fronts:
- Do what you can to make socializing less scary. For example, if you’re going to a meetup, see if you can make a friend come with you.
- Work specifically on your social anxiety. Here are our book tips for social anxiety.
34. People are busy nowadays with family and work
As we approach our 30s, people tend to get busier13.
I notice how many of my old friends get busy as they get wives and kids. In fact, we lose half of our friends every 7th year14.
But this doesn’t mean that we can’t make new friends: At social groups and events, you find all those who are NOT busy with work and family. (If they were, they wouldn’t go to those events).
35. I don’t have the looks
“It’s easy for someone who’s good-looking, but people don’t like talking to me because I look weird/ugly/overweight/etc”.
It’s true that if you’re a fashion model, that will help you in the very first interaction with someone15:
Before people know anything about you, the only assumptions they can make are based on our looks.
But as soon as we start interacting, our personality becomes more and more important and looks less and less important13.
Even if we have the looks against us, we can still make friends. Think about someone you know who looks worse than you do, but who has more friends.
Remind yourself of that person when you need proof that you can make friends even if you’re not social.
Read more here about how looks affect social life.
36. I’m afraid following a guide like this will make it feel forced
See social events as a place you go because you’re interested in the topic, like I talk about here.
Second, you want to talk to people. And third, more like a bonus, you might connect with someone.
Remember: Making friends is a side effect of having a good time together with people.
37. I don’t want to feel like I have to change my personality to make friends
Perhaps you see this overly social person in front of you when you think about making friends – someone who talks to everyone, always smiles, and LOVES making meaningless small talk.
That’s not someone I ever wanted to be. While I can understand that it can feel like you have to be that person, you definitely don’t.
Here are some examples:
You go to an event of something you’re interested in. There, you can talk to others who are interested in the same thing.
If you hit it off, you can meet up again and build your friendship around that interest. You don’t need to be overly nice or positive. You just need to be authentic.
Here are some things that can feel outside of your current behavior, but I encourage you to still practice:
Small talk. Most of my clients appreciate this once they are able to use it as a bridge to finding mutual interests.
Opening up. Sharing a thing or two about you every once in a while, so that people can get to know you as you get to know them.
Meeting more new people. This can be exhausting, but something that’s necessary to make new friends. Rather than seeing it as having to meet new people, see it as following your interests and meeting people in the process.
- Coupland, J. (2010). Small Talk: Social Functions. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1207/S15327973RLSI3601_1?journalCode=hrls20
- Eastwick, Paul W. Encyclopedia of Human Relationships. pp. 1333–1336. http://faculty.wcas.northwestern.edu/eli-finkel/documents/38_EastwickFinkel2009_EncyclopediaOfHumanRelations_Reciprocity.pdf
- American Psychological Association Division 12. (n.d.) What is Exposure Therapy? https://www.div12.org/sites/default/files/WhatIsExposureTherapy.pdf
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