Last updated on
Scientists at Stony Brook University in New York have designed a method where 2 strangers were able to become close friends in less than 60 minutes.
What researchers call the Fast Friends procedure(1) will not only help you build deep relationships quickly, it also helps you know what to say next in a conversation. Professionals such as police, interrogators, and psychologists have learned how to build trust and befriend a stranger rapidly based on these findings.
The Fast Friends procedure works best when you’re talking to someone one on one and face to face. This means the procedure is perfect to use when meeting someone over a cup of coffee, while traveling, or at a party. You could even use this method on people that you have known for a long time already to strengthen your existing friendship. The best part is that you can use it with anyone, including business colleagues, an old friend, or even a relative you’d like to get closer to.
Here’s how the Fast Friends procedure works:
The Fast Friends Experiments
At Stony Brook, researchers have tested the Fast Friends procedure again and again and have found that it’s an efficient way to feel comfortable with someone. It’s been shown repeatedly that this procedure of how to become friends with someone works and that it has long-lasting effects. Different variations of the original experiment have shown that the Fast Friends questions are even successful in creating cross-cultural friendships(2) and increasing intimacy within a couple.(3)
The original Fast Friends experiment was completed in 3 parts:
Part 1: Establishing the relationship
Two people that don’t know each other have been randomly assigned to each other and they know nothing about the other. 3 sets of 12 questions are handed to the participants and they’re told to alternate asking the questions to each other and to listen to the other’s responses. They’re asked to be as honest as they’re comfortable being.
The questions are in increasing intimacy, with more “shallow” questions toward the front of the deck and more “intimate” questions at the end.
This process should take about an hour, depending on how in-depth the participants’ responses are. Once they’re done with the 36 questions, they’re sent their separate ways and are asked not to contact each other while the experiment is still going on.
Part 2: Creating intimacy
During this next meeting, the couple is asked to do the same thing they did last time, but with a different set of 36 questions. Like last time, the questions increase in intimacy as you go through the deck. It should take about an hour to answer all of the questions.
They’re again asked to not contact each other until the experiment is completed.
Part 3: Friends or just friendly?
The interactions between the two when they see each other again are examined, and participants can now ask for contact information from their partner. More often than not, participants wanted to keep in touch with their partner and see them again after the experiment was over.
If you came into this experiment to make a real friend, you were almost guaranteed to leave with one. The participants weren’t just cordial or friendly to each other, they wanted to keep in touch and continue their friendship because what they experienced simulates the same experience that otherwise takes months or years for friends to go through. Efficient, right?
Some of the questions that the researchers used:
The first set of 12 questions the researchers used were shallow and basically scratched the surface to get the participants to warm up to each other:
- Would you like to be famous? In what way?
- What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
- When did you last sing to yourself or to someone else?
The second set of 12 questions used were to let the participants become better friends in a less superficial way:
- What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
- What is your most terrible memory?
- If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
The last set of 12 is where the real friendship building happens. These are questions that many best friends don’t even ask each other, which let the participants get to know each other fast:
- What things are too personal to discuss with others?
- If you were guaranteed honest responses to any three questions, who would you question and what would you ask?
- Do you believe in any sort of God? If not, do you think you might still pray if you were in a life-threatening situation?
Of course, the researchers didn’t start the questioning with philosophical questions about their beliefs because that would scare participants off. The key to using the Fast Friends procedure is to ask intentional questions from the start, disclose information about yourself to the other to establish trust, and then dig deeper to get to the good stuff.
Taking the Fast Friends procedure to real life
When psychologists design and carry out experiments, they’re done so under heavily controlled conditions that are usually not applicable to real-life scenarios. Sitting down with a new person and a deck full of flashcards might not be everyone’s idea of a good first meetup.
Here’s how to apply the principles from the Fast Friends procedure to your real life:
During a period that can be as brief as 45 minutes (yes, really), you’ll go through a series of questions that gradually become more and more personal. In the lab, participants read questions from a set of cards. In the real world, you have to come up with relevant questions on the fly throughout your ongoing conversation.
Remember that the Fast Friends procedure works because of its progressive nature. It’s important that you start off easy and progress over time. After about 10-25 minutes of small talk, you can start asking about deeper matters if the person you’re talking to seems receptive.
Article continues below...
What type of social overthinker are you?
Take this quiz and get a custom report based on your unique personality and goals. Start improving your confidence, your conversation skills, or your ability to bond - in less than an hour.
First, ask something that is slightly personal. Make sure that you relate the question to what you are currently talking about so the question won’t feel forced.
For example, say that your friend is talking about an unpleasant phone call he or she recently had to make. You can ask, “When you make a telephone call, do you ever rehearse it beforehand?” After your friend has answered, remember to reciprocate and disclose something personal as well. You could say something along the lines of, “I actually rehearse several times when I’m about to call someone I don’t know that well, too.”
If your questions become too personal too quickly they might be perceived as unpleasant, probing and scary, so take your time and trust the process. You’ll get close as time goes on.
After about 30 minutes of talking, you can start asking about deeper matters. Again, make sure that the questions are relevant to what you’re discussing.
If you’re talking about family, an example of a deeper question could be, “How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?” Give your friend the time to answer if they feel comfortable doing so and answer the same question that you asked them. Give them the time to ask you follow up questions, too.
If the conversation is going well, you can ask even more personal questions. You could talk about a vulnerability if they’re previously mentioned their insecurities and ask something like, “When was the last time you cried in front of someone else?”
If you have gradually gotten to know each other through the easier but still personal questions, then it’s fine to ask deep questions without them feeling unnatural. Your friend will let you know if at any point they don’t want to continue the conversation.
The Fast Friends procedure works because it mimics the way that relationships actually develop. Though the description above is helpful, you don’t have to use the “full fast friends” method in every conversation you have with a new person to get to know them better.
As long as you apply the idea of asking gradually more personal questions to improve your relationships, you’re using the Fast Friends procedure (and your relationships will benefit from it).
Read more: How to make any conversation interesting.
Article continues below...
If you want to improve your social skills, self-confidence, and ability to connect with someone, you can take our 1-minute quiz.
You’ll get a 100% free custom report with the areas you need to improve.
Still Not Convinced? We Asked the Expert:
To get a deeper understanding of how the method works, we asked one of the developers of this procedure, Dr. Elizabeth Page-Gould in the Psychology Department at the University of Toronto, two questions.
Here’s what she had to say:
Dr. Elizabeth Page-Gould
What is your advice or precaution to people who want to use the Fast Friend Procedure principles in their personal life to make friends?
When entering a new social group (i.e., meeting people for the first time), it’s always helpful to have some questions like the Fast Friends questions to get the conversation rolling.
Generally, people like to talk about themselves, and they will appreciate that you want to know more about them. The two things to remember, though, is that not everyone is the same, and there is a big difference between interacting with a stranger than interacting with a friend.
In my research, some people become stressed during the first Fast Friends session, although pretty much everyone becomes comfortable by the second time they do the Fast Friends with another person. So, you always have to feel out a new interaction partner: back off if they seem like they don’t want to share and be sure that you reciprocate in kind by sharing equivalent levels of information with them. For the most part, people like to be asked about themselves, especially with questions that are somewhat unique and quirky!
In short, what do you think it is in the procedure that makes it so effective?
The Fast Friends procedure is effective because it mimics the way friendships develop naturally. When you first meet someone, you move beyond mere strangers by getting to know one another. The other person may tell you a little bit more about themselves, then you respond in kind by telling them a little more about you, and the process continues back-and-forth like that. The Fast Friends procedure just formalizes and accelerates this process!
Your Next Steps
So, you want to use the fast friends procedure in real life? Here’s what you need to do to make it work for you:
- Comment below telling us your thoughts on the fast friend procedure and if you’ve used any similar technique before
- Find a person you’d like to become friends with or get to know better
- Start a conversation with the person and make small talk
- Begin to ask your friend questions related to the conversation
- Listen to what your partner says and disclose information about yourself
- Continue asking questions in increasing intimacy to get to know the deep stuff about each other
- Celebrate because you’ve made a lasting friend!
- Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., & Bator, R. J. (1997). The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(4), 363-377. doi:10.1177/0146167297234003
- Page-Gould, E., Mendoza-Denton, R., & Tropp, L. R. (2008). With a little help from my cross-group friend: Reducing anxiety in intergroup contexts through cross-group friendship. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(5), 1080-1094. doi:10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1680
- Slatcher, R. B. (2010). When Harry and Sally met Dick and Jane: Creating closeness between couples. Personal Relationships, 17(2), 279-297. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.2010.01276.x