Six things that lead to the abandoning of ill-will:
1) learning the meditation on loving-kindness,
2) cultivating meditation on loving-kindness,
3) reviewing ownership of kamma,
4) abundant reflection,
5) good friendship, and
6) suitable conversation.
— from the AN commentaries, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi
From a Dhamma talk called Admirable Friendship, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu:
Practicing the Dhamma is primarily an issue of looking at yourself, looking at your own thoughts, your own words, your own deeds, seeing what’s skillful, seeing what’s not. It’s not so much an issue of self-improvement as one of action-improvement, word-improvement, and thought-improvement. This is an important distinction, because people in the modern world — especially in the modern world — seem to be obsessed with self-image. We’ve spent our lives bombarded with images, and you can’t help but compare your image of yourself to the images of people you see outside you. And for the most part there’s no comparison: You’re not as strong, as beautiful, as wealthy, as stylish, and so forth…So when we say that you’re looking at yourself, remember you’re not looking at your “self.” You’re looking at your thoughts, words, and deeds. Try to look at them as objectively as possible, get the whole issue of “self” out of the way, and then it becomes a lot easier to make improvements.
The same applies to your dealings with other people. The Buddha said there are two factors that help most in the arising of discernment [wisdom], that help you most along the path. The foremost internal factor is appropriate attention. The foremost external factor is admirable friendship. And it’s important that you reflect on what admirable friendship means, because even though you’re supposed to be looking at your own thoughts, words, and deeds, you’re also looking at the thoughts, words, and deeds of the people around you.
(full talk here: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/meditations.html#friendship)
“Appropriate attention”, which the Buddha called the most important internal factor, comes into play when we consider our friendships. If we are not comparing ourselves with others, but are looking specifically at actions, words, and thoughts, then we’re on the right track. When we or someone we know does an admirable deed, speaks with wisdom, or frames a thought in a beneficial way, we can recognize that that action is wholesome. We can take it into our hearts and feel the wisdom behind the action. We can tell the story to our friends, increasing the strength and value of the action, spreading its benefit.
When we study others’ actions, words and thoughts (as far as we can read them), we become more skilled at distinguishing the beneficial from the unbeneficial. If we have an altercation, we may want to inventory the unskillful words or actions coming from both sides, recognizing them as the causes of conflict. This appropriate attention is more helpful than assigning blame, which usually blocks rather than improves our view.
A good friend helps us move beyond our anger and resentment, towards compassion and understanding, and we do the same for them. We can learn to take the long view, not be too sensitive to others’ shortcomings, and turn towards acceptance and tolerance. Picking fights and continuing them never made anyone happier or wiser. A good friend reminds us of these truths.