The need to make new friends is something that happens to people of all ages. I’ve seen this with children who find themselves without a satisfactory group of friends. I’ve also seen this with both young and older adults. You move to a new area or take a new job and want to make friends and get connected. It may be that you’ve realized you don’t share the same values or you’ve outgrown your old friends. Or perhaps you got divorced and your friends sided with your ex and you don’t see them anymore.
If you’re having trouble finding and making new friends, you’re not alone. Making friends is easy for some people, but if you’re more of an introvert, it can be really tough. Below, I’ll discuss some strategies for going about this.
Where to Make New Friends
The first thing to consider is that it’s easier to make friends with people you have something in common with. It also helps if you have a chance to meet them and spend time together over a period of time. It’s pretty hard to meet someone just once and ask if they want to be friends.
My first suggestion for making friends is to pick a hobby you’d like to start, or renew and old hobby. This will help bring you in contact with other people who share this interest. It also makes it easier to have conversations with people with no pressure. After you have a few conversations with someone who seems like good friend material, you might try suggesting that you’re going to lunch or dinner at a particular place and invite them along. Sometimes it’s less threatening to suggest going as a small group as opposed to inviting just one person to come with you.
One thing to think about is some places where you might have an easy time meeting people, but you have nothing in common with. For example, bars can be good places to meet people if you are someone who likes to drink and want to hang around other people who like to drink. But if going to a bar isn’t your idea of a good time, then it’s not a great place for you to meet people.
So what are some places people go to meet people? Here are just a few ideas: Libraries, bookstores, specialty shops, taking a local class, volunteering, joining a networking group or group affiliated with your business, joining a gym or exercise group, attending local sporting events or “pick up games”. These are just a few.
If you’re hobby is something like woodworking, you might strike up conversations with people at woodworking stores and find ways to go check out each other’s shops. I’ve invited myself to go see someone else’s shop on several occasions at the other person has almost always readily agreed.
What If You Have a Hard Time Starting Conversations?
It can be hard to start conversations, especially if you’re an introvert. For introverts, it works best if you have a role to play. Your role might be that of customer, newbie who gets to ask a lot of questions, co-host at an event, etc. If you can’t think of a role to assume that will allow you to initiate interactions, then you’re best best is to make yourself approachable. This simply means using body language, eye contact, and facial expressions to let people know that although you may not initiate a conversation, you’d be receptive to someone starting a conversation with you. You can do this by assuming a more “open” body posture.
For example, if you’re sitting down on a bench, keep your arms at your sides and don’t fold them over your chest. Look around and make eye contact with others, smile or at least make sure you’re not frowning, and try to look relaxed rather than uncomfortable.
Often times, introverts are in public places hoping someone will start a conversation but their body language makes them look very uncomfortable and anxious. While some people will approach you to try to make you more comfortable, many will assume you would prefer to be left alone.
If you have trouble starting conversations and want to get better at it, borrow a page from Dale Carnegie’s book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. He suggests finding ways to ask people about themselves. Observe their clothing, jewelry, or things they’re carrying, and offer a compliment or ask them a question about it. Most people are comfortable talking about themselves if someone is genuinely interested. For example, if someone were wearing a Michigan State shirt, ask if they attended there, if they’re a sports fan, etc.
People tend to talk more when talking about themselves. This leads to clues for follow up questions and then offering information about yourself. You’ll be in a conversation before you know it. Don’t ask too many questions in a row or it will start to feel like an interrogation to them.
Ending Conversations Well
If in doubt, keep your first interactions short. It’s better to end a conversation sooner, than to try too hard and make it awkward. If you can’t think of more to say, just say “Well, it was nice talking to you” and walk away. You can also just say, “Well I need to check with someone for a minute but perhaps we’ll talk later”.
Another important thing is to learn someone’s name and use it. This may sound cheesy but we all have a deep connection to our own name. We often feel more comfortable or close to people who use our name in conversation. Just don’t overdo it or it will get weird.
Deepening the Relationship
The next step after making some initial contact is to invite them to do something or meet somewhere. My friend in middle school shared one of my hobbies, so he simply asked to come over and hang out. Since we got along well in class, I accepted his invitation and we started having out after school. So sometimes the bold approach works. If you’re not this bold, it can be helpful to pick a more public or neutral place to meet up. It’s best to have an activity in mind to suggest rather than just “hanging out”.
When I was a school social worker helping younger children make friends, I suggested they pick a game and ask someone to play. This increased the odds of the other person agreeing to play than if they just asked them to play.
Making new friends can be a nerve wracking experience for some people. It can feel like you might be bothering other people. You may worry that you’re going to get rejected which is most people’s fear. But don’t worry, reasearch suggests that most people like having other people start conversations with them. Just use the techniques mentioned, maybe start slow, and see what happens.
Gary Watson is a Solution Focused Therapist in Grand Rapids Michigan. He provides counseling for couples, counseling for teenagers, and adults. He provides counseling for anxiety, depression, stress, college and work stress, and relationship problems. For more information, please visit the website at www.turnaboutcounseling.com.