Being more social isn’t about pleasing everyone around you. Seriously. There’s nothing wrong with chilling at home and binge-watching your favorite show after a long week. Putting yourself out there can look different for everyone. Maybe for you, it’s about hanging with some of your closest pals or chatting it up with the pizza delivery guy.
Here’s a look at 10 tips to help you better connect with others. If some of these tips aren’t the right fit, feel free to ditch them altogether and try something else. What’s important is that you find the joy in connecting.
1. Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons
First thing’s first, there’s no right way to put yourself out there. It’s OK if you’re not into hitting the club every other night or accepting all those Facebook event invites. More than anything, you’re under no obligation to fulfill other people’s expectations, and this includes how you spend your time.
DROWN OUT THE OTHER VOICESIf you’re unsure of how to make the distinction between what you want versus what others are telling you to want, try asking yourself the following questions:
- Am I looking forward to spending time with this person or going to this event?
- Do I feel guilty about letting people down or being judged as antisocial?
- Will meeting up bring me joy?
Pay attention to your gut reaction here. While feeling close to others has it benefits, it’s important to go about it on our own terms and in a way that feels psychologically nurturing to you.
2. Start up a conversation
So, you’re ready to embark on opening yourself up a little more and making new friends. Maybe you’d like to learn the magical art of “small talk” or how to strike up a conversation at the next wedding you’re invited to. But how the heck do people do it?
First, know that the person next to you probably feels the same way you do. According to professor Bernardo Carducci, who ran the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast, around 40 percent of adults and teens identify as being shy.
Having a few ice breakers on hand can be a great way to boost your confidence when approaching others. Luckily, most people love to talk about themselves, so this is a pretty foolproof starting point.
ICE BREAKERS TO TRY
- “What are some great shows you’ve recently binge-watched?”
- “I’m watching this great cooking show on Netflix. What are your top favorite restaurants you would recommend?
- “Where’s the last place you traveled? What did you like about it?”
Remember to share something similar about yourself, too, such as “I’m from Florida, I just moved for the warmer weather, and am loving the beach so far.”
We all like to feel seen and heard. One of the best and undervalued ways of connecting with others is by thoughtfully listening to what they have to say. You can practice active listening by being curious and seeking to understand where the other person is coming from. Avoid interrupting them mid-story or talking over them when they answer a question. Instead, offer your undivided attention and genuine interest.
Try to ask follow-up questions where they feel natural to show that you’re listening carefully to what they’re saying.
When listening, keep these questions in mind:
- What’s important to this person?
- What are they excited to share?
- What do they value?
4. Give compliments freely
When in doubt, say something kind. The right words at the right time can make someone’s day significantly better and also open the door to a conversation. Studies show that by doing so, we also increase our own life satisfaction. Telling a co-worker you enjoyed their presentation or letting someone know how much you like their shirt is a great way to connect. But make sure you’re being sincere to avoid appearing disingenuous.
Here are a few steps for paying someone a compliment:
- Pay attention to what you genuinely like about a person so that you’ll really mean what you say.
- Don’t be obvious. Notice the small things that make someone unique so that your words stand out.
- Avoid platitudes or clichés. Don’t say the same thing to everyone or compliment their physical appearance. Instead, focus on personality qualities or quirks.
5. Get involved
If you’re ready to take a bigger step toward putting yourself out there, consider finding a hobby that is social, such as volunteering at a nonprofit. This is also a great way of giving back and being of service. Participating in activities you enjoy can help alleviate feelings of inadequacy when meeting new people, especially if you’ve just moved to a new community. Plus, you already know of at least one thing you’ll have in common with others there, whether that be a love of gardening, a soft spot for animals, or a passion for social justice.
6. Host a monthly brunch
Invite friends and family over for a special meal and take the time to meaningfully engage with one another. This is a fun way to schedule quality time with loved ones — even just two or three people — in a supportive environment where you can laugh, talk, and reminisce. And if you’re not really into brunch, opt for hosting a casual dinner party instead. Use it as an opportunity to connect and practice your conversational skills.
7. Pick up the phone and make a date
If you’re more of a one-on-one person and not really into group get-togethers, try phoning a friend and setting up a time for grabbing lunch or even just video chatting. Better yet, invite them over to your house so you feel more comfortable. Remember: You don’t need to make an elaborate activity for hanging out and enjoying each other’s company. Think of someone you miss and would like to spend more quality time with, then pick up the phone and make a plan.
8. Chat with strangers
There’s nothing like getting to know those around you to make you feel like you’re part of a community. For one, it gives you a sense of belonging. It also gives you an opportunity to turn acquaintances into closer friends. Start up a spontaneous conversation with your barista the next time you’re ordering your latte, or ask your neighbor how her day is going.
While seemingly casual, one 2014 study found that interacting with a wide network of people on a daily basis contributes to your well-being.
9. Sign up for a class
The first step in meeting new people is by exposing yourself to an engaging environment. Step outside your comfort zone and look up available classes that you’ve been dying to take. This allows you to expand and exercise your social skills. So, take that painting or cooking class and spark a conversation while you wait for class to start. You’ll find it’s often easier to talk with others when you share common interests.
10. Recognize when you might need help
Human connection is an important part of your overall well-being, but it isn’t always easy. Keep in mind that developing your social skills is a gradual process that won’t happen overnight. Don’t judge yourself if you aren’t making as much progress as you’d like.
It’s normal to experience some nervousness when you put yourself out there, but if you feel inhibited by your shyness or that it’s preventing you from socializing, it may be time to talk to someone about potential underlying mental health concerns, such as social anxiety, agoraphobia, or generalized anxiety disorder.
- Do you avoid places where there are other people?
- Are you terrified you’ll feel embarrassed or that others are judging you?
- Do you feel trapped or helpless?
- Are you afraid of leaving your home for extended periods of time?
- Do social situations (or just thinking about them) cause physical reactions, such as nausea, dizziness, sweating, rapid heart rate, trouble breathing, or trembling?
If you experience any of the above symptoms, consider working with a qualified therapist or other mental health professional. They may recommend a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), support groups, and medication if necessary.
Even if you don’t have a mental health condition, a therapist can help you identify what you’re hoping to get out of being more social and offer more tips on how to get there.