Recently (as you may know if you follow my instagram stories)
I got stood up for a date at the verrrrry last second.
The short story: while waiting at the bar, my date texted me “5 minutes away!” and then unmatched me on tinder and bailed lolll.
I was already dressed up a bit and looking forward to socializing, so I wasn’t sure exactly what to do next. I chatted with the bartender and a few other bar patrons, told them my story so we could all laugh about it, and I finished my drink.
On my way out, I stopped to chat a bit more with a few of the patrons I had talked to earlier, and at some point I got adopted by a group of friends who were there together and invited me to join them. For the next hour or so, we engaged in a combination of playful storytelling (ie: a bunch of old friends ragging on each other to a new audience) and getting to know each other.
The group was then headed out soon to hit up an EDM warehouse party, and they asked if I wanted to join. I thought about saying no, and imagined myself walking home and watching netflix. It would have been fine. But also, I like EDM and was curious about where the night would go.
So I went.
I shared the whole saga to my IG stories, and got a ton of DMs asking how the hell I seemed to just materialize fun new friends out of thin air. Quite a few people told me they wanted to know how I connected so well with strangers, and a few others jokingly told me I need to create a course on how to make friends.
The truth of the matter is that it’s probably a combo of inherent personality (I’ve always been good at meeting people when I’m in the mood) and practice (having traveled solo for years, I’ve improved the skill of making friends and talking to strangers because the alternative would have sucked).
It’s important to note here that I’m an ambivert, so I require a lot of alone time, and get anxious without it, but I also require a lot of social interaction, and get depressed without it.
So, through trial and error, throwing shit at the wall and seeing what stuck, I have developed the skill and talent for meeting people and connecting. From the outside it sometimes looks like conjuring friends out of thin air, but it’s not.
I’ve decided to share with you a few of the key components I’ve discovered on how to do this.
Get over your fear of rejection. Not everyone will like you (and you won’t like everyone), but if your goal is to avoid rejection, you will find it extremely difficult to connect on any level, let alone find any fun or satisfaction in connecting strangers. Connecting with strangers is a numbers game: if you show up and present yourself to a bunch of strangers, some of them won’t like you, have enough energy/confidence to engage, or otherwise be in the mood to connect with you. You must learn how to accept rejection gracefully, without taking it personally or interpreting it as meaning something about you, and you must recognize that it’s not an issue of “if” you get rejected, but rather “when” you get rejected. (PS the best way to get comfortable with rejection is to get rejected a whole lot: maybe watch this TED talk for inspiration.)
Be super assertive and grounded in your body language. No shrinking, hunching, hiding, whispering, waiting, or avoiding eye contact– if you want to connect with people you have to put yourself out there completely. Slow yourself down (nerves often cause us to speak/move too fast) and remind yourself that people will naturally mirror you, so if your body language is anxious, they’ll end up feeling anxious around you. Speak slowly, and use your full voice, at a volume they can hear. Stand up tall, and fully occupy your physical space. Make strong eye contact as you talk and listen. Let yourself be freely expressive (especially with smiles and laughter if that feels right!) instead of suppressing those impulses.
Be assertive in your communication. Be the first to speak or say hi. Make a joke or ask a question to someone near you. Introduce yourself, or ask for an introduction, before someone else does. If you’re at a conference and want friends to sit with at lunch, be the one to invite people to sit with you, or ask if you can sit with them. If you want to deepen a new connection, be the one to ask for their number to follow up, and then be the first to reach out with an invite. Go back to #1 if you find yourself struggling here, and remember that some people won’t want to/be able to connect with you, and others will. Inviting people to go deeper is a numbers game too.
Let the other person have the floor. Make it easy for the other person to open up and shine by asking questions you actually want to know the answers to, and then really listening to their answers. Don’t spend your listening time trying to think up a response. Just listen, stay grounded and focused on them, and follow your curiosity– for example asking “what’s your favorite part of being an accountant?” instead of following a small-talk script of “so where are you from?” This makes people feel comfortable, safe, and wonderful, because everyone likes to feel that others are genuinely interested in them. (Note: don’t do this if you’re not genuinely interested in them. It’ll show.) And don’t rush to talk about yourself in the beginning. If things go well, at some point you’ll get the floor too.
Remember that most people are anxious and insecure, and feel awkward. Trust me on this. Most people aren’t thinking about you and whether you’re cool enough to hang out with or not, they’re thinking about themselves, and their own insecurities. A good rule of thumb is to assume that everyone you meet also wants to connect, but feels awkward and insecure. This perspective can help you handle rejection better, and also flip the limiting belief that you’re asking for something (aka “please be my friend”) into the belief that you’re offering them something (aka “if you want to be friends, I’ll help that happen”).
Make them feel your warmth. Instead of setting out to get people to like and accept you, set out to make the other person feel that they are liked and accepted by you. This perspective shift takes all the pressure off you to “be good enough,” reflects a clear understanding that other people are anxious and insecure, and makes rejection sting a lot less. It’s also the reasons for #4. Be genuinely warm, and make people feel welcome with you, even if you just approached them.
Feel the fear and do it anyway. You will undoubtedly be nervous before going up to a stranger, or inviting someone new to talk about a shared hobby over coffee. Sometimes I still am. It gets easier with practice, but the main thing to remember is that being afraid/nervous/insecure/uncomfortable isn’t something you need to overcome before you attempt to do the thing, it’s something you can only overcome by doing the thing over and over, and recognizing that nothing bad happens, even when it doesn’t go well. (Luckily, all that practice will teach you how to handle failure and rejection, so confidence and resilience will be built alongside actual skill.)
I’m not saying meeting people and making new friends is easy. But I am saying it’s possible.
If this is a skill you want to build, get ready to be uncomfortable, trip over your words, fail and be rejected, learn how to deal with it, try again, notice what worked and what didn’t, and try again, and again, and again. Get ready to practice meeting strangers at bars and coffee shops and office parties and conferences and book clubs and spin classes. Get ready to make friends by inviting those people to interesting stuff.
Knowing how to connect with people is a superpower in our culture.
Personally, knowing I have this skill has allowed me to move through the world confident in the fact that whenever I want connection, I will be able to make that happen. It’s made me a very confident single person, solo traveler, and risk-taker in general.
As always, I’m open to your thoughts about connection, meeting people, and making friends!