Hi friends! I know it’s been a while… I’ve had a pretty busy month figuring out life with a newborn and a toddler, so thanks for being patient with me! It’s been a challenge finding time to write, but we’re starting to get into a bit of a routine, so I’m back baby! And today we’re talking about a topic that people usually feel weird admitting to: making friends can be tough!
As a child, I was quite shy and self-conscious. But I figured out pretty early on that making friends was going to be one of the most important life skills I could learn, so I worked hard at getting good at it. Now that I’m in my 30s, I’ve got the best group of friends a girl could ask for. But you can never have too many friends, right? So I still try to make new friends. My husband often makes fun of me because I’ve been known to “pick up” new friends in random places, like as if I was trying to find a date to the prom. I’ll go to a yoga class or the chiropractor or the park and come back with a potential new friend’s phone number. You just never know how someone may change your life!
But people don’t really talk about making friends, do they? When you get to a certain age, you feel like you’re supposed to already have a group of friends, or at least know how to make friends, right? Well, not everyone does, and that’s why we’re here!
This topic was recently brought to my attention when I asked my public speaking class to brainstorm ideas for a speech on the most challenging aspects of being a university student. I was surprised to find out that most of the students in my class felt that the concept of making friends was stressful and caused them a lot of anxiety.
Why is it hard to make friends?
In today’s society, we rely so heavily on our phones and social media to “connect” with others. The problem with relying on social media is that often, no real, in-person connection is actually being made. So when it comes to actually meeting someone face-to-face, people don’t know what to do anymore.
It also tends to be a lot more difficult to make friends as an adult than as a kid. As adults, we no longer find ourselves participating in 27 extracurricular activities each week or attending camps all summer long where new friendships are almost inevitable. As adults, our priorities also tend to shift from having fun to paying the bills and raising a family, and there is often a lot less time or energy to devote to making and maintaining new friendships.
Despite all this, it is still very possible to make friends as an adult in today’s society. And fortunately for you, I have compiled a nice little list of ways to help you make friends more easily! These tips are all based on my own personal experience, and they are the most practical tips I can offer. Enjoy!
1. Learn (and get comfortable with) the art of small talk
This is more of an overarching piece of advice, and tips 2-6 are actually more like “sub-topics” to this one… so stay with me!
We rely on the ability to engage in small talk on a daily basis – at the grocery store checkout, at the bank, at our kid’s dance recital, etc. And yet, few of us ever receive any kind of formal, or even informal training in this basic skill. So it isn’t surprising that people feel uncomfortable when someone strikes up a conversation with them at the bus stop.
Recently, there was an entire thread relating to this topic on a Facebook moms group I belong to. Over 60 women commented on how much they disliked small talk during the morning school drop off/afternoon school pick up. It caused them anxiety, they felt awkward, and they did just about everything they could to avoid chatting with other parents. So it’s no surprise that people always have their heads down or are hiding behind their phones.
However, despite our best efforts, small talk is often unavoidable. But that doesn’t mean it has to be painful. By learning a few simple techniques like asking questions and giving genuine compliments (see tips 2-6) and practicing these techniques whenever possible, you will no doubt improve your conversational skills which will in turn help you become more comfortable engaging in small talk with others. One thing will lead to another, and then BAM! You’ll have a new friend!
2. Be the first person to speak
My mum and I moved to a new house when I was about 7. Luckily for me, there were two girls about my age who lived next door to our new house. My mum, wise woman that she was, told me to go introduce myself to them. The idea of walking up to their front door, knocking, and introducing myself seemed very daunting at the time, but mum assured me that if I could master the skill of introducing myself first, I would always be able to make friends.
“If I could master the skill of introducing myself first, I would always be able to make friends.”
I distinctly remember her telling me how most people want to make friends, but that nobody wants to be the first person to initiate the conversation. I remember her explaining how people usually feel shy or uncomfortable in these situations, so if I learned to always be the first one to speak, people would feel grateful that I took the first step. She probably didn’t think much of it at the time, but this skill has served me well over the years and is now one of my best tips for meeting new people and making new friends.
It becomes more awkward to introduce yourself after too much time has passed, so work on getting up the courage to introduce yourself right away. A simple “Hey, I’m Kathleen” (with a smile!) will suffice.
3. Remember names
There is something so powerful about using a person’s name in conversation. People tend to feel a stronger connection when they hear their name, and often, they are pleasantly surprised that you have not only remembered but used their name. Remembering names is a skill that I have worked hard at mastering over the years, and I’ve gotten quite good at it if I do say so myself. It has become especially useful (and I’ve had a lot of great practice) in my day job as a university lecturer. In my smaller classes of less than 30 students, I always make it my goal to learn everyone’s names on the first day. It takes me about 10 minutes at the start of class, and it’s amusing for the students to watch me struggle until I get it right.
Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.
I don’t have a real trick for learning names other than, you guessed it, repetition. I repeat names over and over and over again until they have been permanently branded in my memory. In the classroom, this means calling on students, awkwardly staring them down until I remember their names (which they always find amusing), spending a significant amount of time at the start of each lesson going over their names, and repeating their names throughout the entire class.
When meeting someone for the first time outside of the classroom, I always repeat their name after they’ve introduced themselves (them: “Hi, I’m George!” me: “Hi George, I’m Kathleen, nice to meet you!”) Then I’ll try to stick their name in somewhere else in the conversation (“So, George, I hear you’re a huge fan of the Toronto Raptors…”). And then again at the end of the conversation (“Bye George! Great chatting with you!”). This may seem weird, but I’ll also repeat their name in my head over and over after the conversation is over, just to ensure I don’t forget.
Another trick that sometimes works is to make associations with their names. You could make a connection between the person you meet and someone you already know with the same name (i.e. Brad, like my brother). Or you could make an association with a celebrity who shares the same name (i.e. Brad, like Brad Pitt, if you were so lucky!) You might also use something you know about the person to create a verbal game or image to help you remember them (i.e. “Brad from B.C.”, or “Bad Brad” wears a bandana). Whatever works!
4. Ask questions
I teach networking skills, and one of the easiest and most valuable pieces of advice I can offer to anyone who is trying to expand their network is to learn to ask questions. People love talking about themselves because it’s a topic that they are very familiar with (obviously), so it feels easy. This tip is also great for people who really feel uncomfortable with small talk, because when you’re the one asking questions it means you’re not the one doing most of the talking. So it’s a win-win!
Pro-tip: asking open ended questions (questions that cannot simply be answered with “yes” or “no” will encourage deeper conversation!
Some example questions to get you started include:
- Are you from around here?
- What are your plans for the weekend?
- How are your kids liking school so far?
A simple Google search will lead you to loads of additional resources for ideas on the kinds of questions to ask in different situations. To get you started, here is an article from SocialPro with 301 small talk questions to ask friends, grouped for EVERY occasion.
5. Find something you have in common
One of my most valuable pieces of life advice came from the 12-year-old boy I had a crush on at camp, circa 1999. He was surprisingly insightful, given that he later turned into a drugged up guitar-playing punk rocker, but that’s beside the point. He was the kind of boy everyone liked – all the girls had a crush on him, all the boys wanted to be his friend, and he somehow managed to form relationships with people much older than him, including the camp counsellors and staff. His advice wasn’t even directed at me, I just overheard him talking with a camp counsellor one day. When asked how he got along with so many kids, he simply answered “I try to find something in common with everyone, and I start a conversation from there”.
If he only knew that I have carried this piece of advice with me for 20 years!
If you ask enough questions (see tip #4), you’re bound to find something in common. Maybe you both love dogs, or maybe you both travelled to the same place. Once you establish this, the conversation should flow more easily, and then BAM! Before you know it, you’ve got a new friend!
6. Give a genuine compliment
One of my favourite ways to strike up a conversation with someone is to offer them a genuine compliment. Love their scarf? Tell them! Cute shoes? Let them know! It can help you ease into the conversation, or if nothing else, it makes the other person feel good. You never know how your compliment might change their mood or brighten their day. You also might land on a topic that you have in common (see tip #5). It’s likely that they will respond positively to your compliment (or even offer you a compliment in return), and then before you know it… BAM! You’ve made a new friend.
7. Follow up
This is another networking tip I try to drive home to my students. Follow up, follow up, follow up! This is not only important for things like interviews, it’s also important when you meet potential new friends!
Following up doesn’t have to be formal- send a text or find them on social media and send them a private message. Say “It was great to meet you today!” and try to secure another meeting. Keep it simple- maybe ask them if they want to meet for coffee, go shopping or plan a play date for your kids.
Just like with any relationship, you have to put some energy into not only building, but also maintaining the relationship. Following up plays an important role in securing your friendship. And remember that people are busy. If you’re anything like me, you read a text or direct message with every intention of responding, but get distracted doing something else. You don’t need to overwhelm them with messages, but sometimes it’s worth following up more than once!
Thanks for reading! Do you have any other tips for making new friends? If so, leave them in the comments below so we can learn from each other!
With love and gratitude,