It can be difficult to meet new people. Sometimes, making new friends can feel even more challenging than dating. That’s especially true if you’re struggling with self-confidence. So, how should you go about it?
Here’s the lowdown on how to make new friends – and keep them.
Making new friends 101
First of all, it's ok not to have many (or any) friends. That doesn’t mean you’re not a good person. Lots of people feel really lonely! It's nothing to be ashamed of, but it won't change unless you take some action.
“How do I make new friends, though?” Most people ask themselves this question at least once in their life. Whether it’s because you moved to a new town, started university, or joined a new company, or simply because you want more positive presences in your life, there’s no shame in wanting to meet more like-minded people.
Check out these tips to meet new people and make friends.
The reason people struggle to make new friends is usually that they’re constantly surrounded by the same people. By staying in your comfort zone, you’re not allowing yourself the chance to find more like-minded people you could become friends with.
Making a conscious effort to expose yourself to more opportunities to socialize is key to meeting new people – especially if you just moved to a new place. Identify the places and activities that best reflect your interests and personality, and you’ll find your people there. That doesn’t mean you can only befriend people like you, but a shared interest always makes for a great conversation starter!
Here are a few places you could meet potential new friends:
Clubs & Activities
Do you like football? Painting? Playing the trumpet? Are you interested in learning Italian? Join a team or a class, and you’ll meet your tribe there. Plus, you’ll develop skills you care about.
Talks & Workshops
Similarly to clubs and courses, these one-off events can help you meet new people who share your interests. You can usually find those on your town’s website or on websites like Meetup. Stick around to ask questions or join the post-event social if there’s one.
Find a charity, society or association that you could support locally. It’s an excellent opportunity to give back and meet people who care about the same things as you.
They might feel scary, but they’re an excellent way to meet people you already have something in common with while furthering your career.
Places of worship
If you’re religious, consider joining your local place of worship to meet people who share your values and beliefs. They usually offer mixer events and opportunities to volunteer, too.
Ask your friends
Yes, you read that right. Your existing friends are a great way to make new connections and meet people you’re likely to get along with.
Be candid and ask them if they can introduce you to some of their own friends or invite you to tag along when they go out together. Alternatively, you can open the invitation to your friends’ friends when you organize a party or an outing.
Your friends might feel uncomfortable or possessive with their own relationships, and that’s ok. They don’t owe you friends, but most of the time, they’ll be happy to introduce you. After all, the more the merrier!
Some people like to keep things separate, but that’s no help when it comes to making friends. Just because you’re somewhere to study, work, or pick up your kids, doesn’t mean the people you interact with can’t be part of your friendship circle.
You might need to set some boundaries and leave a few topics off-limit, but building a bond with someone you see almost every day is bound to drive results.
What does that mean? Approachability can be expressed through body language. You want your attitude to say “Hey, I’m nice, come and talk to me.” Probably because saying it out loud might sound a tad odd.
Some people are fortunate enough to look friendly at all times, while others might inadvertently give a cold first impression. Try to demonstrate your openness through the following:
Smile. It doesn’t need to be a big grin, simply a way to show you won’t bite.
Make eye contact. It can be a challenging one for shy people or those on the spectrum, but a little eye contact goes a long way. It can even be a way to spark a conversation.
Avoid closed-off body language such as crossing your arms.
Be visible. Don’t stand in a corner or in the back. If people can’t see you, how do you expect them to befriend you?
Break the ice
Meeting new people is the first step, but actually starting a friendly conversation can feel unsurmountable. Small talk might make some people cringe, but the weather can be a safe fallback if you’re short of conversation starters.
That being said, there are plenty of ways to both start a conversation and build a connection with new people. Here are a few examples you could use:
Ask for help or advice. For example: “Can you teach me that formula you used in Excel” or “Do you mind helping me decide on a color for my painting?”
Use a shared experience. Try to use a positive one, although it’s often easier to bond over negative experiences. For example, an exciting upcoming event or an outrageously short deadline for a project.
Notice something about them. Without being indiscreet, use your observation skills and what you might have heard about them to start a chat. For example: “I noticed that you were off sick last week, are you feeling better?”
Give them a compliment. There’s nothing better than a “Your presentation was great” or “I love your shoes” to be in someone’s good books.
Your next challenge will be to keep that conversation going. The good news is that you’ll have more and more to build on, and it will soon become effortless.
Learn to know them
Don’t you love feeling heard and understood? Well, others do too. Ask them questions about themselves and what matters to them. Show you care by listening to them carefully (you can find our tips to become a better listener here) rather than bombarding them with questions you don’t hear the answers to.
Be empathic and make a conscious attempt to put yourself in their shoes. They’ll appreciate your efforts and will be more likely to show the “real” them and be genuine with you.
Some people will complain about not making friends, but won’t dedicate any time to it. If you really want to meet new friends, you need to be available.
That doesn’t mean clearing your entire diary so you’re free for any potential opportunity. It means that you should allow some space for social interactions in your busy schedule.
Don’t get to places right on the dot or leave as soon as the (metaphorical) bell rings. No matter the occasion – work, class, or otherwise – come in a few minutes early or stick around afterward to seize spontaneous opportunities to chat or even go for a drink.
Ask them out
A great way to make friends with acquaintances is to invite them for a coffee or an outing outside of the usual context. It’s an opportunity to get to know each other better in a different situation.
Take it slow, and don’t invite them to join you for a week-long holiday straight away. A nice coffee, a game, or an exhibition should do!
Asking someone out can feel like a lot of pressure, though, even as a friend. If you’re afraid of rejection, invite them to join you or you and your friends for an activity that’s already scheduled. This way, you’re less likely to feel bad if they refuse, and they might feel less pressured themselves.
Don’t be pushy
People might enjoy your company, but that doesn’t mean they’ll always have the time and space for a new friendship. Chances are they are only shy or busy, but give them the opportunity to come to you instead of constantly being in demand.
Make sure you respect people’s boundaries. Initiate the conversation a few times and be attentive to their reaction and body language. Do they seem keen on pursuing the conversation?
Take the hint if people remain cold or are repeatedly refusing your offer to go for a coffee together. Not everyone can be best friends!
Reflect on the kind of friend you are
If making friends has been a challenge as far as you can remember, it can be helpful to have an honest conversation with yourself about the reason behind it. There are lots of reasons why people might struggle to make friends, so it's worth doing a bit of soul-searching if you’re looking for new ones.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:
Do you always talk about yourself?
Do you always put your problems on other people?
Do you make the effort to keep in touch and remember birthdays?
Are you really shy and do you need to work on your confidence?
Do you try “too hard” and come off as disingenuous?
Do you tend to back off when someone gets too close because you don’t like feeling vulnerable?
Strong friendships require balance and an equal amount of give and take. People will value authenticity and openness. They’re not just supporting characters in your story!
Contrary to the old adage, keeping your friendships alive takes more than finding them in the first place. Here are some tips to maintain relationships with your friends and make sure your new acquaintance turns into a lasting friendship.
Communicate. Be honest and transparent when you’re not happy with something. Holding grudges won’t help your friendship last.
Listen to them. Give your friends a safe space where they can be themselves and feel heard.
Validate them. Help your friends feel good about themselves by recognizing their efforts, celebrating their successes, and praising their qualities. A little compliment goes a long way!
Give them time. Keep in touch and make sure you ask for news regularly, whether it’s a coffee, a call, a text, or just a comment on their latest post.
Want to meet like-minded students and make new friends? Join TalkCampus to share the ups and downs of life with a supportive community.