Last month, while trying to escape a group work dinner because I didn’t know anyone yet (it was, like, my third day), I ran into my boss and admitted that I didn’t know how to connect with people. I felt as if I had transferred to a new school mid-semester, and texting my old coworkers made me wish I was back at my old professional stomping grounds. My boss was quick to remind me that overcoming my social anxiety and building up my harem of work wives (my words, not hers) wouldn’t happen overnight.
Still, connecting with people is hard whether you’re introverted, starting over, have an intimidating RBF, or simply want to make basic human connections. It was true before we shielded ourselves behind the walls of iPhone screens, but its truer now. That said, if you are a classic introvert, even professionals agree this can be an especially tough obstacle.
“Extroverts tend to ‘collect’ friends—sometimes at the expense of having quantity over quality. Introverts, when they do make friends, often connect by slowly forming solid, deep ties.” —psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD
“Extroverts have it easy when it comes to making connections, yet learning to form genuine connections is an area where introverts can learn to shine,” says psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD, and author of Joy From Fear. “Extroverts tend to ‘collect’ friends—sometimes at the expense of having quantity over quality. Introverts, when they do make friends, often connect by slowly forming solid, deep ties.”
So today, don’t run away; Dr. Manly has some tips to help forge connections with others.
1. Smile from your heart
That sounds so simple, and yet smiling in general is a problem area for me. My default expression is kind of like the line-face emoji with a touch of eyebrow furrow. Still, shooting an authentic smile in the direction of someone you might want to open up to is a great first step.
“We often flash ‘quick’ smiles or look away when we are busy or uncomfortable,” Dr. Manly says. “One solid way to begin a new relationship is to offer a genuine, warm smile that says, ‘It’s really nice to see you today.'”
2. Invite conversation by providing a glimpse into your life
This works well as a tit-for-tat situation: Offer up a little bit of information about yourself conversationally, then ask the other person about themselves. “For example, you can show you’re genuinely interested in getting to know more about the person by saying, ‘I love doing yoga—what do you do for exercise?,'” Dr. Manly says. “Another example would be, “I’m reading a new book that’s captivating—what kind of books do you like?”
When we do this, we’re creating dialogues instead of monologues. We’re allowing the person to see a humanizing sliver of who we are, and then we recognize that we’re also interested in getting a sliver. Or even a whole slice.
And, fun fact about humans: One of our favorite subjects of conversation is ourselves. “People often like to talk about their interests—whether it is their favorite hobbies, travel dreams, or shopping delights—if given the opportunity,” says Dr. Manly. “Sharing of deeper details and personal information often naturally unfold.”
3. Offer a compliment or an affirmation
“I find that there’s always something positive I can say to others,” Dr. Manly says. “In the workplace, you can connect with others by noticing their strengths, whether you offer an affirmation about work successes, creativity, dedication, passion, or thoughtfulness. In social settings, you can offer a genuine comment on an achievement, a funny joke, a haircut, a cool purse, or a welcoming attitude—make sure to recognize something in a simple, authentic way.”
I am a really big advocate for this compliment strategy, because so many of my friendships have started with someone saying, “cute earrings” or something equally small. The thing about compliments that are presented earnestly, and without fanfare or an ulterior motive is that they can have such a heartwarming effect. It can lead the recipient to think, “Wow, you didn’t have to say that, but you did, and it’s turning around my whole day.” It’s an incredibly low-effort and an effective way to recognize someone.
“By doing this, we pause to really ‘see’ and connect; many genuine friendships get started with simple acts of noticing and kindness,” Dr. Manly says.
4. Put yourself out there in simple ways
A common misconception is that getting “out there” means forcing yourself down someone’s throat (not literally, of course). And maybe, if you have to push yourself to be social, you may feel that way. But try to rewrite that feeling as simply living your life and extending a hand for someone to join you.
“Invite a new friend to share a cup of tea, lunch in the park, or a window-shopping break,” Dr. Manly says. “Although it can be scary to offer an invite, don’t let the specter of rejection get in your way.” And also, don’t take it to heart if the person in question passes on your coffee invite this time around.
“If someone responds with a ‘No, thank you,’ trust that it’s not a rejection of YOU as a person,” she continues. “In many cases, a new friendship begins by the simplest interactions that bring a sense of commonality and connection.”
5. Be yourself
It’s the most elementary of lessons and yet one so many of us constantly forget. Personally, I tend to resort to Weird Fake Extrovert Behavior, which generally means I contribute an octave too high and too loud during group conversations. It’s just, like, not me, and not the move. But that’s okay.
“Remember that you don’t need to try to be anyone but who you are,” Dr. Manly says. “If you’re shy, remember that shyness is a gift in its own way—the world would be an odd place if every person were an extrovert. So, strive to let your unique light shine. Indeed, a quiet, shy person has a great deal to offer—often far more than meets the eye.”
Anyway, I now feel super at home with my office community. While group dinners with strangers probably won’t ever be my bag, I do know it’s possible to connect with people (even if doing so feels impossible in real time)…one kind Slack message at a time.
Another big pro to connecting with people? Friendships are the key to staying mentally healthy. And once you’ve built up your squad, here’s how to use your group chat mindfully.
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