Principal The Social Skills Guidebook
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27 Deepening New Friendships Not every friendship you have has to be really close. People are often happy to have some friends who are lighter activity or partying buddies. However, we usually need at least one of our friendships to be more deep and intimate. This chapter lays out the factors that lead to friendships becoming closer. The concepts described below often happen automatically as a friendship progresses, but you can take some control of your relationships by deliberately trying to use these points. They mainly apply to individual friends, but some of them also carry over to becoming tighter with a group. Some things to know going in: There’s no formula to becoming better friends with everybody you meet Not everyone you meet is going to want to hang out with you. And even if you get along on a surface level, not everyone you hang out with is going to become a closer friend. We’re just not compatible with most people in terms of availability, interests, values, and what we’re looking for in a friendship. Although you can try to apply the ideas below to your new friends, realize they’re not all going to go the distance and become your soul mates. That’s okay though, because people are often enjoyable to be around on a more casual basis. On the same note, just because you may be able to successfully apply one or more of the ideas below to someone, that won’t guarantee the friendship is going to go anywhere. For example, you may have a really intimate conversation with them, but overall they’ll continue to think of you as someone they run into every now and then. If you’re making an effort to become better friends with someone and you get the sense you’re putting more energy into it than they are, consider backing off and adjusting your expectations. Sometimes you’ll become good friends with someone pretty quickly; at other times it takes a while Many people have had the experience of meeting someone new and immediately starting to hang out with them nearly e; very day. Just as many have friendships where the bond grew more gradually. Neither progression is better than the other. Friendships can get off the ground quickly in the following situations: when you just click with a person unusually well; when you’re both at a place in your lives where you’re looking for new friends (for example, during the first weeks of college); when you’re both available and easily accessible to each other (for example, you live in the same building and have lots of free time to hang out); when you fulfill an unmet need in each other’s lives (for example, you absolutely love reading and discussing books, but none of your other friends care much about them); when you’re in a situation where the usual standards for friendship progression don’t apply, like when you meet people while traveling and feel like friends for life after knowing them for only five days. Friendships can grow more slowly when one or both of you are pretty busy with your day-to-day lives and/or already have many friends who fill up your calendar; when you get along well enough, but there isn’t that instant spark of intense compatibility; when you’re not actively trying to deepen your friendship with them. For example, they’re on the periphery of your social circle, and you get to know them better here and there. It’s natural to feel a bit awkward and insecure as a new friendship begins There are times when you’ll hit it off with someone right away and never feel uncomfortable around them. There are also those times where your friendships will develop in a low-stakes, almost accidental way. However, sometimes the process is more nerve-racking, like if you meet someone at a one-off event and then actively try to start a friendship with them. Here it’s understandable that things will feel uncertain because you’re not sure how much they like you or if you’ll continue to get along and have things to say to each other. It usually takes a month or so before you start to feel more relaxed and secure about the relationship. Ways to develop a new friendship Every friendship is different, and not every point will apply to every type equally. Some friendships are more about sharing and connecting, while others are based around hobbies, joking around, and going out at night. Spend more time together Simply spending more time with someone is the backbone of becoming better friends with them. A close relationship isn’t something that happens in a few hours. You need space for all the relationship-enhancing things covered below to happen. Time is an important enough factor that we often become good friends with the people we naturally have a lot of contact with, like coworkers, friends of friends, classmates, and team members. With time, friendships can even develop between people who were initially indifferent to each other. Make an effort to hang out with them regularly The main way to spend enough time with someone is to hang out with them fairly often. Sometimes you’ll be in a situation where you’ll automatically put in those hours. If not, you should try to use the ideas in the previous chapter to organize get-togethers so you can continue seeing them. With some people, you’ll quickly fall into a routine of hanging out all the time. With others, you may only be able to get together every three weeks for a quick bite to eat. This step needs to be ongoing. It’s not about coordinating a one-time hangout. It’s about putting in the effort to keep seeing them continuously over a period of months. You might have trouble here because: You’re a bit too busy or lazy, and don’t put in the work to see your new friends regularly. You’re shy and reluctant to invite someone to hang out because you fear rejection or an awkward moment. This most often comes up during the first few invites, but may subtly affect your actions later if you believe your friend is “above” you. You’re insecure and prone to thinking you’re not worth hanging around and your new friends must not really like you. You don’t have the highest need to socialize, and it causes you to not initiate get-togethers as often as needed to keep your new friendships going. Spend one-on-one time talking with them People can get to know each other and bond in a group setting, but often the real opportunities to connect come when it’s just you and one other person. Also, if you haven’t hung out with someone on your own, how close is your friendship really? Many people have known someone through group outings, but have seen a different side of them when they started hanging out as a pair. They’ll point to that as when their friendship really started to develop. You could get that one-on-one time by arranging to do something with them separately. You could also find moments to break off with them from the larger group. For example, the two of you may be able to retreat to the backyard to talk at a party. Keep up with them in between hanging out One thing that distinguishes closer friends from more casual ones is how much they stay in contact between times when they hang out in person. Good friends often keep in touch. More casual buddies think along the lines of, “I’ll be happy to see them when we run into each other in person, but I don’t need to keep up with them otherwise.” Especially if you’re not hanging out with your new friends all the time, keep up with them in between get-togethers. Send them a text making a joke or asking how their week was, email them a link they may like, or call them on the phone to catch up. Take their response rate and their own efforts to reach out to you as a gauge of how often you should be in touch with them. Some people are happy to text back and forth all day. Others are more of a weekly contact type. Of course, after you’ve established a certain level of friendship, you can often get away with going weeks at a time without talking, then picking up where you left off. However, you’ll only maintain the relationship this way, not actively grow it. The problems listed as hindrances to hanging out with a friend regularly—laziness, shyness, insecurity, fear of rejection—can also crop up when it comes to keeping in touch (for example, you start composing a text and then think, “Ah, I’m probably bugging her. She doesn’t want to hear from me”). If you do go a few months without talking to someone you know well, it’s usually not a huge deal to get back in touch and catch up. There’s nothing odd about dropping someone a line after being out of contact for a while. It’s another one of those emotional reasoning moments where if you feel awkward about doing it, you believe it’s an inappropriate thing to do. Never feel you have to throw a relationship away because you went too long without speaking and now it would be weird to get in touch. When you contact them, just say you’ve been busy lately and ask what they’ve been up to. If they don’t want to reconnect, you can handle it. It’s not like you were regularly spending time with them anyway. Have a good time together when you hang out What a “good time” entails depends on what you’re looking for. It could be an intellectual conversation over coffee, an afternoon working on a car together, or a night out at the bars. You can help grow a relationship by going out of your way to do things you know your new friend will enjoy. As the last chapter mentioned, you don’t have to do something incredibly novel each time. On the other hand, don’t fall into a rut where all you ever do is sit around and be bored. Learn more about each other and expand the range of topics you talk about When you’re not particularly close to someone, you only know their standard biographical info, and your conversations often stay on a handful of topics, like your shared workplace and a sport you both follow. We feel closer to people when we know more details about them and can discuss any number of subjects. Open up to each other Not every friendship has to include tons of intimate sharing, but in general, people see their relationships as deeper and more rewarding when they can talk to each other about weighty or personal topics that they don’t feel comfortable bringing up with just anyone. It also feels good to know you’ve shown someone pieces of your “real self” and they accept you for it, or to connect when you realize you both share the same hidden quirk or past experience. You should consciously try to steer your conversations with your new friend to deeper territory if they aren’t heading that way on their own over time. If your friend is the first to head in a more intimate direction, don’t shy away. Check out Chapter 12 to refresh your memory on self-disclosure. Be a good friend in all the usual ways Being a good friend is a broad concept that’s hard to sum up in a few paragraphs. A friendship will grow closer if each person comes to see the other as someone they can count on and who makes them feel good about themselves. That means showing the standard traits of a good friend and a likable person, including generally showing that you like the other person and want to hang out with them; being positive and fun to be around; being dependable; being emotionally supportive; being willing to go out of your way for them; not gossiping or complaining about them behind their back; not blabbing to everyone about things they told you in confidence; not using them or taking them for granted; not freaking out at them over little things or taking out your frustrations on them; showing good character on the whole. You can act awesome around them, but if they hear that you’re a scumbag otherwise, they may not want anything to do with you. No one’s perfect, and no one expects their buddies to be, either. Everyone’s also different regarding traits they think are important and the flaws they’re willing to overlook. One person may primarily look for friends who are entertaining to go out with and not care if they’re unreliable. Another may see flakiness as a deal breaker and put a premium on someone who will be honest with them and keep their secrets. Have some adventures or crazy times together Having a shared history increases the sense that you have a strong relationship with someone. Even better is a history with some truly memorable experiences. It gives you that ability to say, “Ha ha, remember the time when we…?” Lots of people have memories of seeing someone, or a group, as casual friends until they took that one legendary camping trip together and started to think of each other as a tightly knit unit. An adventure is some sort of excursion or experience that’s fun and out of the ordinary. It doesn’t have to be a ridiculous drunken night if that’s not your style. Be there for them during their difficult times People can bond when one of them helps the other. They can also grow closer when they support each other through a shared challenge, whether it’s being in a demanding graduate program, working under an annoying boss, or living together as broke aspiring entrepreneurs. They can look back over the relationship and think, “We’re pretty close. We’ve gotten each other through some rough patches.” It’s harder to see someone as just a casual friend when you’ve seen their vulnerable side, had them lean on you, and empathized with their struggles. As always, this isn’t a guarantee you’ll become closer, and you could even come to feel used and unappreciated. But if the friendship is going in a good direction, helping each other can strengthen it further. Although larger, emotionally heavy life events lead to stronger bonds, helping a new friend could be as simple as offering to give them a ride to the mechanic to pick up their car or letting them vent over something inconsiderate their mom said. 18 Recognizing and Acting on Other People’s Nonverbal Communication Nonverbal communication includes all the messages people are constantly sending out aside from their words. Someone’s body language can tell you whether they’re happy and energetic or tired and distracted. Their tone of voice can change a compliment from straightforward to playful teasing. They may tell you they’re not annoyed, but their angry gestures and facial expression contradict their words. You’ve probably heard that a huge 93 percent of all communication is nonverbal. That precise statistic is a misconception. How much of a message is nonverbal varies depending on the situation. However, the idea it captures is true. You need to have a grasp on nonverbal communication to socialize effectively. As with listening and empathy, being able to read nonverbal communication gives you useful information about the other person, which will help you make smart choices when you’re talking to them. Managing your own nonverbal messages will let you present yourself more confidently and help you keep your communication clear and consistent; you won’t say one thing and have your body language unintentionally say another. This chapter covers reading other people’s signals. The next chapter goes into the ones you send out. Reading nonverbal communication is a huge subject in and of itself, so this chapter covers only the core material. It focuses on reading people’s signals in friendly social situations, rather than on more specialized topics like the body language clues that reveal someone is about to concede a negotiation. The chapter ends with some tips on how you can practice reading nonverbal cues. If you’d like to know more, the Further Reading section suggests some more in-depth books on the subject. Some overall points about reading nonverbal communication Sometimes a person’s nonverbals will reveal information they don’t want to share through their words. However, reading nonverbal signals will never let you completely scan someone’s mind. Tuning in to this type of communication is not fully reliable for a number of reasons: People know how to control and disguise the nonverbal signals they send in order to be polite. For example, they’ll put a friendly attentive look on their face, even though they’re not interested in the topic you’re talking about. Sometimes their true intent will leak out, but they can often hide it successfully. People have different styles of communicating nonverbally, depending on their personality, mood, age, gender, and culture. Some are more cheery and animated; others always seem a bit flat and gloomy. Some use common gestures in idiosyncratic ways. If you’ve just met someone, you can’t fully know what their nonverbal signals are telling you. A lot of nonverbal communication is quick and subtle. Most of the time, people don’t feel the intense emotions that lead to obvious unspoken signals. For example, if you say something that mildly surprises them, their eyes may just go slightly wide for a split second. They won’t do a cartoonish double take. Outside forces can interfere with the signals people would normally send. For example, if they find the room chilly, they might come across as more tense and closed off because they’re distracted and hunching up to try to keep warm. All in all, you should try to glean what information you can from people’s nonverbal messages. At the same time, know you’ll never have a perfect understanding of what they’re thinking, so you should focus on going after your own social goals. For instance, if you want to talk to someone in your class but you can’t tell if they’re in the mood to chat, give it a shot and see what happens. Any one nonverbal signal in isolation can be unreliable. Consider the overall picture when attempting to read people. For example, crossed arms can be a sign that someone is bored or guarded, but it could also mean they find the position comfortable. You need to weigh that one piece of information in light of everything else. If they’ve been smiling and eagerly talking to you the whole time they’ve had their arms crossed, it probably doesn’t mean anything. If they suddenly cross their arms while turning away from you and making a disapproving face, that’s another story. Although it’s vital to know how to read negative nonverbal cues, it can be nerve-racking territory if you have shy or insecure tendencies because you’ll tend to overanalyze, assume the worst, and see unhappy signals where none exist. You can read negative meaning into ambiguous signals such as someone having a neutral facial expression. If you find yourself doing this, focus on dealing with those insecure thinking patterns. Some important channels of nonverbal communication When you think of nonverbal communication, you may think that the face, arms, and hands are the only sources of these signals. You can find out much about a person’s thoughts through other means. Consider the following avenues of nonverbal communication: Facial expression: This is a huge source of information because people’s emotions are mainly communicated through their facial expressions. Sometimes a feeling only flashes across someone’s face for a split second. Tone of voice: You could consider tone of voice a part of verbal communication, but it’s included with the other nonverbal signals because it can modify the meaning of someone’s words. A simple “hi” can be injected with any number of emotions, like cheerfulness, tiredness, or polite obligation. Use of eye contact: In Western cultures, people are seen as confident and interested in others when they maintain solid, though not overly intense, eye contact. Less use of eye contact can signal discomfort, distraction, or shiftiness. Open or closed body language: When someone has open body language, their arms are at their sides, their legs are somewhat spread apart, they’re facing you with their torso, and their body generally looks loose and relaxed. It’s a sign they’re feeling comfortable and accepting. Closed body language is tense and protective, with arms either stiffly held at the sides or crossed over the torso, and the legs close together. It could mean they’re feeling guarded, nervous, or skeptical. Leaning: If someone leans in toward you, it’s a sign of their interest and attention. Leaning back is harder to read and can indicate anything from lower interest to just a casual, relaxed attitude. Use of gestures and mannerisms: Individual gestures have their own meanings, like a nod to indicate interest. There are too many to list in this small chapter. Overall, when people are engaged and excited, they’ll tend to gesture more. If they’re tired, relaxed, or uninterested, they’ll be less animated. Fidgety gestures can be a sign of boredom or anxiety. Use of touch: Some people use touch more than others. Normally we’re more touchy with people we like and are close to, and are hands-off when the relationship is more formal. With casual friends, we normally keep touching to the upper back and upper arms. Anything else is for more intimate contacts. You may give a friend a light clap on the shoulder when meeting them or playfully nudge them when they poke fun at you. If someone shrinks from your touch, they may not be sure of you yet or just not used to being touched in general. Use of objects and the surroundings: If you’re talking to someone and they’re playing with their phone or absentmindedly ripping up a coaster, it’s probably a sign they’re not fully engaged with you. If you’re not comfortable with someone, you may move until you’ve put a table between you. Use of personal space: Distances vary between people and across cultures, but we all have a variety of personal space zones. Outside of a crowded subway or really noisy bar, you won’t let a stranger get as close to you as you would your best friend. Closing the space with someone means you feel more familiar and comfortable with them. You tend to feel uneasy and back off if someone gets closer to you than you think the relationship justifies. Body and feet direction: We often unconsciously point our body where we want to go. If you’re interested in talking to someone, you’ll face them. If you want to be somewhere else, you’ll start angling away. Positioning relative to others: In larger groups people can reveal aspects of their mental state based on where they place themselves compared to everyone else. For example, in a larger group discussion, if three people are standing together, it may mean they’re especially close friends or they want to have a side conversation. If another person is standing slightly off to the side, it could mean they’re feeling shy and left out or they’re preoccupied or not interested in what the others have to say. If the entire group is standing away from everyone else at a party, it may mean they want to talk privately. Fashion sense and grooming: The clothes people wear aren’t completely reliable as a nonverbal signal, but people communicate a lot through their clothing choices. For example, they may be sending the message that they want to be seen as artsy and nonconforming, slick and wealthy, tough, or into a certain hobby. How well put together they are on any given day can also give you clues about someone’s mental state (you’d know something was off if your normally well-dressed friend showed up to your house unshowered and wearing yesterday’s outfit). Some important clusters of nonverbal signals to know When reading people’s nonverbal messages, you want to be able to tune in to basic information like what emotions are showing on their face. People also make groups of signals to show their overall mood and comfort levels. Approachability signals You’ll never fully be able to tell whether someone is open to talking to you. Sometimes the most unapproachable-looking person will happily chat to you once you break the ice. Here are some general guidelines: Approachable friendly, happy facial expression open, relaxed body language looking around, as if scanning for people they could talk to standing near other people or in the middle of the room where all the action is smiling or nodding if you catch their eye (for groups) members are arranged loosely and are standing fairly far apart with plenty of room for someone new to join Less approachable less happy or preoccupied facial expression closed body language in their own world, not paying attention to other people standing off to the side, away from everyone else clearly paying attention to something else, like their phone wearing headphones giving you a blank or unwelcoming expression if you catch their eye (for groups) members are standing in a tight, closed circle Nonverbal signs of platonic, friendly interest, comfort, or happiness smiling solid eye contact eagerly nodding and agreeing with what you’re saying learning forward open body language tendency to make more big, animated arm gestures body and feet facing toward you If you’re getting these signals, you can reasonably conclude everything is going well. Continue to watch the person’s nonverbal signals to see if they change. Signs of disinterest, discomfort, or being upset There are a variety of ways someone may show that they’re less than happy in an interaction with you. Again, any one signal is unreliable, but if you pick up a group of them, it’s a sign something is off. You should think about what’s happening in the interaction and whether you can do anything to change its course. Boredom, lack of interest, or indifference glazed or tired expression in the other person’s eyes tired, disengaged facial expression saying “Uh huh” and “Mmm hmm” and nodding along as you speak, but in a dry “going through the motions” way yawning looking around the room checking their phone fidgeting, shifting on their feet, or fiddling with nearby items leaning away from you crossed arms arms hanging leadenly at their side, lack of animation body and feet pointed away from you starting to edge away If you’re getting these signals, try one of these approaches to recapture the other person’s attention: changing the topic to a more mutually interesting one your own energy and enthusiasm considering whether they’ve been talking too long and need a break If you try one of those approaches and get the same result, it’s likely that the other person doesn’t feel like speaking to you, so you should end the conversation altogether. Unease or not being sure about you yet strained, tight, polite smile mildly nervous or suspicious facial expression leaning away from you closed body language flinching or tensing up if you touch them standing away from you or increasing their bubble of personal space putting barriers up between them and you (for example, a table or a drink they’re holding in front of themselves) Here are some suggestions if you’re getting these nonverbals: If you’ve just started talking to someone, give them time to get used to you. Back off a bit if you’re being too touchy or animated, standing too close to them, acting too chummy and familiar, or asking them for personal information. If you’re speaking about a controversial or emotionally charged subject, try switching to a more pleasant or neutral one. If you’re mingling, consider finding someone else to talk to after a few minutes if their signals don’t change much. Nervousness stunned, deer-in-the-headlights facial expression tense, preoccupied facial expression tight or shaky voice struggling to get their words out sighing / exhaling noticeably nodding quickly and saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah” much more than normal laughing too much at small jokes, laughing when someone normally wouldn’t (for example, “My name’s Bill. Ha ha ha…”) overall tense or closed, self-protective body language fidgeting self-soothing gestures like rubbing their upper arm twitchy, jumpy feet To try to put someone else at ease, try one of these suggestions: Give the person time to calm down in your presence. Act pleasant and subdued, and stick to safe, routine topics that they can respond to easily. Consider whether you’re doing anything that’s making them feel off balance. Offended or disagreeing with what you’re saying look of anger or annoyance look of shock or incredulity (“Did they just say that?”) suddenly closing off their body language suddenly leaning back partially turning away from you If any of these signals arise during your interaction, think about the last thing you said or did. The other person must have found it disagreeable or insensitive. Consider changing the topic, backing off a strong opinion, or apologizing (“Sorry, that joke was tasteless”). How to get better at reading nonverbal communication Humans have a built-in capacity to recognize each other’s nonverbal communication, though some people aren’t naturally skilled at reading it and need to work a little harder to get the hang of it. Here’s what you can do to catch up. Look up what different expressions and mannerisms look like if you have trouble recognizing them intuitively It would be great if this book could include dozens upon dozens of photos of different types of nonverbal communication, but that’s beyond its limits. Some books that contain this information are listed in the Further Reading section. You could also look up pictures of specific expressions online or ask a friend or family member to model particular ones for you. Practice reading other people’s body language Here are some exercises you can try: Put on a movie or TV show and try to identify the emotions and nonverbal messages the actors are portraying. Of course, watch their facial expressions and body language, but also gather clues from the context they’re in. Broad, exaggerated comedies or soap operas tend to be the easiest to read, while nuanced, understated dramas are the toughest. Muting the sound will make the exercise more difficult, because the dialogue won’t give you hints. Do some inconspicuous people-watching in a busy public place like a food court or nightclub and try to read everyone’s moods. Who’s bored? Who’s stressed out? Who’s cheerful? Who’s trying to be the center of attention? Who feels shy? Notice how some people have more expressive or restrained styles of communicating their feelings. Ask a friend or family member to act out various expressions and mannerisms for you to try to read. They can purposely exaggerate them at first, then gradually up the difficulty by making them more subtle. Try to read the nonverbals of people you’re interacting with. If you’re having a friendly chat with someone, they’re not going to show you the wildest anger or the deepest sadness, but you can still try to look for changes in the more subdued expressions they’ll make. Maybe they’ll look a little more stressed as they talk about an upcoming assignment, or seem mildly bored while you’re talking about a topic they’re only half-interested in, and then become livelier when the subject switches to one they’re more passionate about. Further Reading Here are some books that go more in-depth about some of the topics this book covers. These aren’t the author’s one-and-only recommendations, just good examples of books on the subject. Of course, in this day and age, you can also find a lot of solid information on the Internet, though it’s sometimes hard to find one comprehensive resource as opposed to a bunch of short, summary-level articles spread across several sites. This list doesn’t include any websites because they come and go relatively quickly, but if you do a search on a particular topic, it shouldn’t be hard to find some advice on it. Introversion Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World by Sophia Dembling Asperger’s Syndrome The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Tony Atwood Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for shyness and anxiety Overcoming Social Anxiety and Shyness: A Self-Help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques by Gillian Butler Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook: Proven, Step-by-Step Techniques for Overcoming your Fear by Martin Antony, PhD, and Richard Swinson Mindfulness for shyness and anxiety The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety: A Guide to Breaking Free from Anxiety, Phobias, and Worry Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy by John P. Forsyth and Georg H. Eifert Self-Esteem The Self-Esteem Workbook by Glenn R. Schiradli The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden Assertiveness The Assertiveness Workbook: How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself at Work and in Relationships by Randy J. Paterson Listening skills The Lost Art of Listening, Second Edition: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships by Michael P. Nichols Body Language The Definitive Book of Body Language by Barbara Pease and Allan Pease What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People by Joe Navarro and Marvin Karlins Counterproductive “niceness” No More Mr. Nice Guy by Robert Glover* * This book is primarily for men, but it goes over some concepts that are applicable to everyone. Healing from abuse and trauma Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse by Gregory L. Jantz and Ann McMurray Healing the Shame That Binds You by John Bradshaw Surviving Childhood Sexual Abuse Workbook: Practical Self-Help for Adults Who Were Sexually Abused As Children by Carolyn Ainscough and Kay Toon The PTSD Workbook: Simple Effective Techniques for Overcoming Traumatic Stress Symptoms by Mary Beth Williams and Soili Poijula Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Forward and Craig Buck 21 Being More Likable As the first chapter in this section said, your interactions will be influenced by your comfort levels, your specific conversation skills, and your broader personality. One trait that affects how much people enjoy your company is how likable you are. People know this and often ask how they can be more likable. The term seems vague, but this chapter lays out some well-known traits of likable people. But first, some disclaimers to keep in mind as you work on your likability: A big factor in how people feel about each other is their compatibility. We typically like those who are similar to us. Even if you’re warm and pleasant, someone may not like you if you have completely opposing views on the world. The traits covered below will affect your likability in addition to, or in spite of, how well matched you are to someone otherwise. The traits below will help you become more likable on average, but you can’t reliably use any one of them to guarantee a specific individual will like you. As always, each person has their own tastes, and you can’t win them all over. As a whole, the list may seem like a bunch of bare-minimum requirements to be a pleasant person, not someone outstandingly likable. Likable people don’t operate using a set of secret techniques. They just do more of the things below and at a higher level. The traits below are pretty general. That means you can express them in a way that blends into your overall style and personality. There are many ways to be appealing. For every point listed, there are many people who don’t have that trait who are still likable because they make up for it in other ways. Unless you have an especially off-putting personality, you’re probably already likable to some people. You don’t need to be in the top 1 percent of any of the points below to be liked; just being decent enough at them helps your interactions. Two ways to be more likable before anyone has even talked to you People start to form an impression of your likability before you’ve even spoken. The first way you can seem more likable is if you make yourself more physically attractive: by dressing and grooming well, being in shape, and having self-assured body language. Even if you don’t transform yourself into an Adonis, every little bit helps. People tend to see attractive, put-together individuals as having more appealing personalities. It’s called the halo effect. Of course, attractiveness is somewhat subjective, and you’ll need to adjust anything you do based on your social goals and the types of people you want to make a good impression on. An outfit or hairstyle that may be considered good-looking in an artsy neighborhood in a big city may not get the same response elsewhere. Your reputation and accomplishments can also color people’s perception of you. Have you ever seen someone from a distance and they seemed like nothing special, but then a friend told you about something they did that impressed you? It skews you toward seeing them in a more positive light when you talk to them. The opposite can happen if you know someone’s a jerk. You can’t actively control this point like the ones coming up, but when you become more accomplished, it may affect the way people view you. Be able to put your personality out there Obviously you don’t want to seem unlikable. Another outcome that can be nearly as bad is when people meet you and don’t form much of an impression at all. This can happen if you’re extremely shy or quiet, or if you’re so scared of saying the wrong thing that you discuss everything in a very safe, bland way. You don’t have to become extremely outgoing or forceful with your opinions or humor, but you need to show enough of your personality that people have at least something to react to. Be reasonably confident On the whole, people like confidence in others. However, this isn’t to say you have to come across as an ultra-assured salesman type of person. That can be too much. Just be comfortable with yourself. Some people are even likable by being slightly shy or eccentric, but owning it, rather than acting ashamed and embarrassed. Be reasonably cheerful and positive Likable people are usually happy. They see the positives in things. They don’t complain that often, and even when they talk about their problems, they don’t let their energy get too negative. They can vent about their annoying boss but have it come across as an entertaining story. A cheerful emotional state feels good to be around and is somewhat contagious. Again, you don’t have to be excessively chipper or never express a negative feeling or opinion. Just try to maintain a good ratio of positivity to negativity. Seem as if you like people People generally find someone more likable if they seem as if they like us and people in general. Conversely, people usually dislike anyone who comes off as arrogant or aloof. The wording “seem as if” is used deliberately. Some people inwardly feel misanthropic, but they’re seen as likable because they’re outwardly friendly and personable. If you truly like most people you meet, that’s great, but having that trait is easier said than done. Some of us are choosier than others about who we want to chat to or be friends with. You can still make it a point to be pleasant in your interactions: Show friendly and interested body language, like smiling, making pleasant eye contact, and giving people your full attention. Initiate conversations with people. Eagerly chat with anyone who starts a conversation with you. Take an interest in other people and what they have to say. If you don’t have time to talk to someone, at least give them a cheerful greeting. Help people feel good about themselves When it comes to this point, it’s less about actively trying to make people feel good, and more about not saying anything that cuts them down. If you purposely try to build someone up by cooing over every little thing they do, it can seem very transparent, patronizing, and manipulative. It’s more than enough to compliment someone or tell them you’re impressed by something they’ve done when the opportunity comes up naturally. Being a decent, friendly person who’s interested in others also makes people feel good about themselves. If you want to work on this point, you should put most of your energy into not being petty and undermining. Perhaps you know someone who isn’t a blatant jerk, but who’s always peppering their interactions with cutting little comments. They’ll make snarky remarks, downplay or dismiss their friends’ accomplishments, and make “joking” insults that are a little too stinging. Maybe that person has social status and respect for another reason, but no one would call them likable. When you act this way yourself, you often won’t even notice you’re doing it. For example, a friend will tell you they just took up rock climbing, and before you know it, you feel threatened by the fact that they have more adventurous hobbies than you and are brushing it off with “Yeah, that is a popular fad these days.” Likable people aren’t immune to acting petty, but they do it much less often. Bring something to the table in your interactions Aside from making others feel liked and good about themselves, likable people have traits that make them enjoyable to be around. They’re genuinely funny, they have interesting things to say, they’re fun to go out with, they’re good listeners, and so on. Again, this is subjective. A sense of humor that’s hilarious to one group may seem too dark or corny to another. One person may find a certain opinion interesting, while someone else thinks it’s pretentious. You can become more likable by developing your social strengths. Maybe you’re fairly funny, but could refine your sense of humor. Or maybe being funny isn’t your thing and you could focus on having intriguing things to talk about instead. Have more positive than negative personality traits In a chapter full of general points, this one is even more general than the others. A likable person could be lazy at work and careless with money, but when it comes to interacting with others, they show mostly good personality traits. The socializing-related personality flaws they do have are often milder. They also tend to be aware of their irksome traits and can put a charming spin on them. For example, if they’re a bit opinionated and temperamental, they can catch themselves at the start of a rant and poke fun at themselves about what a hothead they are. They don’t randomly explode at people with no sense of how tedious they are to be around. It’s not practical for this book to list every possible good and bad character trait or tell you how to overhaul your entire personality. All you can do is tune in to your strengths and weaknesses, and work to change or eliminate the traits that may be annoying to other people. Avoid being labeled as “nice” in the bad sense of the word Likable people are often genuinely nice. They’re pleasant, friendly, and helpful. Of course, that kind of true niceness is a positive trait. However, some people get told they’re “nice” or “too nice” in a tone that makes it clear it’s not meant as a compliment. What do people mean when they call someone “nice” and don’t mean something entirely positive by it? The word is used to describe several interaction issues: “Nice” = “I don’t dislike them as a person, but they’re not for me” “Why didn’t I invite Colin to the party? Uh, he’s nice and all, but he’s not really my style…” When “nice” is used this way, it means, “I don’t hate them as an individual. They seem pleasant and like they have good intentions. They’re just not someone I’d choose to be friends with.” If you’ve been labeled “nice” for this reason, there’s not a solution. It just means someone doesn’t think you’re a match for them. “Nice” = Bland Someone may refer to a person as “nice” when they see them as being boring and not showing much of their personality. “Nice” serves as a description that’s used when someone can’t think of anything else to say and they don’t want to be negative. If people see you as nice in the bland sense, you should work on being a little more outgoing and forward about what drives and interests you. “Nice” = “Not enough of an edge for my tastes” People generally like to hang out with friends who have a similar level of “edge” to theirs. Someone may label a person who’s less edgy as “nice”—too naive, wholesome, or innocent for their tastes (“She’s one of those nice girls. I don’t think she’d want to go to the bar with us”). By this book’s definition, someone has an edge if they’re willing to do “bad” things. Or if they don’t do those “bad” things, they at least seem like they’re knowledgeable about and not totally frightened by them. Most people aren’t edgy to the point of being dangerous criminals, but many have some edge because they sometimes do common, mostly harmless “bad” stuff like swearing telling tasteless jokes skipping classes drinking or smoking underage dressing in a way that’s offensive or provocative to some people (for example, having lots of tattoos and piercings) casually hooking up with people coming across like they’re tough and willing to get into a fight flaunting authority in small ways, like purposely skateboarding in an area where they know they’ll get kicked out of committing petty crimes like tagging a mailbox with a marker or shoplifting some lip gloss at age fifteen for a cheap thrill To be clear, you don’t have to do any of these things to fit in. There’s nothing wrong with being innocent or a bit naive. Friendship circles sort themselves based on edginess levels. The edgier folks find each other, as do the less-edgy ones, and everyone’s happy. It’s a whole other problem if someone has too much of an edge. In general, though, it’s good if you can find a nice middle ground. Practically speaking, if you’re unfamiliar with commonplace “edgy” things or see them as more sketchy and dangerous than they are, it can socially hinder you: Even if you’re open to hanging out with run-of-the-mill, mildly edgy people, they may unfairly dismiss you as a potential friend because they see you as being too wholesome for them. You may not get invited to slightly edgy events, like parties that you’d have no problem going to, because everyone assumes you wouldn’t be interested or able to handle them. You may simply have the wrong idea about certain behaviors (for example, you may see every last person who smokes as depraved and evil). You may become scared of things that are mostly harmless (for example, seeing dance clubs as risky places). Social issues aside, if you’re overly naive scummy, unscrupulous people may use your innocence to take advantage of you. To shed that naivety, you don’t need to do any edgy things if you don’t want to. You just need to become more knowledgeable about them. You can even do this by doing some at-home research. For example, if you’re in college and know nothing about what goes on at parties, you could read a few articles on the rules of common drinking games. Try to get a more nuanced picture of behaviors you may initially have seen as completely bad. You can also try some edgier activities yourself. Don’t do anything that’s so edgy it’s illegal or could otherwise get you in trouble. However, some things that you may see as edgy are actually pretty harmless. For example, if you’ve been really sheltered, you may see going to a bar as a foolish, rebellious act. There’s no reason not to give something like that a try. “Nice” = “Too much of a people-pleaser” People-pleasers are often told they’re “too nice.” They engage in outwardly nice behaviors, but their actions are motivated by a fear of being disliked, along with poor boundaries and assertiveness skills. They’re nice when other people wouldn’t be, and they show non-assertive behaviors, like putting other people’s needs ahead of theirs, being overly agreeable, hiding their true feelings behind a cheery mask, and having a hard time saying no and standing up for themselves. Assertiveness is a big enough topic that Chapter 23 is devoted to it. “Nice” = “Being overly giving, thoughtful, and considerate to get people to spend time with you” Some people believe that being much nicer than average is a valuable social commodity that will pay off in the form of friendships, romantic relationships, promotions, appreciation, and respect. They’re often not fully conscious that they’re operating on this principle. They may do lots of unasked-for favors and always be available to provide practical or emotional support. People who are nice in this way are often disappointed, and they may eventually become bitter when their giving style doesn’t translate into the relationships and admiration they hoped it would. The fact is, most people don’t place a huge amount of value on above-and-beyond niceness. It’s not that they disregard niceness completely. It’s just that the majority of humans are pretty nice (outside of rough dog-eat-dog environments). Being fairly nice is a bare-minimum social expectation, and once someone meets that standard, additional niceness isn’t given too much credit. When they’re choosing whom to be friends with, people place more importance on factors like having similar interests and values, sharing the same sense of humor, and whether they have fun together. If a “nice” person does something for them, they’ll enjoy it in the moment, but it’s not going to sway their overall opinion on whether the person is desirable as a friend. Not only that, but above-average niceness can be a liability. Extremely nice, giving people may be taken advantage of. They may be looked down on as insecure suck-ups who feel they have to buy people’s friendship because they have nothing else to offer. They may be seen as lacking judgment and common sense for being so loose with their time, money, and emotional energy. Many people feel uncomfortable when someone gives them too many unsolicited gifts and favors because it makes them feel obligated. If you’re “nice” in this way, realize that your preferred strategy for getting what you want in relationships isn’t very effective. You don’t need to do a one-eighty and become a complete jerk. Be as nice as the next person, or maybe slightly nicer, but nothing more. Learn to draw people to you through other aspects of your personality. 12 Having Deeper Conversations When two people first meet, their conversation usually starts on safe, surface-level topics, while the emotional tone stays neutral, or casual, fun, and positive. Once they get more comfortable and familiar with each other, they may click and start having a closer or deeper interactions. They may start sharing more personal, intimate information or really explore a philosophical subject. If you connect with someone, the discussion will naturally tend to move in a deeper direction, but this isn’t to say you need to try to force all of your interactions along a lockstep template. Sometimes they’re just as rewarding if they stay at a light-hearted, superficial level. This chapter covers various ways conversations can feel “deeper”—by moving past small talk, connecting, opening up to each other, and discussing more intellectual topics. When you are able to comfortably have deeper, more intimate conversations, your interactions with people can become even more rewarding. Moving past small talk When you’re first talking to someone, you’ll often cover general, well-worn topics like your career and education. Asking and answering common questions sometimes has a rote, uninspired feeling to it. This is one type of the dreaded small talk that many people say they dislike. In a perfect world, we’d never have to do it, but small talk serves some purposes: Routine questions are a reliable way to get a conversation going. They let each person cast around for a subject that’s more engaging for both of them. A few lines of questioning may be repetitive and go nowhere, but the next one might be interesting. Standard chitchat helps ease your nerves when you’re most likely to feel anxious. It gives you some safe, predictable, low-mental-energy topics to draw on. Small talk gives you a platform to show what kind of person you are, aside from the things you like to discuss. As you spend a few minutes covering familiar ground with someone, you can demonstrate that you’re warm, confident, and glad to talk to them. Many people expect to start a conversation with some neutral small talk, so if you try too hard to barrel past it, you may seem like you lack social savvy. Whether a conversation feels like small talk also depends on its context. If you’re interested in getting to know someone, you usually won’t have a problem telling them about what you do for work or where you grew up. However, if you’re sure the relationship is never going to go anywhere, like if you’re talking to a stranger in line at the bank, then the same topics can feel forced and like you’re pointlessly going through the motions. You’ll also tend to lose patience with any topic that comes up over and over in a short time (for example, being asked what you’re taking in college during a family reunion). Talking about unexciting, trivial topics The term “small talk” also refers to conversations about mundane, trivial topics like the weather, often with someone you already know, at least casually. Many people aren’t enthusiastic about this either and wish they could go into deeper, more meaningful subjects. This type of small talk also has some justifications: It allows you to socialize with people for its own sake, show your interest in them, and maintain your relationship. Often it lets you exchange pleasantries in situations where you don’t have time to have a more intense conversation or the environment isn’t conducive to it. If you run into a coworker in the parking lot, you want to acknowledge them and show you’re friendly, but you may have only a minute before you have to head home. Some quick talk about the local news is better than nothing. It can keep relationships primed for more substantial socializing down the road. Maybe you make small talk with a neighbor in your dorm when you run into each other while getting your mail. Because you’ve been casually friendly to each other all semester, it seems natural to one day invite them to a party where you can get to know them better. Sometimes people truly want to chat about fluffy topics. We can’t always be in the mood to talk about subjects like whether free will truly exists. Ways to move past routine small talk Small talk is always going to be a part of conversations. The way out of it is through it. If you refuse to engage in it because it makes you feel bored or impatient, many of your interactions will never get off the ground, and then you’ll surely miss out on the possibility of having a deeper exchange. If you play along and know how to handle small talk, it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to move into more interesting territory. Here’s what you can do to help the process be faster and less painful: Try to tap into the underlying friendly intent of the other person’s communication, rather than the surface content. Realize they’re trying to connect with you, not annoy you. Try not to simply see small talk as a deal breaker or an ordeal to endure. Reframe it as the opening round of a potentially good conversation. Think, “If I have to do this, I may as well use it to set up the conversation to go in an enjoyable direction.” Accept that even if you try to make the best of it, not every moment of every conversation is going to be fascinating for you. Sometimes it’s necessary to get through those boring bits because it helps you meet other goals, like you want to be friendly, or the other person is enthusiastic about the topic and you want to let them share it with you. Whatever the other person says, even if you’ve heard it a million times before, treat it like a legitimate contribution, and try to answer with enough substance and jumping-off points to better topics. If they mention the weather, rather than thinking, “Ugh, do I have to talk about this?” and then answering with a flat “Yep… sure is nice out,” you could cheerfully say, “Yeah, it’s really warm out. I’m planning on going on a hike later today. How about you? Have any outdoorsy plans this weekend?” As soon as the other person mentions anything semi-interesting, grab on to that and use it to move away from the routine exchange. For example, if you ask them what they do for fun, and they say they like watching movies, ask them which ones they’ve seen recently and what they thought of them, or make a comment on a good film you’ve seen yourself. By using these strategies, you’ll hit on a more mentally stimulating subject before long. If you keep trying but don’t find anything more substantial to say to each other, take that as a sign that this particular conversation may not be destined to go to a deeper level. Connecting in conversations Conversations feel closer when you connect with the other person. It’s hard to describe what connecting with someone means, but you’ll know it when it happens. It’s a combination of several things: generally feeling you like someone and sensing they feel the same way; bonding with them because you share an important commonality you can’t find in just anyone; and seeing them as an ally or teammate, not a threat or competition. You may connect with someone for many reasons: you both share a dry, sarcastic sense of humor; you’re both going through a tough graduate program; you both had self-involved parents; or you share political values that are rare in your area. Sometimes you’ll connect soon after you meet, but it’s also possible to know someone for a while and only really click once you’ve learned a lot about each other. A connection may lead to nothing more than a warm, fuzzy feeling you share with a stranger you chat with on the bus for a few minutes, but it’s often a sign that a closer friendship could develop. Who we connect with is unpredictable. Sometimes you’ll meet someone who’s a perfect match for you on paper, but they’ll rub you the wrong way, for a reason you can’t put your finger on. Sometimes you’ll meet someone who’s very different from you on the surface, but you each recognize there’s some indefinable commonality in how you approach the world, and you’ll get along right away. Encouraging connections People who aren’t where they want to be socially sometimes complain that they can’t seem to connect with anyone. They make an effort to meet people and sometimes manage to carry on longer conversations, but they never click with anyone while they’re talking to them. There isn’t a way to create connections at will. You’re not going to have enough in common with everyone. However, you can work on certain things that can increase the chances of possible connections happening: Have your basic conversation skills and self-presentation at a reasonable level. A connection will never have a chance to develop if people write you off before talking to you or you can’t keep an interaction going with them. Actually want to get to know and connect with people. Don’t just see others as puzzles to solve or props you can use to feel satisfied with yourself when you make a joke or share a clever fact. Have at least a little in common with the people you’re talking to. People sometimes never seem to connect with anyone because they’re an outlier in their community and don’t have much shared ground with the individuals they usually meet. If they found and talked to more people in their niche, the connections would come a lot more easily. Draw attention to any unique commonalities you share with the other person. For example, “You like running? Me too. I’m the only one of my friends who’s into it. They all think I’m crazy for jogging for an hour before I go to work.” Pointing out a similarity or two you share with someone isn’t a guarantee they’ll suddenly like you, but it’s better to let them know about these things than not. Be comfortable letting people know you like them. Get used to telling new friends you find them interesting to talk to or letting yourself show a warm smile when you see them. Be comfortable with self-disclosure. People often connect over aspects of themselves that they don’t share with just anyone. It is possible to connect over a safer topic, like having the same favorite band, but you’ll give yourself more opportunities to find a connection if certain subjects aren’t off limits. The next section has advice on how and when to self-disclose appropriately. Finding Value in Self-Disclosure One significant way to take a conversation to deeper territory is to exchange information that’s more personal. As two people get to know each other, they’ll stop talking only about safe, superficial topics and slowly start sharing more of their vulnerabilities, blemishes, and “true selves.” Safe, surface-level topics include your job and education; your living situation; your hobbies and interests; your noncontroversial observations, opinions, and humor, who you’re friends with; your family makeup; and your goals and plans for the future. People are generally comfortable sharing this information with anyone. Somewhat personal topics include your milder insecurities, flaws, and doubts; your somewhat odder quirks; your mildly embarrassing or slightly emotionally heavy past experiences; your somewhat more controversial thoughts and humor; and your less conventional, more ambitious future goals. Because these details aren’t overly damaging or private, most people are fine sharing them with someone who seems at least somewhat accepting and trustworthy. They may get to this point in a conversation within a few minutes. Very personal topics include your deeper, more serious insecurities, flaws, and doubts; past experiences that you’re very ashamed of, which most people wouldn’t understand and which are quite emotionally heavy to talk about; and your opinions that are very controversial. In their day-to-day lives, most people only share these secrets with a select handful of very close, trustworthy friends. However, they may share a specific, highly private secret earlier than usual if they sense the other person has a similar one and won’t judge them for it. Overall, disclosing your emotions is seen as more vulnerable and revealing than sharing factual information. For example, telling someone that being constantly criticized by your parents made you feel sad and worthless will create more intimacy than just mentioning your mom was hard on you. Seeing the balance in self-disclosure As they open up to each other, people start with milder disclosures, and if they’re met with acceptance and understanding, they gradually move on to bigger ones. The expectation is that if the person you’re talking to reveals something about themselves, you’ll match them and disclose something similar (for example, they describe how they were really stressed out during their last year of college. You didn’t find college that stressful, but share how you had a tough time adjusting to your first real-world job). If someone shares with you and you don’t disclose in kind, it disrupts the process of deepening the relationship. The person who opened up may feel unfulfilled, rebuffed, and perhaps a little unfairly exposed. If someone shares too many times and doesn’t get anything back in return, they may decide they’ve hit a limit on how close that friendship can get. Self-disclosure fosters intimacy, but sharing too much too soon puts people off. It puts them in an awkward spot. It’s emotional work to take in a person’s secrets and problems and be supportive in response. If someone barely knows you, they may not be ready to do that work yet, but feel obligated because you sprung it on them. Many people see early oversharing as a red flag that someone will be needy and draining in the relationship. It also communicates that you lack the common sense to be choosy about whom you share your private life with. That’s not to say you’re always obligated to reciprocate when someone self-discloses to you. Maybe you’re fine keeping them as a more surface-level friend or professional colleague. Maybe you’ve just met them, and they showed poor judgment by spilling their heaviest secrets too soon, and there’s no way you’re doing the same. Maybe you’re particularly guarded about that one topic, but are fine opening up about other ones. Overall, though, if you’ve been getting to know someone, you’re hitting it off, and they share a somewhat personal detail about themselves, you should self-disclose back. Being overly guarded and secretive Oversharing is a faux pas, but some shyer, less secure people lean in the opposite direction and are guarded and secretive beyond a regular, sensible level. Recognize any of these? You see your social issues, like a lack of friends or dating experience, as shameful failures that you must hide at all costs. In more extreme cases, you think everything about you is boring or “wrong” and would get a bad response if it came out. You may be reluctant to talk about safe, surface-level subjects like what kind of music you like. You’re on edge in conversations because you can never be sure when those topics may come up and your secrets may inadvertently be outed. You’re extra nervous in situations where your feared subjects are more likely to come up, like if everyone’s drinking, getting loose-tongued, and talking about their love lives. You get touchy and defensive when people ask you innocuous questions related to your secrets (for example, “What are your friends up to this weekend?”). You use a variety of strategies to avoid sharing anything about your secret: changing the subject; giving vague, evasive answers; straight-up lying; hanging back in groups and not contributing; shifting the attention to someone else; or finding ways to leave the conversation just as you’re about to be put on the spot. Being overly guarded, for whatever reason, is a self-defeating strategy. It’s stressful to carry around a bunch of supposedly shameful secrets and worry about what will happen if someone finds out about them. Ironically, secretiveness can create more problems than it helps avoid. If you have a secret, no one may think it’s a big deal if they find out what it is, but they won’t form the best impression of you if you’re always closed-off and cagey. Their imagination may run wild and assume something worse about you than what you’re actually hiding. Or they may simply think you’re not interested in being friends with them when you continually rebuff their attempts to grow closer. How to become less guarded and open up to people You can find ways to be less guarded and more open with people. First, change your attitude about what it means to reveal your flaws. If you’re guarded, you probably believe that others will reject you if they learn about your weaknesses. Similarly, you may think that the way to be liked is to come across as flawless and impressive. Actually, the opposite is true. When you reveal your vulnerabilities and rough edges, you seem endearingly human. When you act like you have no flaws, you become distant and unrelatable. It’s cloying when someone seems too perfect and together. Many secrets are only shameful and embarrassing if you feel they are. Maybe you don’t have many friends at the moment. You could believe it’s a sign you’re a loser and dread being outed. Or you could adopt the perspective that being lonely isn’t fun, but it happens to many people from time to time, and you’re not defective just because you find it hard to meet people at the moment. Being at ease with your flaws creates a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. If you tell someone about your vulnerabilities and display a calm, self-assured attitude about them, they’ll often respond to your lead and feel they’re fine as well. The best thing to do is open up to trusted people and see that it’s not so bad. You’ll often get a positive response, and you can handle it if the odd person acts like a jerk or takes it badly. Start by making milder disclosures to strangers or people like therapists or support-line workers who have to hold the information in confidence. Slowly work up to sharing bigger pieces of yourself with people who are more important to you. You don’t want to become an open book to everyone on the planet; you just want to be able to self-disclose to the same degree most people can. If one big secret is holding you back socially, consider getting it out in the open (for example, if you have trouble making friends because you’re worried about everyone learning you’ve never dated anyone). Sharing the secret will take a huge weight off your shoulders, and more pragmatically, if people know you’re struggling with the issue, they may be able to offer some practical help. You don’t have to share it with everyone straight off the bat, but if the topic comes up, don’t steer clear of it. Again, ease into things by telling the secret to people you’re comfortable with and go from there. How to have more intellectual, philosophical conversations People also think of conversations as being “deep” when they go into depth on more cerebral or thought-provoking topics. A common complaint from more intellectual types is that they have a hard time getting people to have these kinds of interesting, meaningful conversations. They don’t need to have deep, philosophical discussions all the time, but they start to feel frustrated and unfulfilled if they don’t have any at all. Unfortunately, there’s no way have intellectual conversations on command. Some people are just more inclined toward them than others, and it’s a trait that’s not always connected to the factors you think it would be (you can meet PhDs who are surprisingly vacuous and factory workers who love to wax philosophical). All you can do is try to take your interactions in an intellectually deeper direction by bringing up the more cerebral ideas or topics you want to talk about. After that, it all depends on whether anyone else bites. With some people, if you mention the unemployment rate, it won’t be long before you’re both speculating about what a post-scarcity society would look like. With others, you’ll just get some silence and a shrug before they change the topic. If you want to have more brainy conversations, the easiest way to do that is to find some similarly minded friends. It’s really the same with any interest. If you love talking about beekeeping, you can’t expect everyone to care, and the simplest way to have more satisfying discussions about the topic is to find other beekeepers. 15 Making Conversation in Particular Situations People often say they have trouble making conversation in certain situations: when they’re talking to people they know well, when they’re first hanging around a group of friends who all know each other well, or when they have to mingle at parties. This chapter helps you navigate conversations in those situations. Talking to people you know well Some people are fine talking to someone new, when there’s lots of unexplored ground to cover, but they feel like they’re out of material with their closer friends. The good news is if you’re already on fairly friendly terms with someone, they’ve unofficially signed off on being interested in you and what makes you tick. You may not have every last thing in common, and certain interests of yours may do nothing for them, but on the whole they’re open to whatever you want to bring up. So don’t hold back too much. When you know someone, you can devote some of the conversation to catching up on what you’ve been doing since you last saw each other. The better you know someone, and the more often you talk to them, the more detail you can go into. If you haven’t seen someone for three years, you’ll answer, “What’s new?” with a sweeping summary like, “Well, I started my own contracting business, and we have a second kid on the way.” When you talk to someone all the time, you’ll have a more detailed answer like, “I figured out what was making that noise in my car…” When you hang out with someone often, you’ll also generate new events to discuss (“So I spoke more to that guy we met at the party last week…”). Finally, you can always find out more about each other. Even long-time friends don’t know every detail about each other’s childhood or their opinion on every topic. There’s always more to learn. Hanging out with new people who all know each other A lot of us get nervous when we first hang around a group of people who know each other well, such as a friend’s friends who all grew up together. Sometimes the initial meeting goes off without a hitch. You jell with the group right away and are welcomed into the fold. When it doesn’t work out, the group members socialize among themselves, while making lots of inside jokes and references to past experiences, and you’re left standing on the sidelines. If that happens, it usually isn’t because you did something wrong or the group is purposely being mean and exclusionary. They just all know each other, and it’s easy and fun for them to stick to the familiar. They may also be a bit lazy and see getting to know someone new as work, when they could just hang out with their buddies instead. Some of the group members may be shy too, and feel inhibited about engaging someone unfamiliar. If you don’t have a good conversation with them, don’t get too down on yourself. It’s a trickier, more nerve-racking situation to navigate, and if the group isn’t receptive to getting to know someone new, there’s only so much you can do. Here’s what you can try, alongside the general advice in the previous chapter on handling group conversations. Take the initiative and throw yourself into the mix Because it’s easy for the group to benignly overlook you, take the initiative to try to get to know everyone. You can’t wait and count on them to bring you in. Basically, whatever the group is doing, put yourself in there and attempt to join their conversation. If you’re at someone’s place and they’re all playing video games, sit down and grab a controller. If you’re all at a club and they’re dancing or playing pool or talking on the patio, then that’s where you should be. Accept you won’t be able to contribute to some topics There’s only so much you can do if the inside jokes start flying or everyone starts updating each other on what another friend has been up to lately. Maybe you’ll have an opportunity to add something, but for the most part, you just have to wait out these stretches. You could also try getting in the loop by asking something like, “Who are you all laughing about? An old friend?” If the explanation is quick, the others may fill you in, but sometimes there will be too much backstory for them to cover. Act as if you’re a long-time group member instead of asking getting-to-know-you questions When you’re around a group of new people, your first instinct may be to ask them basic getting-to-know-you questions. Sometimes that works, but they won’t always be receptive. Established groups already know one another’s basic backgrounds and talk about other topics when they hang out. When they’re speaking with you, they may not be in the mood to be interviewed about themselves. They want to talk with their buddies and want you to jump into the discussion and contribute as if you’re familiar with everyone too. For example, if they’re telling funny travel stories, they want you to pipe up and tell yours too. If they’re talking about a popular TV show, they want you to share your opinion on it. As the conversation moves along and hits on more topics, you’ll get to know what they’re like from what they add to it, and they’ll learn the same about you. Chances to learn bits of everyone’s life history will come up organically. This isn’t to say some members won’t be open to a more standard getting-to-know-you exchange, especially if you get a chance to talk to them one on one. However, if you initially try that and they don’t seem enthusiastic, switch to the other approach. Don’t feel like you’re at an audition Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to show your best side and win everyone over the first few times you hang out with them. That can backfire. You can get a bit nervous, try too hard to be funny and interesting, and not make the best impression. Even though you do have to take the initiative to join the group’s interactions, you don’t have to go over the top and dazzle everyone either. Act the way you normally would around friends. If the group is going to like you, they’re going to like you. Just do your thing and see how it all plays out. Mingling at parties Parties are one of the top social situations people have trouble with. They know they’re supposed to mingle, but they don’t know how exactly, or it makes them too nervous. Depending on the type of party, there can also be an expectation to be “fun” and “on.” Here are some tips for getting through parties and being able to talk to people (but not necessarily being the zaniest person there). Acknowledging the outside forces at play As with making conversation in general, some of your results at parties will be influenced by your interpersonal skills. The rest is out of your hands and determined by outside forces. Some factors that will affect your experience at a party are what kind of party it is and whether it suits your strengths and personality (that is, is it focused around cerebral group discussions or drunken antics?); the other guests and whether they’re the type of people you get along with; how well everyone knows each other. Is it mainly friends who have known each other forever or people who are strangers to each other? how open everyone is to meeting new people. Are they there to make new friends, or do they plan to stick to the group they came with? Don’t place too much importance on how well you socialize at parties Parties are just one way people get together. For the average person, they come up only occasionally. They can be fun and lively, but they’re not the be-all and end-all of social interaction. Some people blow the significance of parties out of proportion and measure how well they get along with the strangers they meet as the ultimate test of their social worthiness. If it’s important to you to be able to mingle, then you should work on it. But at the same time, know that plenty of people have great social lives even if working the room and being memorable at big gatherings isn’t their strong point. Regarding the expectation that you have to have a caaah-raaazy time, many people’s idea of a good night at a party is to mainly hang out with the friends they came with in a low-key way, have a couple of drinks, and maybe chat with a person or two they don’t know. They don’t feel they’ve failed if they haven’t done a bunch of keg stands, jumped off a roof into a pool, and made twenty new buddies. Deciding the best time to arrive How early or late you show up at a party can influence how comfortable you feel socializing with the other guests. Some people find it’s good to arrive early (not overly early, of course, because that can inconvenience the host). Fewer guests will have arrived, and you can talk to everyone under more low-key circumstances and in smaller, more manageable groups. As the other guests trickle in, you can get to know them as they arrive. However, this doesn’t work for everyone. Some people feel more exposed and on the spot if they’re at a party early with hardly anyone else. It’s also less of an option if you don’t know the host(s) that well. The other option is to arrive later, when you’ll have lots of existing groups to join. You may also like that you can disappear into the crowd and not feel like you stand out. If you find a conversation awkward, you can quickly escape to someone else, rather than, say, being stuck having to chat with just the host and her two good friends for twenty minutes. There are downsides to this approach too. Some people find a room full of guests who are already talking to each other intimidating. Everyone may be into their conversations, and groups can feel harder to break into. Finally, as the night goes on, people get more rowdy, which may not be your style. Ways to approach and chat with people at parties Previous chapters covered how to feel comfortable approaching people and how to start and maintain conversations with them, so this section won’t repeat all of that. Here are some party-specific ideas for getting into interactions: If you’re going to mingle with strangers on your own, you can talk to whomever you want to. Pick a person who’s close to you, or who seems interesting or approachable, or just go up to someone at random. That may sound too simple, but you really don’t need to think about it more than that. Ask the person throwing the party to introduce you to everyone. (This isn’t always an option, though.) Give yourself a role, like the person who takes people’s coats and shows them where the snacks and drinks are. Join one of the activities that may be going on (for example, a card game, a group watching TV or playing video games in the basement). Initiate a new activity to get people talking, like playing a board game or drinking game (if it’s the type of get-together where that would be appropriate). Two approaches to mingling The first approach to mingling is to be more mechanical and try to have at least a brief conversation with everyone at the event. The second is to go with the flow, talk to whoever catches your fancy, and see where the night takes you. You might end up in a bunch of short interactions, or you may hit it off with the second group you talk to and spend the rest of the party with them. The try-to-talk-to-everyone approach is more appropriate if you’re hosting the event; it’s expected of you to be polite and say hello to everyone. You’d also use it if it’s important for you to meet everyone there, or if the party has a business or networking component and you want to be sure to make the rounds and talk to everyone you need to. The more casual approach is best when you’re attending a bigger, purely social party. In those situations, most of the guests won’t try to speak to everyone else because it’s often impractical and would get in the way of their spontaneous fun. Leaving the party Some people find leaving parties awkward. If you don’t like seemingly being the center of attention as you announce you’re heading out, that’s simply something you can get used to in time. If you’re not sure how to say your good-byes, it’s polite to let at least the host(s) and your good friends know you’re taking off. If you’ve met some new people you’d like to stay in touch with, you can track them down and get their contact info before you go. Don’t feel you have to tell every last guest you’re done for the night. Whoever you tell, just say you’re heading off and don’t think you have to have a five-minute going-away chat. There’s no need to act sheepish if you’re leaving early. Every party has guests who have to go before the others. If you get flak, stick to your guns, then quickly make your exit before you can get sucked into an argument. 26 Making Plans with Potential Friends After you’ve met some people you click with, the next step is to try to arrange to hang out with them outside of the situation where you met. This is an important step and another one where lonely people sometimes slip up. You can meet all the people you want, and they can think you’re great, but if you don’t make any moves to spend time with them, you won’t form many lasting relationships. Your potential friends will stay as the girl you talk to in class, or the group you chat with at work on your lunch break, or the guy you joke around with at your rec league games. Even if you get to know them quite well in that environment, if you don’t take the relationship to the outside world, it may vanish when the semester is over, they get a new job, or the season ends. This chapter covers how to make plans with people so you can hang out with them and develop your relationship. It explains how to set up your own get-togethers—with individuals and groups—as well as how to get in on other people’s activities. It also touches on some important habits and mentalities to keep in mind when it comes to making plans. The ideas in this chapter are important for getting a new social life off the ground, but they are also really useful for maintaining or growing an existing one. When you’re good at making plans, you can really take charge and create the kind of social life you want for yourself, instead of having to go along with whatever everyone else decides. Being able to coordinate plans is so powerful that even people who don’t have particularly outstanding personalities can have busy social lives, just because they’re constantly arranging one outing or another. Meanwhile, someone who is more fun or interesting, but lazy about setting up get-togethers, may not go out as much as they’d like. Two useful habits To up your odds that you’ll be able to successfully make plans with people, get in the habit of doing two things. Ask for people’s contact information fairly soon after you’ve met them You may meet someone interesting, but you often can’t be sure you’re going to see them again anytime soon. Ask for their phone number or email address, or see if they’re on whatever social networking site people in your area and age group use. That way they’ll be easy to reach if you want to try to get together. Also, if they have your info, they can get in touch with you if they want to chat or invite you somewhere. Stay in the loop technology-wise Events are often announced and planned through social networking sites, and sometimes only through them, so join whichever ones your peers are a part of. You don’t necessarily have to enjoy or use them that much, but at least sign up for the social opportunities they facilitate. Knowing how quickly you can extend an invitation How long should you know someone for before inviting them out? There’s no right answer. If you’ve quickly hit it off, it’s fine to invite someone out right away. It’s also okay to have an initial good feeling about them, but want to get to know them a little bit more before inviting them somewhere. You won’t always have the option of taking it slow, though. If you’ve met someone you probably won’t run into again, you can continue to get to know them better through texting or social media, but for the most part, you need to act on the lead before it goes cold. In these cases, you may have enjoyed initially talking to them, but be unsure how compatible you’d be if you spent a longer amount of time together. Again, there’s no right answer about what to do. You could take a risk and ask them to do something, knowing the chemistry may not be there. Or you could extend an invitation only when you’re fairly certain you’ll have a good time. Steps to arranging your own plan There are only two steps to setting up a plan, though there are details to explain about each: 1) coming up with something to do, and 2) making the invitation. Trying to set up one-on-one vs. group plans For the most part, the process of setting up plans with people is the same whether you’re inviting one person or a larger group. The main difference is that group plans usually take more work to coordinate because you have to find something that works for everyone. That will be covered later in the chapter. Deciding whether to have a solid plan in mind or make a vague invitation and work out the details after Either approach can work, though it’s better to come up with a plan yourself and then see if everyone is interested. Friends take the loose, “We should do something this weekend” route all the time and still manage to see each other, but that method has more potential to peter out: You ask, they say, “Yeah, that sounds good…” and then no one takes it further. If you come to people with a solid suggestion, they have something to react to. They’ll do one of a couple of things: accept it, express interest but want to change some of the details, suggest an alternative, or turn it down. Even starting with one or two details is better than nothing. For example, “Want to see a movie next week?” is preferable to, “Want to hang out sometime?” The specific film, location, time, and day are still up in the air, but at least they can decide whether seeing a show seems like a good idea. Step 1: Come up with something to do One early planning roadblock some people hit is they have someone in mind they want to hang out with, but they’re not sure what to invite them to do. It’s also not uncommon for socially inexperienced people to say they don’t even know what people their age typically do when they spend time together. Spending time with other people is always at the heart of hanging out with them Don’t think that spending time with someone is all about coming up with the perfect event to attend. Especially don’t think that there’s no point in being with them if you can’t come up with something spectacular to do. When you choose to hang out with someone, the central reason you’re there is to enjoy their company. Of course, it makes your time together more fun and memorable if you see a band or go on a hike or whatnot, but that’s not strictly necessary. Inviting people to get together is often more about doing variations on a few reliable activities than coming up with something incredibly original each time. If you really like your friend’s company, then you can easily hang around their house several times a week or go to the same rotation of cafes or pubs with the just the occasional more exciting event thrown in to mix things up. Examples of activities friends commonly do together Hang out somewhere, mainly to talk chill at someone’s house grab coffee eat at a restaurant get a drink at a pub hang around downtown sit around at a park Wander around, also to talk go shopping go for a walk keep them company while they run errands See a show see a movie see live music see a live comedy show see a play Play something together play video games (possibly online and not even in the same room together) play cards play a board game play a pen-and-paper RPG play darts or pool go bowling play golf throw a ball or frisbee around Do something sports-related watch a game at home or at a pub play a team sport together do an individual sport side by side (for example, rock climbing, skiing) compete against each other in an individual sport (for example, tennis) train or practice for a sport go to a game Work on something together work on something artsy or crafty, like rehearsing with a band or knitting prepare a meal together work on a repair or building project Get out in nature go for a hike or mountain bike ride go fishing go canoeing go boating Party together go to a bar or dance club go to a house party hang around someone’s place and have drinks Try other one-off activities visit a local attraction like an art gallery, zoo, or aquarium go to a yearly festival or carnival check out a trade show or convention take a day trip out of the city go camping go on vacation together How to narrow down what to ask them to do What you ask someone to do will depend on what you figure they’d be interested in and, when you’re first getting to know them, what you feel comfortable with. It may seem natural to invite a potential friend over to your place to watch a movie the first time you hang out. That may not feel as appropriate with someone else. As a general rule, if you think you’ll be fine making conversation with someone, then invite them to do whatever you think will be fun. If you’re worried the discussion may not flow that well, a more activity-focused outing is better. You won’t be forced to chat with each other the entire time, and the activity will give you something to talk about. If you’re not sure how well you’ll click with them, a group outing is lower stakes. You’re not stuck with them one on one if it turns out you don’t have much chemistry. Also consider how convenient the plan will be for them, as well as their financial situation. For example, if you know they’re broke and don’t have a car, don’t invite them to meet you at a pricey restaurant that they’ll have to take the bus for an hour to get to. Step 2: Make the invitation After you’ve come up with something to do, you have to ask everyone if they’re interested in doing it. Methods of inviting people out Whether someone accepts your invitation will depend on whether they want to spend time with you, whether the proposed activity interests them, and whether they’re available. It doesn’t matter if you asked in person, through a text, or over the phone. Go with whatever method is most convenient for you. However, group invitations are easier to organize through a single email that everyone can chime in on. The tone of the invitation However you invite people out, ask in a non-pressuring tone that suggests, “It’d be fun if you came, but if not, that’s cool.” Examples of inviting a single person to do something There are many ways you can phrase the invitation: specific; open-ended; open-ended but somewhat specific; and immediate / spontaneous. Here are examples of each: Specific invitation “What are you up to this Thursday? Do you want to get something to eat after our evening class?” “I’m going to go see (band) when they come to town on the 17th. Tickets aren’t that pricey. Want to come with me?” Open-ended invitation “Do you want to grab a drink some time?” “We should go snowboarding sometime this season.” Open-ended, but a little more specific “Do you feel like getting coffee one day after class?” “Want to go hiking one Saturday fairly soon?” If the person says yes to a more open-ended invitation, work out the details soon after. One mistake is to get a yes and then leave the other person hanging by not following through and arranging the rest of the plan. Immediate / spontaneous At the end of the workday or as class is getting out: “What are you doing right now? Feel like grabbing a coffee?” To a dorm-mate you ran into in the hall: “Hey, I’m heading to the mall to get some stuff for my room if you want to join me.” It can feel a little less nerve-racking to invite someone out spontaneously. You know they may not be free right then, so it doesn’t sting as much if they say no. Examples of inviting a group to hang out The group of people you’re inviting out could know each other well already, and you’re trying to join their clique. Or everyone could be fairly new to each other, and you’re trying to turn them into a new social circle. Inviting a group out is similar to asking a single person to do something. Some people find trying to organize a group event less scary, because if it doesn’t work out, the rejection is more diffused. It feels like the suggestion itself fizzled, rather than one person specifically declining to spend time with you. Everyone wasn’t just turning you down either; they were also saying they didn’t want to spend time with the whole group (you can even phrase invitations as “We’re doing X. Want to come?”). Alternatively, some people find extending an invitation to a group more stressful, because if their suggestion goes nowhere, they feel like a whole bunch of people are passing judgment on them. Specific invitation “Do you guys want to hang out at my place this Friday? We could go out later if we feel like it.” “Does everyone want to go to ’80s Night at (nightclub) this Thursday?” “There’s a fair coming to town this weekend. Who’s up for it? I was thinking Saturday afternoon.” Open-ended invitation “Do you guys want to get together sometime soon?” “We should all hang out outside of work.” Open-ended, but a little more specific “What does everyone think of getting coffee after line dancing lessons one day?” “Maybe we could check out that new Korean restaurant before we all get busy with exams.” Immediate / spontaneous “Anyone feel like coming back to my place now? We could play some video games or watch a movie.” “Do you guys want to go downtown after class gets out?” What’s different with group invitations is what happens after everyone starts considering the plan. When you invite one person out, they either say yes or no. If they say yes, then you only need to figure out the specifics with them. When you invite a group, more work goes into getting the plan fleshed out. Some people may say yes, some might say no. The plan may go through a few different permutations before everyone agrees on it. Inviting one or more people to do something with your existing friends When groups are involved, you can invite a potential new friend to do something with your current group of friends. “My friends and I are going out on Saturday. Want to join us if you’re free?” “My buddies and I get together every Tuesday evening to play poker. You should come out one week.” If you don’t have much of an existing social circle, you can’t do this. However, if you have this option, it’s probably the lowest-stakes way to extend an invitation. You’re not inviting someone from a position of neediness. You’re offering a social opportunity. If they say no, you can still hang out with your other friends. What if you invite someone out and they turn you down? If someone turns you down, you may get confused because you may not know where you stand with them. Most people find it uncomfortable to directly tell someone they’re not keen on hanging out. They also don’t want to make future interactions awkward by directly rejecting you. Instead, they’ll make excuses, “forget” to reply to your written invitation, or vaguely agree that maybe the two of you could do something some time, but never follow up. Of course, these things could also just mean they’re genuinely busy. How many times should you ask someone to hang out before giving up? Three times, maybe four if the invitations are spread out. You can ask a second time fairly soon, and if they say no again, give them some space before trying once or twice more. If you haven’t gotten together after that, they’re either politely brushing you off, or they’ve shown they’re too busy to have new friends. On occasion, someone will genuinely want to be friends with you, but their life is hectic and they have to turn down your invitations for legitimate reasons. However, after three rejected invites with no effort on their part to arrange something, it’s likely they just aren’t interested, and it’s better to put your energy elsewhere. The exception to this guideline is when you’re extending low-effort group activity invitations to someone you’re on good terms with and who comes to your get-togethers, but only occasionally because they have hectic lives. In that case, it’s fine to tell them, “We’re all hanging out at Tina’s this Friday” for several weeks in a row without them attending because you know they will show up every now and then. Try to set up recurring plans Usually once you’ve hung out with a person or group, you have to go through another round of making plans if you want to see them again. That’s hardly a terrible amount of work, but it can make you feel like your