*This is Part Four of my Tri-umphant Friendship series where I explore what friendship means to me and others. Read Part One, Part Two and Part Three.*
Imagine you’re at a party and the only person you know is the host, who happens to be extremely busy. You look at your phone to see when your friend will show up and they haven’t even replied to your message yet. Looking around, everyone is having an amazing time. People are bonding, laughing and drinking within their own cliques. You’ve been in one of those cliques many times before. You’re immediately regretting even coming. But the twist is that this is a work event and you can’t leave. You have to stay and mingle. This is a nightmare.
We’ve all been there. Making brand new friends as an adult is an awkward act that we don’t expect to experience later in life. We avoid situations where this might come up, where we might be expected to put ourselves out there without the comforting protection of those that we know. Without our significant other or BFF to make fun of all the phonies with, we are put in a vulnerable place where we might get embarrassed. The truth is that meeting new people is always going to be a part of life. No matter what you do for a living, you’re going to need to have allies in order to survive.
There’s a requisite politeness that we put out in work environments that makes making new acquaintances really easy. The hard part is being able to turn those acquaintances into actual friends. Sure you might grab a coffee, make small talk or even have an occasional lunch date with some of your coworkers, but how many of them can you truly call a “friend?” I consider myself to be truly an adept social butterfly but even I get nervous about having to make meaningless small talk with people I don’t know, particularly when they don’t seem receptive to idle chit chat themselves.
But that’s the thing, who is receptive to idle chit chat? Like if I’m at a party, why would I be interested in talking about the weather? We live in California, it’s give or take 5 degrees from 75, 45 weeks out of the year. Who cares? I’ve learned over the years that in order to make friends out of acquaintances, you need to stop being polite and you need to start getting real.
Enough with the phones. It’s super rude to be on your phone when you’re having a conversation with someone for the first time. When you’re not making eye contact with people, they immediately are aware that you’re not giving them your full attention aka they don’t merit your full attention. So don’t even have your phone on the table when you’re trying to have a conversation with people for the first time. It’s important to make other people feel like what they’re saying actually matters to you. If not, then have fun eating lunch alone with your Snapchat stories in your cube for the rest of the week.
Ask for genuine advice. Trust me, every person knows something that you don’t. Every person has been through something that you haven’t. If you keep that mindset, you’ll quickly discover that there’s a whole world out there you’ve been missing by not having real conversations with other people. When I’m having lunch with someone for the first time I love to ask them their opinion on something that I’m working on. People love to give out advice and feel important. Even if I don’t follow every person’s advice, I genuinely take everything into consideration. I want to know where they’re coming from, that way it helps me understand who a person is right from the get-go.
Don’t hijack the wheel. When someone is on a roll and they stumble on a topic that you’re super interested in, don’t try to take over with a 30 minute story about something that happened to you. People love to speak so let them and sincerely listen to what they have to say. The more that other people are able to talk, the more comfortable they are becoming with you. Especially if they feel like you’re honestly listening and are interested in what they have to say.
Save that monologue. Try to follow their body cues when you feel like you’re going off an a monologue (particularly if it’s a tangent monologue). Even if you’re discussing a topic that you’re both equally interested in, try to save any monologues you might have for later down the line. If you’re yammering on and on, your acquaintance may not feel comfortable chiming in with their own insights. In doing so, it may come off like you simply love to talk, and not that you’re interested having a real conversation with them.
Bottom line: Be you. People can spot a mile away when you’re working hard to impress them, and they hate it (at least I do). A first impression isn’t the best time to bring up how many amazing job offers you’ve turned down or to discuss your collection of designer purses. The best first impressions are the genuine ones. Just relax and let people get to know who you really are, what you’re truly interested in and what you seriously like to do. You already are incredibly interesting and amazing, you just need to let other people figure that out too.