Graduating from college and officially entering adulthood is exciting... but many recent grads are surprised by how much harder it is to make friends outside of school than it was in school. And it's true -- kids make friends way more easily than adults. For a zillion reasons: some you can help, some you can't.
I've spent some time thinking about the best possible way to make more friends -- when you travel, as a child, as an adult. And here are some of my favorites.
1. Ask for favors. Research shows that one of the best ways to make someone like you... is to ask them for a favor.
Weird, right? Intuitively, you'd think that doing, not requesting, a favor would make someone like you. But there are several psychological reasons why this isn't always true. For example:
Cognitive dissonance. Humans want their attitudes and their behaviors to match. We get very uncomfortable when they don't -- and usually end up adjusting either our attitude to match our behavior. Humans also routinely overestimate the cost of saying no. Which means, if you ask someone for a small favor, they'll probably say yes. Then their mind will be all, wait. My behavior says that I like her (because I did her a favor)... So I must like her. And now you're friends!
Positive vs. negative politeness. In psychology, "positive" and "negative" don't mean "good" and "bad." Instead, "positive" generally means "add something," and "negative" usually means "take away something." (Think about that next time you say "positive reinforcement." Do you really mean positive reinforcement? Or do you mean negative reinforcement, which is not to be mistaken for positive punishment.) Negative politeness, then, refers to politeness that removes closeness, and reinforces boundaries. Please hand me that. Thank you for doing that.
When you first meet someone, you'll probably show them more negative politeness -- you're still getting to know each other, and you want to show that you respect their individuality, space and time. But once you're close enough to feel comfortable asking them for a favor... that means you're drifting into the positive politeness zone. You're doing something that shows closeness -- and that sends signals to them about the status of your friendship.
Fancy psychology mumbo jumbo aside... asking for a favor can be a great ice breaker. Friendship is a numbers game -- you're not going to hit it off with everyone you talk to. But the more people you talk to, the greater your chances of meeting someone you'll like.
FOR EXAMPLE. I went surfing in Santa Cruz on Saturday. I'd spent my morning scuba diving -- it was warm in Monterey before I put on layers and layers of neoprene, strapped on a 17-pound weight belt and donned a 100cf steel tank. Then we spent 60 minutes (plus a surface swim) exploring the underwater world.
By the time I got to Santa Cruz, I was dying of thirst. It was 90 degrees, and there was water in the car. Parked on a residential street, I was just about to get on my skateboard and head to a convenience store to buy something to drink, when I thought of a quicker solution...
I knocked on the door of the nearest house, and asked the guy who answered for a glass of water. Next thing I knew, he was drawing me a map of all the top-secret spots, sharing some local horror stories and telling me which famous people lived in which houses along the coastline. Which led to a conversation about feminism and empowerment. Which led to an idea:
"Hey - do you mind if I come surfing with you? I was just watching TV, but surfing is obviously a better way to spend the evening."
Obviously, it's only been two days since we met. But I thought Mark was fun, smart and inspiring, and I strongly suspect this friendship is going to last. All because I knocked on some dude's door and asked for water.
You could be the face on the other surfboard! If not, I'm perfectly happy out there alone with my Billabong 2mm.
2. Improve your charisma. Charisma isn't an art -- it's a science. The science of truly engaging with people and making them feel great when they're around you. Which will make them want to be around you more. Which will make you want to be around them more. Some ways to get started doing this are:
3. Become a regular. Somewhere. Anywhere! Because there are three criteria to starting a new friendship:
A) Proximity. (You can't make friends with someone who lives far away whom you never see.)
B) An environment that allows you to be real, honest and vulnerable. (More on that later.)
C) Regular, unplanned interactions.
So. If you play ball, or lift weights, or climb (or whatever!), try to go to the same gym at the same time each week. Become a regular. And you might make some gym friends, who eventually become your real friends.
If you have a favorite bar, become a regular there. Get your drink on at the same-ish time on the same day each week.
You get the idea.
4. Ditch the smart phone. As I wrote in 8 Super Awesome Ways to Make More Friends While You Travel, one of the best ways to start talking to someone new... is to make eye contact with them and say hello. Which you won't do if you're playing some dumb game on your phone. Smile, and make eye contact. Then start a conversation. Ask about the water bottle they're carrying, the t-shirt they're wearing, or a restaurant recommendation. It almost doesn't matter what you say! If you exude warmth (see point 1 about charisma), if you make someone feel interesting or important, it will affect their feelings towards you.
Although, I must admit, sometimes, being on your phone is the best thing EVER. Like when your former boarding school Dean of Residential Life sends you a text, and you're like OMGOMGOMGOMG YAY!!!!!
5. Ditch the script. At some point in the past, someone decided it wasn't appropriate to talk about politics, religion, money and a few other things. But I broke this rule, and it resulted in one of my favorite friendships in adulthood. It happened at a party last summer. We hit it off, and the rest is history.
He recently told me, "I'll never forget our first conversation."
"Really? Why?" I asked.
"Because the first thing you said to me was, 'I'm here with my cousin. He's ultra liberal, though, and he probably supports like unions and stuff. You don't, do you?' And then we had a real conversation, instead of small talk. And I couldn't put it out of my mind."
So, if you want to make new friends, ditch the script. Skip the small talk. And be yourself. After all, as I wrote in Kids Make Friends More Easily Than You. Here's Why,
6. Self-disclose. People like people who self-disclose. People disclose more to people who self-disclose. It makes everyone feel closer to each other. It's a beautiful cycle:
Apparently, a lot of adults are afraid of ever opening up too much or being vulnerable -- especially to people like co-workers, with whom self-disclosure is risky and, sometimes, inappropriate. But in the right setting, it's a great way to turn a stranger into a buddy.
In fact. I've bonded with a lot of travelers this way. Just as some people go wild and have crazy hostel sex because it's all anonymous and you'll never see each other again (which is all good, as long as you're clear about your boundaries and expectations)... So do people finally make that secret confession or get that feeling off their chest when they meet a stranger in a strange land.
But... there's no reason we can only do this when we travel. Like, seriously -- what have you got to lose? Go ahead! Tell the guy you see at the coffee shop (after all, you're both regulars now, right?) that embarrassing story! Tell them about the last time you cried over something stupid! What have you got to lose?
7. Give your full attention. This ties in with the whole charisma thing. And the put-down-the-phone thing. Give people your undivided attention. This will make them like you more (because they feel special around you) -- and it will actually make you more interesting. After all, I got a smart phone, and it instantly made me less cool.
8. Ask better questions. "What's up?" and "How's it going?" are boring. According to For the Love of God, STOP Asking People If They're Okay! you should be asking questions like this instead:
9. Invite people to do fun stuff with you. According to a thing I saw on my newsfeed that caused me great displeasure, people are afraid to invite people to coffee because they're afraid you'll say no or it'll make it look like they don't have any friends. How stupid is that? Almost as stupid as a debate with Nassim Nicholas Taleb!
Invite away! It's the only way to take an acquaintanceship to the next level.
And, if possible, invite them to do something more interesting than a cup of coffee. After all, as I wrote in Why a Terrifying First Date is Better Than a "Nice" One, "Couples (and friends!) that play together, stay together."
10. Ask to join them when they're doing something they'd be doing, anyway. I love making new friends! And everyone needs more friends. And the way to make it happen is by spending more time together. Going back to the whole become a regular thing. So you've had a few unplanned encounters. You like each other. But... maybe you're not ready to commit to doing something you wouldn't be doing anyway with them. Maybe they won't commit to doing something they wouldn't be doing anyway with you. If you like them enough to spend time with them outside of the place where you're both regulars... suggest doing their thing with them.
Not only will this give them an easy way to spend more time with you... But you're also showing an interest in something they care about... which should increase your bonding.
11. Say yes. Probably the best advice I could possibly give anyone, ever, is to live like you're traveling. Because
A) With the right attitude, anything -- even a trip to Target! -- can be a thrill.
Chuck E. Cheese was closed, so we did the next best thing...
B) People bond over experiences.
C) Is there any good reason not to?
D) The number one best productivity hack of all time? Make weekend plans.
E) Remember: Everything's Always Worth It.
Want to drive to Fort Bragg and go abalone diving? YES.
Want to check out the bioluminescence down in Moss Landing? YES.
Want to drive hours and hours into the wilderness, then hike up a river to check out this place called God's Bath? YES!
Worst case, you have an incredible adventure and never see any of your companions again. Best case, y'all become BFFs. Most likely case, you have a great time, bond with one or two of the people on the trip, and feel really freakin' awesome next time you run into the others at a party or event. "AHH, OMG HOW ARE YOU?! I haven't seen you since the time we _____!"
12. Put on a wetsuit. Going through my recent photos to find some images for this post, I realized there is a super secret bonus tip. Put on an old 7mm wetsuit. Instant bonding.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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