We have different dreams about college. For some, it’s fantastic grades. For others, it’s the adventure living away from home for the first time. We have visions of the groups we’ll join, the holidays we’ll take and the opportunity to discover ourselves. No matter what the dream is, we all need friends. And making friends in college isn’t as daunting as it seems, even if you’re shy or think you don’t know how to talk to people. In my work as a psychotherapist and coach, I’ve helped my clients make new friends in college and work situations, despite their initial fears. Here are some tips for you.
Attend the first few events you’re invited to.
Your first invite to join a group for an activity is actually code for “We’d like to hang out with you” in the form of “There’s a party later in the hall, are you coming?” Some of us mistake that code especially if we’re tired or feeling overwhelmed, and never get invited back again. And we wonder why, not realizing that we’ve been replying back in code “No, I’m not interested in you at all”.
These first events are also when people forge bonds and establish groups that may last for the rest of the four years. And if you’re worried that you’ll always have that many events to attend, here’s the thing. Be open and try out as many as you can in your first three weeks. Then be selective and focus your time on the groups you really care about.
Be aware of what holds you back from making friends.
I hear many people saying, “Nah, I’m just not that kind of person” or “I’m shy”. But when we dig deeper, we find the real barriers. Such as “I’m not good enough” or “I’m unworthy”. It’s not a pleasant reality to confront, and so we slap on the face paint of “I’m shy”. But here’s the thing, to be human is to feel like we’re not good enough. The most confident and successful people I know battle with these feelings. It’s programmed by society, and we don’t speak about it so we think everyone else is better than us, when most of us struggle with these feelings.
Here’s a question to ask yourself – “When it comes to making friends, what makes me think I’m not good enough?” A common answer is “I don’t know how to make friends”. Many of my mentors who can light up a room and captivate people told me, they didn’t start off that way. They learned how to make friends. They adopted the ‘fake it till you make it’ strategy, and then they knew how to make friends and felt better about themselves. Which brings us to the next tip…
Learn how to introduce yourself.
Having a confident introduction means you don’t stammer, get frightened or ramble. You know when you watch some people speak about themselves so naturally and genuinely, and wonder “Were they born like that?”. I did. So I asked these people, what was their secret. Half of them told me that they grew up surrounded by people who talked like that, so it was “only natural” that they started speaking like that. The other half told me they were “painfully shy” or “couldn’t make small talk to save my life” but were determined to learn. So they adopted a mindset of learning from books, videos and role models. But what I got from both groups is that a confident introduction can be learned.
Here’s some scripts that you can use. Remember, it’s not about being impressive, it’s about connecting with people.
- Whilst meeting fellow freshers on college residences/campus: “Hi I’m (name) and studying (course). How about you?”
- Whilst around college residences/campus: “Hi I’m (name) and new here. What’s good to do/see/eat around here?”
- Whilst at a party/event: “Hi I’m (name), how do you know (the host?)/ are you having a good time so far?”
Master the art of conversations.
When I was younger, I liked to quip that I suffered from “Small Talk Disorder (STD)”. I found comfort in meeting people with the same STD, and we’d talk loads about it before proceeding to all sorts of topics. And I observed that actually, lots of small talk was interspersed between these topics. Which led me to realize that small talk isn’t that hard, and is actually a part of conversations.
My mentor Ramit Sethi says that just getting straight to the point isn’t conversation. It’s like going to a fancy restaurant, sitting down, slurping your meal and leaving. In reality, we are comforted by sets of rituals. Of course, a conversation shouldn’t just be about meaningless Small Talk. I think we need to shift our mindset away from an autopilot disgust towards Small Talk, which takes part of the pain and fear away. Here’s some simple rules:
- It’s about taking turns: Notice that in the introduction scripts above, questions were directed towards the other party. No one wants to simply hear about another, people feel heard when they are given the chance to talk about themselves and participate
- Mirror and reflect: When you respond with “That sounds awful/ that is a terrible thing to happen” to a story that is upsetting, you’re connecting with the other person and showing him/her that you care. Same thing with joyful stories. Empathy forges bonds.
- Ask interesting questions: Much as people often talk about the weather, how easy it was getting to the destination, it can get uninspired and dull. Instead, spark conversations by asking questions like: Do you consider yourself an introvert, extrovert or somewhere in between? What are you most grateful for, right now?How would your life be different if social media didn’t exist?
Remember that rejection happens to everyone.
Sometimes we hold back from making friends because we’re afraid of rejection; sometimes we’ve already been rejected, and it stings. A useful exercise is to reframe it away from seeing yourself as an unlikable person.
- Find evidence for why you’re a likeable person- e.g. think about the friends you have.
- Think about the people you’ve ‘rejected’ and the reasons behind it, such as a lack of chemistry or you being simply disinterested.
- Think about the people who might have interpreted your unintentional signals as rejecting them.
Bottomline: We all reject each other, deliberately or otherwise. That’s how we focus attention on the friends we have. But we’re social creatures, we’re wired to feel hurt from rejection. What you can do if rejection is affecting you a lot, is to speak to someone or practice mindfulness, to help you feel better.
One of my favorite things about my mentor Selena Soo is her approach to life- be helpful. She’s shown me how you can make friends, even if you have an introverted personality. She’s spoken about how her business took off the moment she launched it, because she’d been adding value to the lives of the people she admired long before. Indeed, people thrive on reciprocity – when we help and support each other, we form connections and have each others’ backs. Think about how you can add value to others’ lives, like:
- Doing a favor for someone who’s ill
- Teaching someone something they don’t understand in class
- Volunteering to help out for an event
These don’t have to be big, momentous tasks. They can be done at your convenience, or based on the things that you’re really good at. Point being, little gestures go a long way.
Even if you’ve been in college for some time, challenge yourself to try these out with a new group, class or job. The more you practice, the better you get.