Browse through any decent meme page, and you’re going to see people complaining about how hard it is to make friends these days. Even with our highly paced and technological lifestyle, it’s probably always been hard to make friends.
It’s even worse when you get out of high school or college; you’re no longer forced to interact with anyone outside of your job, which makes it very easy to just head home and zone out.
Humans are social creatures, and we need connectivity. Even just a few short conversations with strangers during the day can make a huge difference in our mental and emotional wellbeing. And just a few good friends makes the difficult and boring times much easier.
If you’re struggling to build new friendships or connect with others, there are special sentences that can help. Sometimes, your conversations will go nowhere. That’s okay; not everyone is meant to be friends. But sometimes, you just needed the right open-ended questions.
A very common piece of social advice is to ask more questions. For some people that have no problem talking about themselves, this can be a very helpful strategy in order to be better liked.
But for those who already struggle to share and connect, this advice can backfire. Your rapid-fire questions can come off as interrogation if you aren’t careful.
Instead, ask questions to get a new thread of discussion going. Conversation is like a road trip: take exits off the main highway, stop and see the cool sites, and then keep moving forward when things start to get stagnant.
The idea of “small talk” is a turn off for many people. Too bad; it’s how our social system works, and instead of trying to beat it, learn to enjoy it. Even for someone who likes to have deep, valuable conversations, there is real meaning behind small talk.
All of these questions below are meant to be safe. When you are just meeting someone, you don’t want to jump into the philosophical stuff too quickly. It can make people uncomfortable. Perhaps you never jump into it at all, and just enjoy light and playful stories.
These questions below are meant to make small talk more fun for you. They aren’t in any particular order, and definitely don’t burn through them all at once.
For some, this may all seem like common sense. You’re lucky! For everyone else, let’s go through these simple questions that will make you friends with anyone, anywhere.
1. “Hey, my name is _____. How are you?”
We’ve spoken with many people who have some sort of vendetta against the question, “How are you?” They think that because the default answer is “good”, no one is being honest and the question is pointless.
(These are the same people who tell us the correct grammatical answer is “well”, but don’t you dare correct someone if you want any shot at a new friend.)
“How are you?” is not meant to be a legitimate question that dives into someone’s personal life. It’s almost just a wave or a handshake, something to take you past a simple “hello.”
It’s a jumping off point, and starting with it makes people feel comfortable. You can get to the deeper stuff later if it’s appropriate; for now, just go with the flow.
2. “What are you working on lately?”
This one is great for those networking events that make you want to jump off a bridge. It’s different from, “What do you do for work?” because that will usually get you a canned response.
People are more than their jobs (or, we should strive to be). Perhaps someone answers this question with a hobby, or a side-project that is actually exciting to them.
You can discuss whatever that might be, and even learn a thing or two. Then, share what you’ve been working on yourself. What if it’s something similar? You and your new friend might be able to collaborate down the line.
3. “Where was the last cool place you’ve travelled?”
Everyone loves a good vacation, and most people you talk to have at least one good story. You can talk about travel for quite a long time, even looking at pictures on someone’s phone together.
Ask some good questions about the area that really interest you. “Where did you stay? Any crazy tourist stories? How is the food?”
Don’t be afraid to share your own experiences after they do. Listen beforehand, so they will listen to you in turn. Give answers to the same questions you asked them. Let your new friend know their favorite travel spot is now on your list.
4. “Can I help you with anything?” OR, “Can you help me with this small favor?”
This is an interesting set of questions. With both of them, you’re going to have to be genuine. If you don’t plan on being able to feed someone’s dog while they are on vacation, you might want to stay away (most new acquaintances won’t go that far, though).
“Can I help you with anything?” shows someone that you’re actually willing to keep this connection going. It’s rarely taken up on, but makes a lasting impression.
On the other hand, “Can you help me with this small favor?” seems counter-intuitive, like you’re immediately trying to take instead of give. But this will make your new friend feel good about themselves.
It’s a great way to meet your neighbors. Ask one of them to take your garbage down to the street when you are out of town, and they will know they’ve done something kind. They will also feel like they can ask for a favor in return down the line.
5. “I’m going to _____ with my buddy _____. Want to come?”
If you want to make a real friend, you have to move forward. Sometimes, people can feel uncomfortable with a one-on-one meeting, unless you’re grabbing coffee with a business associate.
Instead, tell them you have a few other people coming, and it won’t be half as awkward. You don’t even need to already have asked that other friend, either!
If you have a cool event in mind, invite this first person, and then ask the next. If either of them say no, you can always just cancel (with reasonable notice). This is 2018: half of us breathe a huge sigh of relief when events get cancelled so we can just have a minute to ourselves.
Try a few of these questions next time you are in a new place where you don’t know anyone. Instead of feeling left out or uncomfortable, change your mindset. This could be exactly what you need to feel connected, learn something new, and even find a new friend for life.
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