Tips with Trish: Socializing skills

Tricia Borelli (TheLorian)

Dear Italee,

I don’t know how to make friends, but I really want them. I find myself feeling awkward and uncomfortable in conversations with new people. I don’t really understand social cues or what to look for I guess. I feel like it’s just not something I learned so I feel very lonely much of the time. I just want to have a friend group like normal people, but I don’t know how to be a friend to people. How do I socialize with people? Where do I start?

Signed,

Lonely

Italee says:

Thank you for writing in. You aren’t alone in this! You’d be surprised just how many people find themselves in the same situation. As for where to start, that depends on how well you have socialized so far. Obviously, this is very simplified but bear with me.

Let’s say you are at square one. Not a lot of social skills or never really had any long-term friends. That’s fine! Weirdly enough, we start with reflection within ourselves. How many times have you found yourself frustrated, stressed, angry, or worried in a relationship but the other people seemed fine? It can be disorienting. Start by understanding yourself. What makes you happy? What makes you worry? What makes you angry? What makes you sad? Can you identify how intensely you are feeling these emotions? Are they appropriate for the situation? Do you know how to deal with these emotions appropriately? This last question is important because we don’t want to lash out at our friends, but we also don’t want to isolate or hide our feelings away.

Alongside this, identify your own personal self-talk. Do you have a lot of negative self-talk? (e.g. “I’m such a loser.” “I’m annoying.” “No one wants to be my friend.”) Negative self-talk can come from or lead to a lot of negative emotions. It’s difficult to make friends when we’re so self-conscious about ourselves and our actions. How often do you find yourself in this type of self-talk? Is it often? What about positive self-talk? (e.g., “I like myself.” “I did that well.” “I’m okay, even if I mess this up.”) How often does positive self-talk come up and can we use it against negative self-talk? Improve that self-confidence!

You are worthy of friendship!

From here, we have to learn how to empathize with other people. There will be differences in any friendship that may cause dissonance. Sometimes our emotions make us feel like those things are personal. Almost like our friends are intentionally causing tension, leaving us out, or that they don’t like us anymore. Instead, we have to pace ourselves and try to understand the other person’s position without jumping to a conclusion.

For example, your friend doesn’t personally invite you to Sonic when they went with other people. You may feel betrayed and left out and the conclusion is that they don’t want you around anymore. Now take a step back and look at the situation. Was this late at night? Do they normally invite you to places? Have they hung out with you recently? Did you let them know you wanted to hang out? Maybe it was a last-minute plan, and they went with the people they were around at the time. They aren’t feeling any negative feelings towards you. It wasn’t an intentional act against you. It’s not the end of the friendship.

Empathizing with other people can also help with socializing as it can help you process what’s happening in a social gathering. As we get older, socializing becomes more complex and subtler. Being able to empathize and understand emotions can help you pick up on other people’s social cues.

Observing people’s interactions in a social setting will make it easier to predict how someone will react or feel.

When creating a relationship with another person, there are written and unwritten rules. Written rules are like laws or things considered to be common sense. Don’t harm anyone. Don’t harass anyone. Be respectful to yourself and others. These are usually well known. It’s usually the unwritten rules that can trip people up. Maintaining eye contact when directly speaking to someone. When someone asks you about your day, it’s expected you ask the same in return. Ask people about their interests if they ask you about yours. Most of these are about showing interest and being equal in the friendship. Starting out with small topics with people will help you learn these.

Develop a filter! Ah, this is a big one! Some people need to develop an internal filter to avoid saying or doing things that might insult people, hurt their feelings, etc. Do you consider yourself a blunt or straightforward person? Not to say you need to stop, but maybe consider giving your opinions appropriately. If you don’t like something your friend likes, instead of saying “I think it’s dumb” consider saying instead, “It’s not really my thing”. Soften the blow a bit, at least in the beginning. Unfiltered and unsolicited opinions can turn people off, especially if they don’t know you well. Again, be respectful. This was a lot of information. I know it was, but one more thing. There are levels of friendship. You will not become best friends with someone after hanging out with them twice. Maybe in kindergarten, when the most complicated thing about us is that we really like the color blue, finding a shared interest/opinion can mean a great friendship. We’re not in kindergarten anymore though. People have complicated feelings, opinions, behaviors, etc.

People start as strangers. You don’t know their names and you don’t hang out with them. Then you move to acquaintances. You know their name and maybe have a chat or two occasionally. Maybe they sit next to you or you’ve had a group project together. Friendly, but not really friends. After hanging out a few more times and learning about them more, we can move to friends. These are people you have dinner with or do homework with. You know more about these people’s likes and dislikes and they know more about yours too. The closer you get to the person after some time, you might find that your interactions are comfortable and easy. You like hanging out with each other and do it often. We can move them to best friend status.

I cannot stress enough that this takes time and effort. These are skills. It’s okay if you’re still a bit awkward. Everyone has to start somewhere. Take it at your own pace and evaluate how you’ve changed over time. Again, this is very simplified and easier said than done. Getting out of your comfort zone is always scary, but the reward could mean meeting fun people. If you find yourself still struggling, talk to a parent, advisor/peer advisor, or the counseling center. You can and will make friends.

Signed,

Italee

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