How do we make friends? More importantly if dropped into a new city or a new job or a new school, how do we go about making a new friends? Most of us don't really think about it, but just sort of allow people to float in and out of our lives without really paying any attention to how we pull new people into our lives.
Years ago, my son was four years old and starting preschool. He had been begging to go for about a year and was thrilled that he was finally there. He had longed to play on their playground. He really loved all of the noise and commotion of such a large day care center. He was fascinated by the sight of all those other children running around laughing and playing. He was so excited to dive in and start hanging out with those other kids. He was naturally outgoing and energetic, and had wonderful social skills so I knew he'd get along just fine. I was a bit surprised when he came up to me after a few weeks and said that he was really struggling because as 'the new kid' he didn't have any friends.
"How do I get some friends to play with me?"
I told him that every week I would give him a new assignment. I explained to him that you don't want to run through these steps too fast because it makes people nervous and they'll push you away. You want to give them time to adjust to you as you go through these steps.
For the first week all he had to do was smile a nice big smile and say, "Hi!" He needed to walk around saying 'hi' to teachers and students alike. Whoever seemed cool in his opinion. He didn't have to be a geek about it and say 'hi' to everyone, just those he thought seemed kind of interesting. This gives people the impression that you're an upbeat positive person, but not too pushy. Greet them everyday with a smile on your face.
For the second week, he had to start adding their names to the cheerful greeting. When you see someone you like, smile real big and say "Hi Joey!" or "Hi Suzy!" or "Hi Anthony!" Just start learning their names and adding it to your hellos. This way they're already used to your pleasant greetings and it just personalizes it a bit. Greet them with a personalized greeting everyday.
For the third week, I told him to give them an honest compliment along with the greeting. Don't make it something big and embarrassing, but something small and comfortable for them to hear you say out loud in front of others. "Hi Joey! I love your Ninja Turtle T-shirt!" or "Hi Suzy! I really like the way you color within the lines, looks great!" or "Hi Anthony! Nice haircut dude!" The key to this step is honesty. You have to find something you truly like about the person to compliment. People get an odd feeling and on some level can sense when others are being fake or insincere with them. Be honest, be upbeat, and personalize the greeting and the compliment. Again, do it every day. Consistency really matters. You're not just making them feel good about themselves, but creating a public image of yourself as a consistently upbeat positive person.
For the fourth week, I was going to have him include an invitation to play with him in with his greetings, but he never got that far. He was having such a good time with all of his new friends that he never really bothered with any more lessons. He was very popular and well loved from that point on.
Every time he's changed schools or neighborhoods or started going to a new church or gone away to camp or whatever, he has always used that same system to make new friends. It's foolproof and always works for him. He's just started high school this year and is incredibly confident in his ability to make new friends. Now, he simply walks up to strangers, flashes them his best grin, in a charming and almost clown like manner he greets them with a big hug, and will tell them he loves them before he even introduces himself. He just hams it up like a beloved comedian and delivers whatever silly greeting will make kids laugh. It's beautiful to watch him. There isn't a shy bone in that kids body!
Can we as adults do the same thing? I know that if I really look at my own behaviors, the times that friends have seemed a bit scarce were when I wasn't doing a lot of reaching out and greeting them. If I wasn't personalizing my conversations towards them and I wasn't handing out the compliments, then new people didn't seem to stick around and develop into friendships. Most people are a lot more insecure and shy then they let on, and they really feel good when someone else notices them enough to learn their name and to greet them with a real compliment. It usually makes them feel comfortable enough to respond and to begin opening up.
It's a really simple exercise? consistently greet them, personalize the greeting, and then add a compliment to the greeting, if you aren't friends by then, offer an invitation along with the greeting. People love to feel likeable. This system lets them know that you think they're likeable without making you feel like an uncomfortable nerd. It's slow enough paced to not be forced, unnatural, or pushy. We humans have funny little behavioral rules and rituals that we follow instinctively and red warning flags pop up when someone doesn't approach us just right. Deep down, I think we're still just as skittish and easily spooked away as the first cavemen. Give them time to check you out. It's amazing how beautifully this works.
John Samtron, is the editor for http://www.self-confidence.tv.
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