by Jackie Zhou, PhD
Do you feel lonely despite frequently FaceTiming with your friends? Do you sometimes find a normal conversation with your barista more invigorating than texting your family? Do you enjoy going to a restaurant more than before, not so much because of the food, but more because of the friendly interactions with the servers?
If so, you are not alone in having these experiences. The pandemic has shown that virtual interactions are NOT a replacement for in-person social interactions. FaceTime, Zoom and text even with close friends may not be as impactful as face-to-face contact with total strangers! And now, after 18 months of constraints and precautions, our familiarity with these nuances is dampened.
Another thing has changed: In-person interactions with new people may seem more daunting than before. We therefore need concrete strategies in order to initiate and strengthen new social bonds. Here are a few approaches that can help make the process of forming new connections more rewarding, and less anxiety-filled:
- Turn virtual friends to in-person friends. If you don’t feel ready to meet new people in person right away, try making friends through online social groups as a first step and then work towards meeting up with those virtual friends in person. Online platforms such as Wisdo, 92Y, and Discord allow you to join groups centered around topics you are interested in. Once you feel comfortable with the virtually established relationships, you may propose hanging out in person locally with your new friends, or accept proposals from them!
- Explore local in-person social opportunities. There are a number of platforms, such as Meetup, that offer opportunities to meet people and make friends in person who share similar interests. Either join a local group for their latest in-person event, or organize an event yourself!
- Use “GIVE skills” when meeting people in person. When you actually meet people in person, it’s normal to feel nervous and/or awkward at first, especially when you have thoughts such as “what if they don’t like hanging out with me.” Simply notice these thoughts as normal thoughts that anyone can have in a similar situation, and try focus instead in following these GIVE (Gentle, Interested, Validate, Easy Manner) skills:
- (Be) Gentle. Show your respect in what you say as well as your facial expression. Try to avoid judgmental language such as saying “you should/shouldn’t.”
- (Act) Interested. Rather than trying to impress the other, acting interested may be a more effective way to build or strengthen a relationship, as people tend to like those who they think like them back. Ask open questions that show your interests and prompt the other person to tell you more about themselves.
- Validate. Sometimes you may not necessarily agree with others’ opinions, and that is okay. Disagreement in your thoughts and opinions isn’t necessarily an obstacle in relationship building, as you can still validate their experiences and feelings by saying things like “I can see why you feel that way in that situation,” or “I can understand your feelings.” In fact, your validation despite your disagreement may impress the other person more than your shared interests.
- Easy Manner. Be light-hearted, with a sense of humor if possible. But don’t worry too much about being humorous all the time, as just being who you are is more important.
By trying some of these suggestions, you may soon find yourself rewarded with new connections, and greater well-being!