1. Get out there. We all need our alone time, but you’re not going to meet new people in your living room. Be places. Get out of the carpool line, park a few blocks away and walk to pick up your kids. Notice the other parents. Make eye contact and smile. Take your kids to birthday parties and instead of dropping them off and leaving, stick around. Go to events. Accept invitations. Eat in the cafeteria instead of at your desk.
The “mere exposure effect” says that the more we see something, the more we like it. So the more your neighbors, co-workers, etc., see you out and about, the more positive feelings they’ll have toward you. Let people become used to seeing you and recognizing you.
2. Start conversations. This is the hardest thing for us introverts. But if you’re in close proximity with someone, there’s ALWAYS something around you that you can comment on. “Thank goodness it’s not raining on us as we stand out here.” “The clouds are beautiful today.” “Wow, look at that headline on the magazine in the grocery store.” “Where do you get your son’s hair cut? It looks great.” “Did you hear what he said about _________? I didn’t quite catch it.” Don’t sweat it if it turns into a short interaction and not a full conversation. If you have several short interactions with the same people, they will turn into conversations.
Try to stay positive. Unconsciously, people attribute traits to us based on what we say about other people or things. If the only thing you can think of to say is a complaint or something negative, try to insert humor into it. Making people laugh is always a good way to connect. Smile! Remember, other people are nervous, too, about starting conversations. Make it easier for them by asking questions they can easily answer (most people love to talk about themselves), and they’ll remember you as a friendly, kind person.
3. Join Groups. Most bookstores (the ones that are still around….sigh) have book groups for different interests. Meetup.com is a great place to find groups based around an interest. Volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about. Make sure that the groups are based on something you’ll enjoy even if you don’t find someone to click with. Sometimes activities are worthwhile to do just for the sake of doing them. Plan activities and invite people you think might be interested. One thing that’s worked for me is planning to do something I already planned to do, like visit an outlet or take a short hike, and inviting one person who might be interested to come with me. If they decline, nothing’s lost because I was going to do it anyway.
4. Be Selective. Talk to as many people as you can, but be selective about those with whom you pursue friendships. Make sure you’ve enjoyed those conversations, and that you have a feeling the person might be trustworthy. Pursue those who say nice things about other people and don’t talk behind people’s backs (remember – the way people treat others is the way they’ll eventually treat you). Choose those with similar interests. Friends of friends have great potential because you already have something (or someone) in common.
5. Courage! Fight your urge to run and hide. You don’t have to turn into a complete extrovert to make friends, but if you make a goal to do one thing each day that connects with someone new, you’ll be well on your way to making new friends without too much stress. Take a break and congratulate yourself for each new step you take. It does get easier with practice, I promise.