I recently made a big move after 23 years in New York. I moved to a new region of the country where I didn’t know many peers and was confronted quickly with how making new friends as an adult requires specific skills I have not flexed in some time. I had to dust off some old techniques, open myself up to some humility, and honestly ask myself, how am I going to build genuine friendships with like-minded people that share my interests in a brand new city?
People tend to make their minds up about others in 30 seconds or less. On the surface, this can be intimidating, particularly since we tell “our story” in our daily interactions, often without thinking about the impression we are making on others. In addition, humans are generally pretty self-absorbed and routine-centric, and it can be hard to break through to someone as a new friend.
Even when doing something as simple as making new friends, I like to think about the process and ask myself a few questions:
- Am I telling my story in a way that attracts the type of people and friendships I seek?
- What is the impression that I am giving to the people around me?
- Am I being my genuine self?
- Also, I like to believe that I am self-aware and telling the right story, but am I?
- As I am truly putting myself out there and seeking new friendships?
I often think about one of my distant relatives. In short, he is a total curmudgeon. He has lots of acquaintances but few true friendships. I’m pretty sure he is clueless that his story is sending the wrong message. As Seth Godin, author and speaker, writes, “The same life story can be told in many ways, and the way we tell it changes who we are and who we become.” Do your best to be conscious of how you’re telling YOUR story, and stay open to iterating where you need to in order to be more approachable, open to new encounters, and receptive to others.
Here’s a short exercise to help determine if you are telling the right story:
What are the words you want people to use in describing you when they meet and get to know you?
The impression that I want people to have of me is pretty simple and straightforward — I’m a friendly, fun, and happy person, and they will enjoy spending time with me.
Now I have identified what I want people to believe about me, but am I representing that in my interactions? I asked a few new friends their perceptions of me and here are the words they used to describe me:
Friendly — Yeah, I hit the mark!
Knowledgeable — Hmmm, my take is that people believe I know what is happening in the world, but that does not necessarily mean that they believe that they will enjoy spending time with me. The most enjoyable people in our lives are the ones that ask us questions and want to know our story; therefore, I need to talk less and listen more!
Happy — My Happiness class is paying off!
Organized and “together” — These are not bad descriptors…if I’m interviewing for a job. But, I’m looking for new friends, and, unfortunately, I noted that none of them mentioned fun! I’m not putting forth a fun persona, and we all know that what you see and interact with is what you get. The self-reflection I’m taking on in response to this mini-survey is how can I convey that I would be a fun person to hang with? When I think about the “fun” people in my life, some straightforward, externally perceptible traits come to mind. I need to smile more, laugh easily, and never be judgemental or negative in my interactions. Negative attracts negative, and I certainly don’t want that.
I’m finding that moving and making friends outside of work can be challenging. Still, with a strategy and a shift in my behavior in social settings, I can increase my odds of cultivating a fulfilling and genuine community of friends.
Whether you moved to a new location or recently changed jobs, the skills required are the same. What is your story, and does it need a tweak?