Sunday, 03 April 2011 20:57
Approachability is a powerful factor in building both a satisfying social life and a fruitful career. By welcoming new faces into your life, you’ll automatically have more experiences, different perspectives, lots more fun — and, of course, more dates.
With that in mind, here are some painless ways to connect with new people… and not just on Twitter!
1. Host some informal get-togethers
Television shows make it look like constantly hanging out with a huge group of friends is a piece of cake. Really, though, how many people actually have neighbors that fly into their apartment every two minutes? You have to get crafty if you want to grow your social world. Start by cleaning your bathroom and having some people over.
Nicole Relyea, 29, a freelance writer in Denver, CO, hosts an informal “Odd Tuesday” potluck every other week. “Before, if I struck up a conversation with someone and we hit it off, usually once the event was over, so was our single-serving friendship,” she explains. “But now I always have something to invite someone to in the future.” Relyea’s potlucks started small, with just a handful of friends (and a few Dorito-centric meals), but over time, they grew into something of a phenomenon. She now estimates that more than 250 people have attended over the years. Friends-of-friends are always welcome at her place, and the key to emulating Relyea’s success is to keep such gatherings informal. If someone can’t make it this time, there’s always another one coming up. “I chose a potluck because everybody’s got to eat, and if people had nothing else in common, they could talk about the food,” she says.
2. Let your nerd flag fly
Sarah Vowell, best-selling author and NPR darling, once wrote: “Being a nerd —which is. to say, going too far and caring too much about a subject — is the best way to make friends I know of.” Sometimes we feel we should keep a lid on our passions when we meet new people, lest we come off as somewhat weird. But nerds are hot right now — just ask Mark Zuckerberg or the cast of The Big Bang Theory. As long as you up the ante slowly, there’s no harm in copping to your extensive knowledge of presidential pets or string theory. Just be careful not to give anyone a lecture.
3. Keep smiling
It might seem obvious, but there’s probably no simpler way to be more approachable than smiling. Researcher Darren W. Campbell, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Manitoba, conducted a study in which participants decided whether they would approach a pictured person to share a table or not. “Faces with mildly positive emotional expressions are more approachable than those with neutral facial expressions,” Campbell says. “Other research shows that a neutral facial expression is not always experienced as neutral. It is experienced as mildly negative.” Did you get that? Even if you believe you’re projecting a neutral vibe, others won’t see it that way. When you’re out and want to be chatted up by others, think of something amusing so your face reflects positivity.
4. Buy a ticket, not a trinket
Tempted to buy a new wardrobe to attract others? Think twice! While looking good certainly doesn’t hurt, you might get more bang for your buck out of spending your extra dough on experiences rather than objects. Ryan Howell, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, conducted a study in which 154 people answered questions about a recent purchase or experience. Participants who wrote about experiences showed a higher satisfaction at the time and afterward. One reason for this is that positive experiences often involve some sort of social bonding. People need people, and enjoying new experiences can lead to making new friends in a way that a new Blu-ray player or pair of pearl earrings probably never could.
5. Help others connect
Shy about meeting new people? You aren’t the only one! If you frame your goal as helping someone even less outgoing than yourself, you’ll forget your nerves and become the smooth one. “If you are in a social situation and are shy, look around for another person who seems to be in the same boat,” councils Georgia Beaverson, an editor and graduate student at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. “Make it your ‘job’ to get to know that person and make him or her feel comfortable. This has been a wonderful way to get over my own shyness and large-group discomfort.” Diane Penzenstadler, the owner of Encore Event Planning in Oshkosh, WI, agrees: “I like to ‘tag team’ with someone, or help someone else get connected. It takes the pressure off of me and I get to meet new people as well.”
6. Embrace your imperfections and just say something, already
Wayne Elise, dating coach and CharismaArts.com founder, is sympathetic to those who get scared when they want to approach an attractive stranger… really! But at some point, you just have to get over it, he says: “I understand that we can’t always be our best while feeling nervous. But you have to approach people anyway. Perfect timing doesn’t exist. You’ll never recite the perfect line. Those who seek perfection do nothing.” Lower the stakes in your mind and focus on projecting sincerity. Remember that when you meet new people, there doesn’t have to be an end goal involved. “So many people seem to be focused on trying to get achievement badges instead of actually enjoying someone’s company,” Elise continues, “as if meeting and dating is a video game. If you are focused on getting a phone number or a kiss or nailing down a date, then you’re making yourself less attractive. Just be in the moment, having fun with the person you’re with. That’s when you are at your most charismatic and appealing to others.”
7. Be happy… just don’t fake it
No problem, right? While that might sound like a tall order, it’s a fact: genuinely happy people are more alluring than unhappy people. If you make finding your own inner peace a goal, you will attract others without even trying. After all, they will want to know your secret. Sit down and think about what you really like to do. Listen to scratchy blues records? Climb mountains? Whatever floats your boat, get out there and just do it. Of course, there’s more to happiness than just having fun. Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, exercise, and healthy food. Take care of others by reaching out to help someone who needs it, volunteer, or just pay attention when others speak.
At the end of the day, what is approachability but emanating a sense of goodwill and kindness towards all?
(Laura Schaefer is the author of The Teashop Girls and its forthcoming sequel, The Secret Ingredient.)
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