How to Build and Maintain a Thriving Social Circle
Many people have told me how hard it is to make and maintain friendships in their adult lives. Their best buddies move away, everyone has full-time jobs, and couples spend more time with each other and less time out socializing. Moments with with friends becomes more rare and precious.
I know that once I was out of school, I felt lost. It had been so much easier to connect with people when I saw them everyday at classes. Out in the real world, I had no clue how to make friends with strangers.
But after years of challenging my social comfort zone, I’m happy to say I’ve learned how to build a great social circle. And in fact, the connections I’ve made in the last years are arguably the most meaningful.
Follow the framework below and you’ll soon make friends with ease.
Finding and cultivating new social circles
Develop your school campus presence
Look up clubs on campus. Go to your university website, find the section that says “student life” or something similar, and pick ideas that seem intriguing. Look through those clubs’ calendars (whether that’s on the site or on Facebook) and choose a few events to check out.
College is a “warm” social environment. Everyone wants to connect with people, make friends, and hook up. Combine that with designated social clubs and you’ve got arguably the easiest way to meet new people and have them accept you.
And if you’re living in a dorm, try to introduce yourself to everyone in the building. During the first week or so a lot of people leave their doors open. Walk by and say hello. Greet new people in the hallway. That way whenever those people are hanging out in the common area or hosting a get together, you’re a familiar face.
If you’re out of college and in the work force it’s time to…
Discover your target audience in the real world
I hear people say stuff like, “I’m not a bar guy.”, “I’m an introvert.”, or “I don’t know where I could go to meet new friends.”
Those are excuses. There are endless activities and environments that will cater to your social style, interests, and the type of people you would connect with. You just have to do your research.
If you’re in the real world, start by using a little-known site called Google. Type in “YourCity events” or “YourCity event calendar.” Open up the first 5 results — usually they’re the local city event calendar, a local magazine, and the local newspapers.
While looking through the lists, ask yourself these questions…
“Where could I go that I would have fun, regardless if I met anyone?”
“Where would the types of people I’m looking for spend their free time?”
And if nothing sounds interesting at all, then ask yourself…
“What doesn’t sound awful?”
It’s amazing how quickly you’ll discover hobbies you never thought you’d enjoy. I’ve had guys tell me they weren’t interested in anything new. Then they went out and gave the activity a chance and subsequently became addicted to swing dancing, Toastmasters, slam poetry, and a variety of other things they’d never considered.
Use social proof to your advantage
Once you’re at these events, you still need to talk to people to build friendships. Make curiosity your only goal. Tell yourself, “I’m going to try to find out one unique thing about each person and decide if they’re somebody I might want to hang out with.”
Take that idea and set a 3-5 minute time limit for yourself. I want you to approach a group of strangers with only that intention — to find one specific fact about them. Once you accomplish that, let them know you’re going to go mingle for a bit, and maybe you’ll catch them later.
Then I want you to do that again with a few more groups. This should take 20-45 minutes or so. This accomplishes two things:
1) It makes the goal as easy as possible for you. When you worry about impressing people, you feel more anxious. This anxiety makes it even more difficult to approach new people. By limiting yourself to short conversations, you’re removing the pressure of holding extended, interesting exchanges. You don’t need to stress about getting rejected because you’re going to be the one to walk away first.
2) Positions you as a social, friendly guy. People are always taking notice at social gatherings of who the cool people are. By talking to different groups in short sessions, you look like the man everyone wants to talk to — even if you’re terrified on the inside. If other people seem to be enjoying your company, it encourages others to want your company as well.
Once you’ve gone around to different groups, you can now cycle back to the people you found most interesting. And the best part about that is…
You’ve already talked to them so they’ve been warmed up to you. More than that, you were the non-desperate guy that walked away earlier to meet more people. When you return, you have an established rapport and they’ll be infinitely more welcoming. They’ll also work for your attention so that you don’t leave again.
It’s as simple as saying,
“Hey, it’s my favorite group of medical professionals.” or “So what did I miss?” or “Seriously, have you guys had a round of the salmon tartare — I’m in heaven.” Even, “Hey guys!” is enough to get things rolling.
Turn those strangers into friends
There are two effective ways to go about this:
1) Exchange contact info for a future hangout. As you’re about to leave, say, “It was really great getting to know you guys — we should do this again.” That’s it. If these people want to connect with you, they want to have a way to keep in touch as well. You can either exchange numbers or Facebook info. I prefer numbers as I find it to be more personal and then you can always add their Facebook later.
To make this even stronger, you can use a commonality you guys talked about. “We should totally check out that new Thai place sometime.” You can also invite them directly to something you already have planned, “I’m hosting a Halloween party at my place. If you’re free, you guys should come.” And again, you can always say they should bring their friends so they feel more comfortable and then you connect with more people.
2) Make plans in the moment. Many events, classes, and meetups end early. People are still open to socializing for a little while longer but they’re usually waiting for someone else to suggest that idea. Why let that opportunity pass you by?
Throw out an open invitation to the group you’re speaking with, “Hey, so it’s still early and I’m starving. I’m heading next door to Restaurant to grab some food. Anyone interested?” Especially in a class such as Yoga or Improv, you can express it out loud as everyone’s wrapping up. “Wow, I can’t believe how much that kicked my ass for the first time. I’m gonna grab a cocktail next door — everyone’s welcome to join.”
What ends up happening is usually one person will take you up on that offer. Once that person does, other people gain the confidence to join in and it starts a chain reaction. Next thing you know you’ve got 8 people having a good time together. It’s even easier and more natural to exchange info at that point for future hangouts.
Host a Meetup
Do you have a skill you’re damn good at? It could be cooking, writing, real estate, finance, goal setting, public speaking, or even dressing well. Whatever that ability is, why not it share it with others?
Sites like Meetup.com create the ability to host local meetups where you can showcase your expertise. It’s an easy way to get a dozen or more people to chill, discuss ideas, and get to know each other. As the event host, everyone wants to engage and connect with you.
Join local Facebook groups
Wherever you’re at, there’s a Facebook group nearby. That could be a group for concert fans, Jewish people, cycling, karaoke addicts, or brunch enthusiasts. Once you’re accepted, start contributing to the discussions and watch out for events and meetups people post. It’s a super easy, low-investment way to find friends with similar interests.
Improving your existing social circles
Say yes to things you’re invited to
I know that it’s so much easier to stay home after a long day and indulge in some Netflix-binging instead of going out. But letting yourself settle for that all the time won’t strengthen your relationships; in fact, it will weaken them.
If people ask you to hang out and you consistently refuse, they’re eventually going to stop trying. Reaching out to you requires effort and vulnerability on their part. No one wants to feel like they’re bothering you or overextending themselves. They will stop trying and wait for you to take the initiative.
So please, accept one of those endless Facebook invites you receive. When your friends text you with ideas for plans, show some enthusiasm and meet up with them. Going out together even once can make a huge positive impact on your friendships.
Reach out often
People think about you more when you think about them. If you’re never accepting their invitations and you’re not taking initiative — you aren’t on their minds.
It doesn’t have to be much — send a random text asking what they’ve been up to. Send them (or snap them) a funny photo. Share an interesting article with them. Plant the seed that you want to connect and watch how quickly it grows.
Even a simple “like” or comment on a friend’s post can open a line of communication. It reminds them, “Hey, you’re on my mind.” I can’t tell you how many times doing this has led to an old friend messaging me.
Set up a party, event, or fun night out
Have a birthday bash at your place. Rent out a party bus. Plan a weekend road trip. Make a beach drinking and volleyball day. Do a bar trivia night. Plan a hiking day in the mountains or a more extensive camping trip. Invite people over for game day.
If you’re generating fun ideas, people see you as a source of fun. Your social value as the man of the hour will skyrocket. This, in turn, inspires people to invite you to their events.
Want to increase the range of your existing social circle? Tell everyone to bring their friends! You immediately meet new people without even venturing out. Plus, a personal introduction through is the quickest way to be accepted and make new friends with someone.
Bring co-workers into the real world
Here’s something a lot of people don’t realize: your co-workers don’t have to stay your co-workers. Obvious, huh? But too often we don’t bridge that gap from work friend to personal friend.
If a group of co-workers extend an open lunch invitation, join them. Or, be proactive and ask if you can come along to get burritos. Once you’ve hung out a couple times like that, you can take the next step — suggesting an after-work get together.
Offer up plans for drinks or dinner on a work night. Keep it close by so it’s easy for people to commit to.
The point is, you want to get your co-workers out of the work environment as much as possible. This is where they’ll open up, act more like themselves, and begin to create a personal connection with you.
But all these ideas don’t mean anything if they just stay…well…ideas. You can’t keep complaining, “I wish I had more friends.” if you’re not creating opportunities to make new friends.
You have to hold yourself accountable.
Start creating tangible goals and write them down. Don’t just keep them in your head. You’re more likely to follow through with them if you’re constantly reminded by your desire to do this stuff.
Plan out your next gathering and create a Facebook invite list. Pick one event every week for the next month and add each one to your calendar. Set alerts to go off multiple times during the week to remind you. When you’re out somewhere, commit to exchanging contact info with every person you speak to for more than 3 minutes.
In my experience, most people don’t have a problem making friends. The real problem is actually putting themselves out there.