It seems to get more difficult for many people to make friends as they get older. When you’re a kid you can just invite someone over to play with your toys because you happen to be in the same class at the same school. But lots of adults feel weird asking someone to hang out with them.
It’s actually not weird at all. Most people will welcome the opportunity to make a friend.
It’s important, not just because your network is a key element – if not the key element – of your career success, so you should be constantly working on expanding it. But also because friends enrich our lives, help us learn, and generally make us better, happier people (which also helps us succeed. Not that people are tools to be used as pawns in your Chess game of success).
If you’re a bit shy or unsure of how to go about it, here are 17 tips for making new friends as an adult.
Making friends at work
Say hello. Ever spend an entire elevator ride with a coworker not saying a word to each other? How weird is that? Greet people with a smile and a hello.
Ask people about themselves. Ask your coworkers how they’re doing. Ask about their lives. Show interest and see if you have something in common.
Remember details. Remember the things they tell you so you can later ask how their kid’s ballet recital went or if the dog is still chewing the furniture.
Share a little bit about yourself. While you don’t want to be talking about yourself all the time, you do want to give people something to work with. Allow them to show an interest in you as well.
Join conversations. If there’s a crew of coworkers standing at the coffee machine or sitting around a table, join the conversation.
Don’t eat lunch at your desk. It’s tempting to snarf down a salad or sandwich while going through those spreadsheets and tackling the pile of tasks that need doing, but you’re not going to make any friends that way. Go eat in the kitchen, or if there’s a group of people going out, join them.
Buy the coffee. It’s easy to say, “Hey, I’m going to get some coffee, do you want anything?” And, if you can afford to pick up the tab, people will appreciate the gesture.
Extend invitations. If you get along with someone at work, don’t be afraid to make overtures of friendship. Ask them out for coffee, lunch, or dinner. If you have an extra ticket for something, ask if they want it. Most people are grateful to be included.
Outside of work
Reach out online. You can make friends online. I do it all the time. I’ve got online friends who give me advice, donate to the fundraisers I organize, point me towards job leads, and do all the things real life friends do except hang out in person. That’s the one thing about online friends: they tend to stay online friends. They do have their value, but so do real-life friends.
Attend events. If you want to meet people you have to leave the house. Go to the events to which you’re invited, and even those to which you’re not. Find events by interest on social media or sites like Eventbrite. Join groups on Meetup.com and go to their events. Put some pants on and get out of the house.
Go alone. It can be tempting to take an existing friend with you to an event, but the trouble with that is that you wind up hanging out with the person you know and don’t meet new people. That defeats the whole point of going in the first place. If you’re not too shy to handle it yourself, go alone. If you are too shy, take someone with you but arrange not to spend the whole time stuck to each other.
Talk to people. Don’t hang out alone in the corner. Join conversations or strike them up yourself. Here’s a list of conversation starters, so you’re not stuck.
Listen. Don’t just talk. Listen and ask questions. Rather than just thinking about what you’re going to say next or worrying about the impression you’re making, try to focus on the other person.
Exchange contact information. Connect on social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram before you leave. Get a phone number or email address, and share yours.
Find a reason. If you’re shy about just asking for someone’s contact information, find a reason to do it. If you’ve been discussing movies or books, say you’ve got something you want to recommend and will send it later, for example.
Convey that you want to be friends. It’s OK to communicate that you like someone. You can say something like, “I’ve enjoyed talking with you so much. I hope we can talk again sometime!” People like to be told they’re good company.
Follow up. Don’t forget to follow up in a reasonable amount of time with an invitation or just a hello. Hopefully, things will take themselves from there.
It’s important to note, however, that if someone is not interested in continuing communication with you or hanging out with you, you should take the hint, whether it’s overt or subtle, and back off. Take it immediately and graciously. Don’t pursue someone who doesn’t want your friendship. That is annoying, creepy, and can cross over into harassment territory. Don’t push it. And if someone doesn’t want to be friends, don’t take it personally. That’s just life.
It’s their loss.