How to Approach People and Make Friends

“I’ve always been shy and introverted, so it’s really hard for me to just walk up to someone and start a conversation. I just moved to a new city, and I need to know how to approach people without being awkward so I can make friends. Any tips?”

If you aren’t naturally outgoing, it can be hard to talk to people and know how to approach them. With someone you don’t know, it’s natural to feel anxious and for your mind to start worrying about everything that could go wrong like: ‘I’ll probably say something stupid’ or ‘I’m so awkward.’ Unchecked, thoughts like these can cause you to avoid social interactions and confirm your negative beliefs, even when they aren’t true.[1]

While you might assume that you are just awkward or have no social skills, it’s more likely that you are struggling with social anxiety. According to research, 90% of people will experience an episode of social anxiety in their lives, so if you feel anxious around people, you definitely are not alone.[1] The good news is that social anxiety doesn’t have to mean living your life in exile without being able to talk to people or make friends.

In fact, most people can improve their social anxiety by getting out of their comfort zone, meeting people, and starting more conversations.[2] Research shows that having more social interactions is good for you in many ways. More interactions can help improve your social skills, your confidence, and your overall quality of life, even when these conversations are superficial.[3]

In this article, you will learn tips and strategies on how to approach a stranger, a group of people, or even someone you know from work or school.

With some simple conversation starters and approaching techniques, you will be better prepared to meet people and make friends at meetups, parties, at work, and even in public. Below are strategies that can help you approach people, start conversations, and improve your social skills, while also becoming more confident in yourself.

1. Use a friendly greeting

A friendly greeting goes a long way towards making a good first impression. Because most people struggle with some degree of social anxiety, being friendly helps others relax and feel more comfortable opening up to you. Being friendly also helps to make you more approachable, meaning you won’t always have to be the one to approach them in the future.

The best way to greet someone in person is to smile, greet them warmly, and ask how their day is going. If you are starting your conversation online, using exclamation points and emojis is a good way to send a friendly vibe. A friendly greeting is a failproof way to set a positive tone for a conversation and will also make future interactions easier to approach.[4]

2. Introduce yourself

It might seem obvious, but introducing yourself is an essential first step towards approaching people. If you have anxiety, the longer you wait, the more anxiety can build, and the harder it can be to introduce yourself. Because introductions are supposed to happen first, waiting to introduce yourself can also make it less comfortable for people to talk to you.

Whether it’s your first day at work or you are walking into a meetup or party, get introductions out of the way sooner rather than later. Walk up, introduce yourself, and give a firm (but not too firm) handshake. When it’s their turn, try to say their name before leaving the interaction. This will help you remember it and is also a proven strategy to make a good impression.[4]

3. Lean in and get close

Trying to introduce yourself across the room can make things awkward, and standing too far makes it hard to communicate and sends antisocial signals to others. Try to be close enough to shake their hand or hear them talk in a low voice, but not so close that you could lean forward and bump heads with them. By following this rule, you can get closer to people without being creepy or weird.

If you are wondering how to approach a new group of people, the best way to include yourself is to place yourself within the group. Avoid impulses to take a seat outside of a circle or in the back of the room. This will make it hard to interact with people and also sends antisocial signals that you want to be left alone. Instead, choose a seat close to someone and lean towards them when they talk to you. This will signal that you want to be included and will make it easier for people to approach you.[4, 5]

4. Ask a question

Asking questions is another great way to approach someone and can be an easy “in” to introduce yourself and is an easy way to start small talk. For example, if it’s your first day on the job, you probably have loads of questions, and most people will be happy to help out. You want to choose the right moment to ask a question, so don’t approach someone if they seem busy or stressed. Instead, wait until they are available and then approach them.

If you are wondering how to approach someone you want to be friends with, asking questions is also a proven way to show interest and make a good impression.[4] For example, asking someone what they like about their job, what they do in their free time, or if they’ve seen any good shows are good ways to start conversations. Questions like these also help you find things in common with people, which is how many friendships begin.

5. Comment on something that stands out

After greeting people and introducing yourself, the next step is to find ways to start conversations. When you’re nervous, your mind might go blank, race, or start overthinking everything you want to say. Making observations about things around you can be a good way to start a conversation naturally and can also help you get out of your head when it isn’t helping you find things to talk about.

Look around you to find something that stands out, and use this to spark up a conversation. For example, you could point out an interesting painting, the weather, or compliment someone on something they’re wearing. Avoid being critical or judgmental of others when making observations because this can make people wary of you. Instead, comment on things in your surroundings that are interesting, unusual, or that you like.

6. Pretend you’re already friends

When you have a lot of anxiety about talking to someone, your mind can start listing all the things that could go wrong in the conversation. You might worry that you will be awkward or say something weird. These thoughts can feed into your anxiety, and they also keep you too focused on not saying the wrong thing, which may cause you to stay silent.[1]

Changing your mindset by pretending that strangers are friends you haven’t met can make it easier to approach people. Imagine your best friend was there, instead of the stranger in front of you. What would you say to them? This strategy helps you to change your mindset, think more positively, and makes it easier to interact in a natural and normal way.

7. Find a shared struggle

Empathy creates closeness in relationships, allowing people to bond over similar experiences. Finding a shared struggle can create this empathy and is a good way to quickly build rapport with someone. Avoid oversharing or going into your deepest traumas and insecurities with someone you just met, and instead focus on everyday struggles you can safely assume they relate to.

For example, if you notice a coworker rushing into the office, ask them if they hit the same traffic jam you got stuck in, or if it’s freezing outside, make a comment about it. By bonding over a common struggle, you may be able to build a connection with someone, even if you don’t know them very well.

8. Make a personal observation

People appreciate being singled out, as long as you do it in a positive way. For example, give a compliment about someone’s home or their cooking when you are invited to a party at their house. Be genuine, and don’t overuse this strategy because giving too many compliments can make people uncomfortable and suspicious of you.

Be observant of other people and pay attention to details. This shows interest in them and can help you make a good first impression.[4] Showing interest in other people also helps you be less focused on yourself, which is a win-win for people who find it hard to talk to people because of self-consciousness or social anxiety.

9. Use positive body language

Communication includes more than just the words you say. Your body language includes your facial expressions, gestures, and posture. It’s a key aspect of communication. Positive body language attracts other people to you and includes making good eye contact, leaning in, and maintaining an open posture.[4]

Because many people struggle with social anxiety, positive body language makes you seem more friendly and approachable. Using positive body language makes other people more comfortable approaching you, talking to you, and opening up to you.

10. Show enthusiasm

When people are excited, it shows in their voice and their body language. They tend to use their hands more when they talk, add more emphasis to their words, and use more facial expressions. Enthusiasm attracts people to you, getting them interested and engaged in what you have to say.[4]

Hand signals can also be used to wave hello to someone across the room or to get someone’s attention. In a group of people, raising a finger or a hand can also be a good way to ask for a turn to speak without interrupting.[6]

11. Send and follow welcome signs

Whether you are trying to approach one person or a group of people, it can help to learn how to read social cues. Specifically, looking for welcome signs can help you make sure your approach is well-timed and well-received. Avoid approaching people when they seem stressed, rushed, or busy, as you might be interrupting them or catching them at a bad time.

Also, make sure to send welcome signs to other people by giving them your full attention, smiling, nodding, and asking questions. This shows that you’re interested in them and is a proven way to make a positive impression.[4] People who can pick up on these cues will also feel more comfortable approaching you, meaning you won’t have to do all of the work.

12. Take turns talking

When you are entering a group, party, or meeting, you might enter into a conversation that is already going, and you might need to wait for a pause before greeting people. This is the exception to the rule of introducing yourself early because it is impolite to interrupt. When there is a pause, you can feel free to chime in, greet people, introduce yourself, and take a turn.

When you are nervous, you may have a habit of either talking too much or not talking enough. While you don’t want to take too many turns, you also don’t want to avoid taking turns to talk. Not talking enough keeps people from getting to know you and offers fewer opportunities to connect.

13. Play conversation Jenga

Another way to approach a conversation is to think about it like it is a game of Jenga, where each person takes turns building on what the last person said. Instead of feeling like you need to lead or start every conversation, try pulling back and find ways to build on what other people say.

Building on an existing conversation is a great way to include yourself without interrupting or taking over.[6] This gives others the chance to take the conversation in directions they want, making it more likely they will be engaged in the conversation. Following the natural flow of a conversation also takes the pressure off of you to always feel the need to lead and can help make conversations feel less forced.

14. Find ways to help

Helping other people, even in small ways, is another great way to approach people in a friendly way. Notice when someone looks like they are having trouble with something and offer to give them a hand. For example, if you are at a party and the host seems stressed, offer to pitch in with the set-up or clean-up.

The exchange of favors is also a great way to build trust with people and get them to like you. By offering to help, you are showing people that you are paying attention to them and also that you want to be helpful. Because this is a quality most people look for in a friend, it can be a great way to form a friendship with someone.[4, 5]

15. Adopt a curious mindset

When you feel nervous or awkward, you are often stuck in the critical part of your mind, overthinking everything you do and say and staying too focused on yourself. Curiosity is a great shortcut to get out of this part of your mind and to enter a mindset that is much more relaxed, open, and flexible. This open mindset is one where you are much more likely to have interactions that are natural, free-flowing, and authentic.[1]

A curious mindset is one that is open and mirrors a state of mindfulness, which is proven to reduce anxiety and help people become more present and engaged in the here-and-now.[7] Mindfulness makes it easier to interact in ways that feel natural and will help you focus more on others than yourself, which is one of the best ways to relate, connect, and get people to like you.[1, 4, 5]

Final thoughts

When you don’t know someone well, it can be uncomfortable and even scary to approach them and start a conversation. It’s important to remember that most people are friendly, and are eager to meet people, have meaningful conversations, and make friends. Keeping this in mind will make it easier to approach people and find ways to connect with them.

Also, because almost everyone struggles with their own insecurities and social anxiety, taking the lead in approaching people can even relieve their anxiety. Using these strategies will not only make it easier to approach people, but they will also make it more likely that other people will feel comfortable approaching you.

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Hailey Shafir is a licensed mental health counselor, licensed addiction specialist, and clinical supervisor working out of Raleigh, NC. She has a Masters in Counseling from NC State University, and has extensive professional experience in counseling, program development, and clinical supervision. Read more.

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  1. This all seems so intuitive. As if I knew it all already. I’m just so racked with self-doubt, I see people getting together and having fun whereas I’m just left out constantly. Something bad happened to me when I was a kid and I didn’t handle it right. Now I feel like I must pay for that mistake for the rest of my life.. I changed my environment! I was stuck in the basement, hiding from the world. Now I’m surrounded by people in a transitional home and I can see that I’m slowly changing. I’m starting to believe that I might just get there, change is inevitable but hopefully I will change in a positive way.


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