5 hacks for approaching social situations

People talking

When you join university, the thought of having to introduce yourself and make friends with so many new people can be extremely overwhelming. The most important things to remember are:

  • You don’t have to do it all in a day; and
  • You don’t have to make a grand gesture to start or maintain a conversation with a new person.

Select the tabs below to view five strategies for approaching social situations with confidence.

The easiest and most natural way to start a conversation with someone is to start small. Say something related to them, such as ‘That’s a lovely scarf, where did you get it from?’ or ‘What did you think of the reading this week?’ They’ll be receptive to a compliment if you’ve given one, and a question means you’ve opened up a conversation and started a discussion. You can build interactions up slowly and the next time you speak to them, ask two questions instead of one!

You don’t always have to start the conversation to have one. If you don’t like starting conversations, try and be receptive when people do talk to you. If someone compliments you, you could start by smiling. Next time, try to say a few words, even if it is just to say thank you, then build up to returning the compliment, and then asking a question.

The process can be as slow or fast as you like, but always try to respond when someone addresses you, even if it is non-verbally. It can be uncomfortable and awkward when someone you don’t know talks to you, but chances are they are probably as nervous as you but are just showing it differently.

A great way to stretch yourself slowly is to set yourself weekly goals. Examples could include:

  • Smile at 1-3 people from my classes
  • Tell a classmate you thought their point from class was interesting
  • Approach someone about going for a coffee after class
  • Ask a new classmate for their Facebook or Instagram

For some, these may seem like big things; for others, they may seem okay. Everyone is different, and everyone’s social goals will look different too. But by setting these goals every week and building up your confidence to engage with new people, every new situation will become easier.

Some people are born social butterflies and love to engage with strangers, but that doesn’t mean they are better than you if you aren’t naturally inclined that way, and it doesn’t mean you should try to be them.

One way of building friendships with people in a comfortable situation is through a social media platform. I made a lot of my friends over Facebook group chats and messages because I felt more comfortable being in my own space and having the time to form a response to people, and it was a less pressurised situation. Join course chats when you can and reach out to course mates. You could start conversations with a question related to weekly reading or upcoming assignments. Once you’ve broken that initial barrier in a space you feel comfortable with, it will be easier to repeat the interaction in another space.

Also, be yourself! Pretending you like something to fit in might work for the first few times, but you don’t want a friendship formed on lies. The best way to make friends is to be as authentically you as possible. University is full of so many diverse and interesting people, and there are guaranteed to be people who will love you for exactly who you are.

Almost all of my friends are ones I made from societies. When you start university, I highly recommend joining some societies that align with your interests. You’ll meet people who have a similar interest to you which means you’ll immediately have some common ground to work with. Most societies also come up with ice-breakers and socials for you, so it means you don’t have to actively arrange social meets to talk to and meet with people.

I’d also recommend running for a position on a committee when societies open elections. You don’t have to be the most outgoing person in order to run, as there are a wide range of positions to pick from. If you are into numbers, treasurer could be a good position to go for. If you believe in inclusivity, then try running for equality and diversity officer. Identify which committee position matches your strengths. Being on a committee is a great way to learn from others and build up a profile of yourself.