Most people that I speak to in the psychology office, say that they would like to become more confident to make friends or begin dating someone.

Shy, avoidant or anxious people are most likely to miss out on making friends because they believe that when people don’t approach them or instantly respond in the way they would like, that the other person doesn’t like them.  Typically they then experience either shame or anxiety, which causes them to shrink away, continuing the cycle of avoidance.  This is the opposite to initiating.

With some sense of humour, I often remind my clients, that waiting for someone to knock on their door, and say, “can I please be your friend (or date)” – is incredibly unlikely.  (Granted, these days there are dating apps and social apps which do make it possible to make connections from your home, but there is still a basic process to follow to meet a real live person, face to face, and have an ongoing friendship or relationship).

Without initiating contact in some way – other people don’t know that you want to be their friend.

Initiating can be in many forms and levels.

Initiating a connection with someone new can be as simple as smiling at them or starting up a conversation.  (For dating it even needs to be open flirting!)  Perhaps telling them about something you’ve noticed about them or what they’ve said, and adopting a receptive a body language and facial expression can be a next step.  I usually recommend doing your best version of being warm toward the person, even behaving as if you already know and like them.  Pretend they already are someone you know well.

Showing interest in the person by asking open and/or closed questions can get the conversation started and give the conversation some momentum.  Open questions are questions that start with How, What, Where, When and sometimes Why.  Closed questions generally only have a one word answer, or a yes/ no answer.  Though you also want to say a bit about yourself.  It’s a balancing act, if you ask too many questions it might feel like an interrogation, but questions do show you have interest in them.  If you talk about yourself you can show that you are open and entertaining, but if you talk too much about yourself the other person may not get a word in (and may give up).

Taking the next step involves initiating a meet up – and regardless of who you are – it often takes courage and bravery, but may work more often than you’d think it would.  This could simply be exchanging contact details, or you may have something specific in mind, like if they like dancing and so do you – you could invite them to the place you like to dance!

Many people take this step by exchanging social media contacts, which can start as a low key messaging to the other person, getting to know them and build toward a, “let’s meet up” moment.

Remember once you have met up, it’s important to keep up contact afterwards.  There also needs to be a regular pattern of inviting the person/ people out to other meet ups, to maintain the friendship or build to a relationship.

Here’s a fun fact.  Most people I talk to complain that they feel like they ALWAYS have to be the one to make the first move, to do the inviting, to keep up the messaging or phone calls. This often makes me smile because it means that there is just one person out there that receives a hundred invitations without having to work at it, while the rest of us have to do all the work. Lucky them! I think it’s more likely that people don’t notice other people’s efforts to invite them or initiate.

In fact some of my clients eventually acknowledge that due to their own anxiety or uncomfortableness in social situations, they develop a version of “stone walling” other people to make sure that they don’t get invited out or that people stay away.  It’s a great strategy to keep “safe” and keep avoiding.  They can then also complain about how difficult it is to meet friendly people!

Of course it doesn’t always all work beautifully every time.  I tend to think of it as being like a butterfly going from flower to flower – if a person really does respond poorly to your attempts to initiate, you can simply move on to the next person who is likely to respond much better.  Once you become really well practiced at it your odds of a better response just keep getting better and better!

If you – or someone you know – would like help with becoming socially confident we have a number of ways that we can help:

1)  Individual counselling with one of our Psychologists which can involve changing your beliefs about yourself with use of psychological strategies like hypnosis or eye movement desensitisation reprocessing (EMDR)

2) Practising skills during individual sessions with one of our Psychologists

3)  Practising skills within a ready made social group, whose express purpose is help you build your confidence and attend social activities.

Revive Health and Happiness has a team of psychologists who are all well experienced in dealing with stress and anxiety and have a variety of strategies to help and support you in managing stress that is getting out of control or of course, anything else that is troubling you or your loved ones. Contact our friendly team now to talk about how we can help.