Written by Suraj Shah.
After the loss of a loved one, do you find it hard to make new friends?
Recently I have been offering bereavement support to an elderly woman who, after losing her husband, was sad to also lose her social life.
This is a woman who grew up as a shy girl in a large family where she did not need to make new friends. She had moved half-way across the world when she married and the only friends she had since then were her husband’s male friends and their wives.
When her husband died, suddenly the dinner parties stopped, those friends no longer visited her, and with her family living too far away she became very lonely at home. Put off by insincere people and scared about people’s motives, she became reluctant to make new friends.
This woman asked me what she could do to make new friends.
From shy to sociable
When I was young, I too was incredibly shy. So much so that I even bought a book on “How to start a conversation and make friends”. I was so embarrassed about it that I hid the book in my bedroom cupboard to hide my shame.
Then at the age of 16 something changed. It all started with a smile.
I was waiting for a bus to school, like I had been that whole term, when an attractive woman in her mid-20s approached the bus stop. Even though I had noticed her earlier that week, I did something different that day. Rather than dodging eye contact and staring at the pavement, I looked straight into her eyes and said “hi!” with a smile. She smiled and said “hi” back.
That day, my life transformed. I lost my shyness and started initiating fun and playful conversations, some of which turned into warm long-term friendships.
Now I can confidently pick up the randomest conversations with the randomest of people in the randomest of places. My wife sometimes has to give me a stern look so that I remember to pay her more attention than I do to those around us!
Tips for overcoming shyness and initiating conversations
Starting a conversation is easier than you may think. Try some of these out and let me know how you get on:
- Smile: Clearly it worked for me when I was 16. A geninue smile is incredibly powerful. It gives off a feeling of warmth and friendliness to another person and helps to spark an initial connection.
- Where to make new friends: Hang out at places where you are likely to find others with similar interests: specialist bookshops; cafes; museums; galleries; parks. Chances are, you may just find someone to talk to in the train or at a bus stop.
- Use the props: Look at what they are carrying — a musical instrument, a book you recognise, interesting jewellery or footwear. Comment on it.
- Listen: Listen deeply to what they are saying and relay back a few things that you pick up from their words to check you’ve understood correctly. Once you’ve done that, add something from your own perspective.
- There is always something to contribute: You do have something valuable to say and can positively contribute to any conversation. Always remember that.
- Appreciate their qualities: If you have observed something about them that you admire, grow that feeling in your heart, remembering that you would only notice it in someone else if you had it (even on a small level at first) within yourself.
- Not everyone wants to talk: Some people would prefer not to get into a conversation – usually out of fear about talking to strangers or their own discomfort, and they are very happy just with themselves. That’s ok – let them be and move on.
Once you start to initiate conversations and make new friends, you’ll quickly see how fun and simple it is to do. Enjoy the process and learn more about yourself through new people you meet.