The Bay Area is home to a large number of people who relocate here for improved work or educational opportunities. After settling in, most find themselves wanting to establish new local friendships, set up a social community, and increase their sense of group inclusiveness. Lately I’ve been working with millennials on how to optimize their experience of social group dynamics. In other words, I help them develop their social crew with confidence, a.k.a. #squadgoals for grownups. For some, building new friendships in an area brimming with overachievers in tech can feel intimidating, and lead to a sense of social isolation and loneliness. Others who feel more comfortable in high achieving social contexts may find networking for professional purposes easier, but feel uncertain about how to read social cues outside of structured work settings.
One of the first things I do as an executive coach and therapist to help someone strengthen their social skills and expand their friend group is to understand the role they typically take on in group settings. Most people can look back to childhood and notice re-occurring patterns in their social lives. What influential experiences or people shaped your beliefs about friendship growth? How did you come to understand yourself in comparison to others in a group dynamic? Taking historical inventory can help people better understand and reflect upon their unique social development. Why did some groups feel enjoyable and easy, whereas others felt uninteresting or even toxic? Here are a few social situations that clients are addressing in our sessions:
29 year old Jason “I’m bummed that some friends who said they’d do a 10k with me a few months ago ended up flaking- it felt pretty rude. One person basically said they’d go if another mutual friend was going, but not if it was just me. I feel like my social value in the group is lower than I thought, and now if I don’t go, it just proves I don’t have much influence.”25 year old Sunako “I have a lot of anxiety in group settings, even when everyone in the group is a friend of mine. I get worried that I don’t have anything interesting to contribute to the conversation, and I feel like everyone is smarter and funnier than me.”28 year old Kiaan “I haven’t found a group of friends like the ones I had in NYC- I used to have a group of friends I could just hit up for random stuff, you know, grab a drink or a bite, shoot some hoops, whatever. I can do that with work people here, but it’s just not the same, you know? I don’t really connect with people here in the same way.”
Around the same time I decided to pen this article on #squadgoals for grownups, my daughter (who’s in the 3rd grade) hosted a sleepover for ten of her friends. There’s nothing like watching a group of kids resolve social predicaments over and over as a way to examine the social nuances of group functioning. As someone who’s well liked by her peers, makes new friends easily, and has successfully welcomed newcomers into her friend group, I wanted her to weigh in on what can help people feel confident in social situations. I was hoping she’d give me a few basic points of reference to build upon how and why friendships grow stronger, and how to best enjoy social groups. (The secret is out- multi-tasking parents are not opposed to having our kids do our work for us whenever possible!) She offered the following tips in plain language, pointing out the most important tenets of developing friendships and navigating social groups. These universal concepts are timeless, and I truly believe apply to all ages and social strata. As we get older, we can overcomplicate things, take things too personally, and assign unnecessary value to social roles that undermine our confidence and ability to enjoy others.
- If you’re feeling shy but would like to make new friends, it helps to remember: no one wants to play alone. Everyone likes the feeling of being included. By being part of a social group you can enjoy things differently than when you’re alone. A group is only fun if people in it are getting along well. How you can help this happen? There are different ways you can be included in a social group.
- If you want to build a leadership role within a group, you have to gain other people’s trust that a suggestion you have is going to go well and be fun. Some people really like coming up with new ideas for the group, and other people like to add their opinions to a new idea. A good leader pays attention to other people’s opinions and preferences when they’re coming up with suggestions for the group.
- Everyone feels good when their idea is used for a group activity, so it’s good to take turns and let other people suggest ideas. Be enthusiastic about their idea, and pay attention to how they’d it to go. They’ll probably invite you back to do stuff with them again.
- Move on from an activity that isn’t working well and don’t take it personally. Focus on paying attention to what people find fun, and accept that some times an idea doesn’t go as planned. Just let it go, and do something else.
It’s ok if you don’t enjoy coming up with ideas for the group- other people will still really like including you because you make a point to enjoy their suggestions. They’ll keep including you because by participating you add to the fun of the group, and you’ll become closer friends with others that way.
- Sometimes you might want to do an activity that other people in your group don’t want to do. You have to decide what’s more important to you in that moment – doing the activity you had in mind, or doing something with the group. If other people aren’t interested in joining you for this activity, you should focus on the reasons unrelated to you to that have probably influenced their decision. You should not take it personally. Just move on and stay focused on having fun, what ever you decide to do with your time.
- If you decide to do something different than the group, you can always meet up with them later, you don’t have to feel like you’re not part of the group anymore. By getting together with the group another time, you get a chance to do different things, and other people can do the same. If people in a group get mad anytime someone wants to do something different for a change, it’s probably not going to feel as much fun in the long run. The best groups should still be able to have fun when people come and go at different times.
- Most new friendships are established and reinforced because people enjoy doing the same types of things- even doing them alone these activities are fun, but by sharing the experience with other people, it adds to the fun. In the beginning maybe you don’t feel that close to someone new, but as you do an activity with them, you end up feeling more comfortable and closer to them. Before you know it you’re very close friends.
She makes it sound pretty simple, right? 🙂