Making friends is tough if you’re not naturally extroverted, or if your brain freezes up when you try to hold a conversation. As an introvert myself, I struggled for a long time. But becoming a therapist has helped me put the strategies that worked for me into words, and I bet they could help you, too. So here are my top tips for how to make friends as an introvert with social anxiety!
1. Prepare go-to topics.
Have a fallback for when you’re not sure what to say. This is especially helpful for small talk, and getting through those first few conversations. My favorites:
- Make an observation about something you both have in common. If you’re working together, you might say, “How long have you been here? What’s it like?” Or if you’re meeting for a hobby group: “So what got you interested in this?”
- Compliment them on something they chose. “I like your shoes, where did you get them?” “That’s a sweet cell phone case.” Picking something they chose is also less likely to sound intrusive than commenting on their body.
- Ask if they have a pet! Everyone who has a pet will love talking about it. If they don’t have a pet, shift to “What would you want if you did have one?” You can also show them pictures of your own pets.
2. Find predictable ways to connect.
Structured activities like board games, sports, or trivia nights are great for this. It gives you something to focus on and talk about with others. Plus, team games help people bond quickly. And you won’t have to figure out what’s coming next, so it’s less awkward.
You can also try finding meetup groups or clubs centered on an interest or hobby. Meetup.com is great for this. You can also go to stores that cater to that interest and ask the staff if they know of groups or events you could join. For instance, if you love fantasy novels, ask the library about local book clubs. If you want to get into Dungeons and Dragons, ask the staff at your local game shop for groups.
3. When in doubt, focus on the other person.
Social anxiety makes us look inward, and over-analyze everything we say and do. So I recommend getting out of your own head by consciously listening to what the other person says, does and feels.
My go-to strategy here is reflection. Try rephrasing or summarizing what the other person says back to them:
- “I moved to this town just a few months ago.”
- Reflection: “So you arrived here pretty recently.”
You can also reflect the emotions that you observe from the other person:
- “Ugh, I can’t believe my boss dumped this project on me at the last minute!”
- Reflection: “It sounds like you’re really frustrated about that.”
The great thing about reflection is that it makes people feel good to be around you, because you’re listening and treating their thoughts as important. It also encourages people to open up more, which keeps the conversation flowing without putting too much responsibility on you to say the right thing.
4. Let awkwardness happen.
Inevitably, you will have moments where you’re not sure what to say. This is normal, even for the most confident extroverts. But just because you feel awkward doesn’t mean you’re messing up.
Instead of paying attention to your inner feelings – which are biased toward anxiety – look at how other people are behaving. Are they giving you “negative signals” like turning away, glaring, responding with one-word answers or not at all? Or do they look upbeat, neutral, or maybe a little awkward themselves? Unless you’re getting clear signals from other people that they’re upset at you, you probably did nothing wrong.
It’s okay for there to be lulls in the conversation. Just wait, and the conversation will return on its own time. No one ever got hurt by a little awkwardness.
5. The most important tool to make friends as an introvert with social anxiety…is practice!
It’s hard and scary, especially at first. You will spend a lot of time worrying about whether you did it right – I know I did. This is a skill that nobody’s born knowing how to do, and it needs to be repeated over and over. Many of my clients are introverts who struggled with social anxiety, but through our work they built the confidence to reach out and make wonderful friends. You can do it, too!
If your social anxiety is particularly severe, it’s helpful to get support from other people. Your existing friends or family can give you encouragement, feedback, and help you find the courage to reach out. If you need more focused support, therapy can help you overcome your anxiety and build stronger social skills. Let me know if you’re interested in giving it a shot.