How to meet new people as an expat
The mission of WeSocialCOMMUNITY is simple; to co-create the tools people need to meet new people and to strengthen their social and emotional skills to develop meaningful relationships. Rishabh Dev Sharma, trainer/mentor at WeSocialCOMMUNITY, gives us some tips on how to easily make a new connection.
As expats, our work and study obligations can sometimes make it difficult to invest in fulfilling our basic need for a healthy social life. Additionally, having to move to another country, often with a different culture, can make matters more difficult. The ability to meet and connect with new people takes on added significance in these circumstances. Improving this skill set can not only improve your personal life, but also your professional life.
With a free and open society like in the Netherlands, there are enough opportunities out here to meet and connect with new people. However, this article is about what to do when an opportunity to meet someone new actually presents itself - something many of us can struggle with given our social conditioning.
Developing social skills is like going to the gym
Realise that every conversation is different so memorising exactly what to say is futile. This article touches upon the basic principles of connecting early on in a conversation. As a mindset, see developing social skills as going to the gym. You first need to warm up to get into the flow.
Start by having a basic structure in the way you interact for feedback. Within this framework, you can improvise based on your surroundings and end the interaction successfully, leaving both parties feeling good.
Imagine you arrive at a networking event or a party where you do not know anyone. Sometimes, it can be hard to take the first step. Often, some of us worry about topics to talk about or even rejection.
To avoid getting stuck on such thoughts for too long, start moving around the room and making eye contact with people, asking them simple questions like, "Where is it that you can order a drink?" or, "How do you know the host of the event?". If you are in a public place, you can simply ask for directions or inquire about the place you are in.
Your aim is not to go in trying to make a connection; your goal is to just start up a conversation with at least three people by asking routine questions. This helps you to open up and to get you into the flow.
Basic structure and principles to help you make a connection
Though a connection can be spontaneous and usually requires chemistry, keeping a basic framework and certain principles in mind allows you to give yourself feedback when you are reflecting. Feedback is important, as you are building a skill set. After you have warmed up and are in the flow, you can use the following principles to connect with someone:
Most people are anxious about approaching someone they would like to talk to. They usually overthink things; wondering what they should say first or when they should approach someone, etc. Make the actual approach easier for yourself by breaking down your actions to taking deep breaths, walking up and just saying “Hi.” With a smile of course. Believe it or not, for many of us this is actually the hardest part.
Making each other comfortable
This step is crucial because the first time you meet someone and get into their personal space, it may make them uncomfortable. In social situations like at a party or a networking event, you could simply introduce yourself with a "Hi, I am..., how are you?", and a warm, welcoming smile and a handshake.
In a more random situation, like meeting someone on the street, you could acknowledge the situation by saying, “Don’t worry, I know this is random but I wanted to come over and say hi. I am…” and then proceed by introducing yourself as before.
State your intention
This means communicating to the person why it is that you have come over to talk to them. Your intention could be that you are looking for work, or that you found something attractive about that person and would like to know more about them. State your intention early on to ensure that your communication is clear and to-the-point. It also gives a good impression, as you come across as a person who goes for what they want.
Instead of showing them how interesting a person you are, try to get to know who the other person really is. People love talking about themselves, and the more you are interested in what they talk about, the more chance you have to connect with that person and their interests. This not only helps you to sharpen your listening skills, but also to take responsibility for the conversation so you can lead it to where you want it to go.
By being truly interested, you have created an opening to get to know the other person and what motivates them in life. Now, you can use more open questions by including, for example, “Why…?” and “What do you like about…?” in your conversation.
As a conversation goes both ways, whenever the person asks you a common question like, “What do you do?” you can reply, “I am a software engineer for a solar cell company. I do this because... and what I like about my job is that I can…” in a few sentences. This gives you the chance to have a dynamic two-way conversation where you get to know each other on a deeper level.
Moreover, when you focus on what you like about something you or that person does, it gives a positive tone to the conversation.
Closing the conversation
So, what if you felt a genuine connection during the conversation and/or you would like to politely exit the conversation to move on to the next person? These situations can usually end up feeling quite awkward.
Once again, this is a result of overthinking, as we are again searching for the right words to say. In such a case, it is important to realise that people usually remember you by the feelings you invoked in them, so be sure to leave them feeling good towards the end.
So, to close off a conversation, you could compliment the person on some specific qualities you observed during your time with them. If you would like to stay in contact with the person you just met, you give them the reason why you want to stay in contact. For example, you invite them for a drink to get to know each other better. You can skip this step if you do not want to see that person again.
Finally, wish them the best in a future endeavour that you learned about during the conversation. This subtle indication means that you were actually listening and were present during the conversation.
Practice makes perfect
Granted, it can be uncomfortable taking that first step to meet and connect with new people. You are opening yourself up and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. And that can be scary because the outcome is unknown. However, overcoming these sorts of challenges build strength in character.
The more you practice on sharpening these skills, the less afraid you will be in handling social, and possibly life, situations. As renowned author Paulo Coelho once said: "If you don’t fear the unknown, the unknown will be kind to you."