When I was five years old I received a black and yellow Tonka bulldozer as a Christmas gift. On my hands and knees, I pushed that thing everywhere pretending to be a one man road crew! One day I noticed an actual work crew in our neighborhood installing a new sidewalk. Eager to get in on the action I studied what they were doing from the living room window all morning. Around noon, they loaded into their trucks and headed off for a well-deserved lunch break. Seizing my opportunity to assist them, I grabbed my bulldozer and headed outside. Getting down on hands and knees in the wet cement, I pushed that Tonka doggedly digging a Tonka-wide trench in the middle of the sidewalk they had just installed—for a solid block!
For better or worse, I had made an impression.
How about you? What season of life are you facing now? Are you in a position where you will be meeting new people? Are you starting school, changing jobs or work formats, or beginning a new sport? Typically fall is a season of new beginnings as the school year gets underway. When you face those new beginnings you are also facing the opportunity to get another chance at making initial impressions. We all know that you cannot make a second first impression.
What can you do when you meet new people to make a positive impression? Here are some ideas that I keep in mind as I meet new people and work within familiar relationships.
- Use and learn names. This is by far one of the simplest and most basic courtesies you can extend from one person to another. Use their name. Follow whatever the social structure dictates about formality and whether to address someone by first or surname. I like to make up a little nickname that helps me remember that person’s name until it is internalized. Sometimes a silly association or a meaningful trait you notice will help you create a neural pathway to store that person’s name.
- Don’t complain. There is nothing worse than meeting someone for the first time and they feel comfortable and familiar enough to “vent” or “dump.” Misery loves company. There are so many reasons why shared complaints are a bad reason to unite or bond. Instead, try to remember to build up your new acquaintance by offering a compliment or positive observation. That will leave them with a pleasant feeling when they recall your initial meeting.
- Say “yes” more than “no”. Now this tip comes with the caveat to use common sense, but try giving yourself permission to engage a little further or longer with the new person if the setting allows. If asked to go to lunch or share contact information, be willing to think about the positive outcomes that this new connection might bring into your life if you allow some time to see where it might go.
- Say “thank you”. As often as you can and as sincerely as you can. A person who voices gratitude is often a person who is worthy to get to know. Simple words of gratefulness can give a window into the heart of the person—are they selfish or selfless?
Meeting new people can be a real challenge for some individuals. It is especially difficult for people with social anxiety. However, the rewards of growing through these challenges are worthwhile. In this season when people are socially distanced and not connecting as much in person, it can feel like our “people skills” have gotten rusty when we are thrown into a social setting. Perhaps these ideas can help jog your social skill memory bank. And if you need further help, we are here to help. Feel free to reach out to see if we can work on any stumbling blocks you may have with social anxiety.