7 wheelchair racers in the middle of a race

Disability Resources & Educational Services

Approaching Others - April/May 2014

Sometimes approaching people is the hardest part of starting a relationship, whether you are looking at just meeting new friends, communicating intimate interest or are looking for a relationship.  Many people feel anxiety or nervousness just thinking about approaching others, and some feel as though the discomfort-and fear of rejection-is too much to bear.  Others may want to learn how or improve their skills at approaching others to increase their social contact, meet interesting people, or ask someone out!  We always have choices!

  1. Be by yourself!  Self-knowledge is always helpful and can lead to increased confidence, self-esteem and curiosity about others’ experiences.  Ask yourself honestly, do I really want to be alone, or am I afraid of others (judgment, attachment, needs, ect)?  Let your honest answer guide you about how big-or small-of a social circle you would like.
  1. Keep the friends you have!  Sometimes the best friends are the friends we have known the longest, know us the best and have shown to be loyal, understanding and continually make commitments to us.  Sometimes maintaining friendships over long periods of time and/or distance can be difficult, and involve planning and coordinating and appreciating of different life directions.  Are you maintaining healthy, productive relationships with old friends or are you keeping yourself from branching out?
  1. Meet New People!  There are so many people just on our campus with stories and experiences that are different and similar from you who are also afraid of reaching out.  Many people say they feel as though “everyone else” is *so much better* at being social.  We often judge ourselves much more harshly than others do and aren’t the cosmic social flops we think we are.  And even when we make mistakes-we often see them as much bigger mistakes than others do.

So how can you go about being better about meeting other people?

  1. Develop a list of “common” interests you feel comfortable talking about with others, and practice becoming more comfortable in these areas.  For example, this might include areas such as movies, foods, pets or travel.  Spend some time thinking about what your thoughts/opinions are in the areas you choose, and how you would share with someone else what your interests are.  Is there something unique about your preferences or opinions that you can share?  Perhaps a story you can tell that is interesting, unique or different about the topic? You can then spend some time developing some questions to engage someone else in conversation on that topic.
  1. Participate in activities you enjoy, feel comfortable in and can provide a common medium for conversation.  Usually comfort can translate into increased confidence in communication and activity can provide other ways to interact and work together than just trying to figure out what to say next.   Opportunities to meet people in activities can branch out to meeting other people that *those* people know, and so on.
  1. Learn how to like yourself, and work on finding positive qualities in yourself.  Many times, our fears and anxieties encumber conversation because we have thoughts and feelings about ourselves that we are “less than,” “not as important” or “not good enough.”  This drives our fears about our struggles in communication, and if we make a mistake, we tend to verbally berate ourselves instead of problem-solving.  Figuring out that you are a great human, with wonderful qualities and struggles, who is deserving of positive and beneficial interaction, can make all the difference in the attitude you present in speaking with someone else.  There are a number of ways you can work on liking yourself more, and if you feel comfortable, talking to your case manager, counselor or psychologist would be a great place to start.  This is another great resource for improving self-esteem.
  1. Laugh at yourself in a kind way.  We all make mistakes, and almost no social blunder is so bad to completely eradicate all possible surrounding social contact.  When we like ourselves, we can acknowledge we didn’t mean to offend others, feel awkward or make mistakes.  We can acknowledge that we are trying our best, and people that we want to be with will give us grace as well.  I routinely call people by the wrong names, clumsily run into objects, or say things that hurt others’ feelings when I’m trying to be supportive or funny.  I have told jokes that I didn’t realize were offensive, or used words I wasn’t aware were hurtful.  Blushing, shaking our heads and apologizing are all absolutely acceptable responses to social mistakes, as well as gently laughing at ourselves and say we will try again tomorrow. 

Who will you meet tomorrow?