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“I’ve never known how to form social connections. I see people with close friends, and I wonder what their secret is. I’d love to know why I can’t make a real connection with anyone and what I need to do differently.”
When you meet someone new, forming a connection builds rapport and lets you discover what you have in common. This is the foundation of friendships and romantic relationships. Positive everyday interactions are also good for our emotional wellbeing.
If you worry a lot about impressing other people instead of getting to know them, you’ll be so busy thinking about how you come across that you’ll miss out on a chance to form real bonds.
This can lead you to write people off before you know anything about them.
Taking time to understand someone else’s experience is key to forming a connection. If you are always in the “problem solver” mode, you are probably too focused on a situation rather than individuals.
If you always suspect that other people have bad intentions, your defenses may go up, which makes connecting difficult. People who have been bullied or abused in the past are often wary of others.
ASD/AS can make it harder to appreciate how others are thinking and feeling. An inability to connect with others easily from an early age is a classic sign.
Avoidant people often want friends, but they are frightened by the thought of showing their true selves to other people.
For example, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) often causes problems connecting and relating to other people.
These conditions make it hard to concentrate, which can get in the way of two-way conversations.
Depressed people tend to withdraw socially, and their body language is less open and friendly than those without depression.
People with SAD have a fear of being judged by others, which can make them too self-conscious to connect with others.
“I can’t connect with anyone because eye contact is difficult for me. How can I fix this?”
Although someone who’s dishonest doesn’t necessarily make less eye contact, most people don’t know that. They assume that people who make eye contact are more trustworthy. If you find it hard to look someone straight in the eye, try these tricks to make it easier:
- Look at their eyebrows instead
- Look at their irises instead of their pupils. Study their color and texture.
- Make sure to keep a friendly, relaxed facial expression. Otherwise, your gaze can feel too intense or hostile.
Check out this guide to confident eye contact for more tips.
Keep your arms and legs uncrossed, relax your shoulders, and avoid bunching your hands into fists. Soften the muscles in your face. Don’t hold your bag or purse in front of your body because this creates a barrier between you and the other person.
Smiling people are seen as happier, more attractive, honest, likable, and friendly. If you are too nervous to smile naturally, you can imitate a genuine smile by making sure your lips are pulled up at the corners and the muscles around your eyes are relaxed.
It’s enough to smile when you greet someone or say goodbye. Constantly smiling can come off as nervous. Rather than constantly smiling, it can look more natural to keep a friendly, relaxed facial expression.
If the first thing you do after meeting someone is to make a complaint, they might assume that you aren’t going to be good company. If you aren’t naturally upbeat, you can try visualizing yourself as a cheerful person who focuses on the positive aspects of a situation.
For example, when you want to connect with a high-energy person, you can try moving and speaking more quickly. When you’re talking to a more relaxed person, keep your movements slow, and your voice relaxed.
This is called mirroring and matching. It’s commonly used by salespeople and others in professional roles but can end up feeling manipulative or inauthentic.
A more authentic way to build rapport can be to practice being present in the moment and attentive to the other person’s emotions. You can do this by asking yourself: “What does the person feel right now?” or “What does the person think right now?” and try to pick up on cues that can give you the answer.
When you do, you’ll usually find that your own emotions and behavior will adapt automatically. This is called emotional contagion.
Almost every meaningful relationship started with small talk. Small talk is often mundane, but it serves an important purpose. When we make small talk, we show that we’re friendly and understand the basic rules of social interaction. This encourages people to trust us.
Trying to come across as witty or smart usually makes us overthink or look try-hard. You can move onto deeper, more interesting topics later.
Here are some ways to open a conversation:
Example: [In a college classroom, waiting for the professor]: “This place looks so good now that it’s been repainted! What do you think of that new painting they’ve hung on the wall?”
Example [After a class]: “Do you know if there’s a vending machine anywhere around here?”
Example [Waiting on a railway platform]: “Hm, it looks cloudy. Do you think it’s going to rain this afternoon?”
Example [At a party]: “I love that jacket! Where did you get it?”
Example [Waiting for a meeting to start]: “I’m starting to enjoy these Tuesday team meetings. What did you think of Tim’s presentation last week?”
If you’re at an event, you can ask them how they know the host or organizers.
See our guide on how to make small talk.
Open questions encourage people to give you interesting answers instead of “Yes” or “No” responses. For example, “What’s your favorite type of cuisine?” is better than “Do you like Italian food?”. This doesn’t mean that close-ended questions are bad or something to avoid. See open-ended questions as a way to signal that you’re interested in hearing more about someone’s experience.
Communication expert Leil Lowndes recommends this trick in her book, How To Talk To Anyone.
Simply repeat the other person’s last word or phrase back to them in the form of a question. This can encourage them to open up and have a deeper conversation with you.
You: You went to Berlin this summer? That’s awesome. What did you like most about it?
Them: The buildings.
You: The buildings?
Them: Yeah, I mean, when you compare them to American architecture. They’re just so different.
Them: Well, in Berlin, I noticed that… [continues]
Use this technique in moderation, or you’ll come off as pushy. Try it twice. If they still give minimal answers, accept that they aren’t in the mood to talk.
Give the other person something to work with. For example, if they ask you, “Did you have a good weekend?” don’t just say “Yes.” Be specific. Tell them what you did, why it was fun, and then ask them about their weekend.
Studies show that people who adopt a curious mindset feel closer to strangers than those who are less open to learning about others. Genuine interest builds intimacy.
For example, if someone mentions how tired they are after a night of studying, you might start asking yourself questions like:
- What are they studying?
- Do they have a big project or test coming up?
- Which college do they attend?
The more engaged you are with what the other person is saying, the easier it is to come up with questions. This helps you move beyond casual chit-chat and learn more about their life.
You can make intelligent guesses about someone’s interests to think of things to say. For example, if someone tells you that they work in a pet store, it’s reasonable to assume that they like animals. You could talk briefly about your pets and ask if they have any of their own.
As long as you don’t say something offensive, it’s OK if you don’t guess correctly — you’ve still succeeded in keeping the conversation going.
To find out whether you have anything in common without coming off as an interrogator, you’ll need to share something about yourself as you ask questions. Disclosure promotes bonding and likability.
If you’re uncomfortable about opening up, you can start by disclosing something interesting but not too personal. You can show some of your personality without making yourself too vulnerable. Self-disclosure isn’t all-or-nothing.
“I majored in Literature because I always loved books. When I read a great story, it’s like being transported to another world, and I think that’s kind of magical.”
Too much self-disclosure drives people away. It can make the conversation awkward and puts pressure on them to overshare as well. If you aren’t sure whether you are oversharing, imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes. In their position, would you feel uncomfortable? Watch the other person’s body language. If they look uneasy, you have probably become too personal.
As a general rule, avoid talking about politics, sex, religion, personal finances, and details of illnesses when you’re just getting to know someone. If you are a chronic oversharer, you may need to deal with some personal problems with the help of a close friend or a therapist.
We recommend BetterHelp for online therapy, since they offer unlimited messaging and a weekly session, and is much cheaper than going to an actual therapist's office. They are also cheaper than Talkspace for what you get. You can learn more about BetterHelp here.
Good conversations include roughly equal amounts of self-disclosure from both sides. The Inquire, Followup, Relate (IFR) technique helps you get the balance right.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re talking to someone who has just told you they recently adopted a dog.
You [Inquire]: Oh, cool. What breed is your dog?
Them: The shelter isn’t actually sure, but he looks like a poodle mix.
You [Followup]: Have you had a dog before or is he your first?
Them: I’ve never had one of my own as an adult, but my family had one when I was a teenager.
You [Relate]: My mom had a terrier when we were kids. He was so cute. My brother and I loved playing with him.
You [Inquire]: Is he settling in well?
You can then repeat the IFR pattern to keep the conversation going.
To create rapport, give people your full attention and be an active listener. Active listening means following what the other person is saying instead of just waiting until they finish so that you can jump in.
Don’t just listen carefully – also communicate that you are listening carefully. You can do this by humming or nodding your head when they make a point and lean forward slightly.
Good stories are brief, relatable, and contain a twist or punchline at the end. They should show that you are a fallible human being. Sharing stories can enhance bonding. For step by step advice, read this guide that tells you how to be good at telling stories.
“I think I’m funny and nice, but I still have a hard time connecting with new people. Am I making the wrong kind of jokes?”
Affiliative humor means joking in a way that makes everyone feel included (affiliated with you).
Affiliative humor is based on light-hearted observations about everyday life. People who use this humor style are more socially successful than those who use aggressive, self-deprecating, bleak, or mean-spirited humor.
So if you make cynical comments or jokes that put you or someone else down, you might still get laughs, but you’ll probably not feel likable or trustworthy.
To connect, consider making light-hearted comments, telling a funny story, or joking in a way that makes people feel included.
See more tips in our guide on how to be funny.
Touching someone when you want to emphasize a point or show empathy can build a connection. However, you need to be careful; touching another person can send the wrong message and can be interpreted as harassment in some situations. As a general rule, lightly touching someone on their arm between the elbow and shoulder is OK in most cases.
“I have trouble connecting with others because I’m scared of rejection. How can I move past my fear?”
Look at rejection as a sign you are taking healthy risks in your life. Rejection is a useful sign that you should stop wasting your time on someone who isn’t compatible with you. Changing your attitude toward rejection will give you more confidence around people because you know that your self-worth won’t depend on being accepted by everyone.
One-upmanship, bragging, and pretending to be someone you are not won’t help you connect with others. Even if you are a great actor, other people will only like and accept the image you project, not the person you truly are.
Don’t worry if someone starts talking enthusiastically about a topic you know nothing about. People who are passionate about a hobby or subject often love an opportunity to explain the basics. Ask them what they like most about their hobby, or ask them how they first become interested in whatever they most like to do.
Asking to see someone again is a quick way to gauge whether they feel a sense of connection to you. If they seem enthusiastic, there’s a good chance you both feel a sense of rapport. Say, “It’s been great talking to you. Can we exchange numbers?” When you follow up, suggest meeting up for a joint shared activity. If you get on well, you can build and maintain your friendship by spending more time together.
Most of these tips apply when you’re making connections online. For example, mutual disclosure, paying close attention to what someone says (or writes), and back-and-forth conversation are just as important in building rapport when you aren’t in a face to face environment. Main article: How to make friends online.
Here are a few additional tips:
If you want to connect with someone on a dating or friendship app, open with a short message that shows you have read their profile. Pair an observation, compliment, or comment with a question about something they have written or posted.
If you are using dating apps, try r/OnlineDating, r/okcupid, or /r/tinder for tips on how to improve your profile. It can help to get anonymous input from strangers because your family or friends might be too biased to give you honest feedback.
You could come across as overeager if you write or say too much or too aloof if you only give brief responses. Mirror the other person’s style. You can gradually increase the length of your messages. If the other person feels a sense of connection, they will mirror you.
Typing messages is a good start, but a video call gives you useful clues about someone’s personality. You’ll be able to see their body language and hear their tone of voice. If you enjoy talking to each other, suggest meeting up in person.
I don’t feel anything when I talk to people. Why is this, and what can I do about my emotional detachment?
If you get very anxious in social situations, you might feel detached from everyone and everything. Shutting off your emotions can be an effective coping mechanism.
Unfortunately, if it becomes your default state, connecting to others becomes difficult. You may also feel distanced from your own emotions. Conditions like depression, personality disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can cause emotional detachment. If you have been bullied or have experienced abuse, you may have learned to shut down to protect yourself from emotional pain.
Treatment for emotional detachment depends on the underlying cause. For example, your doctor might suggest medication if you have depression or anxiety. Some common antidepressants can cause emotional detachment and indifference, but don’t stop taking medication without talking to your doctor.
Therapy can help improve your social skills, learn how to trust others, and connect emotionally by building healthy relationships. You can find an online therapist using BetterHelp.
You could also try practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness exercises can help you stay in the present moment, which in turn can reduce your anxiety and improve connection with others. Start with free mindfulness apps like Smiling Mind and UCLA Mindful that offer guided meditations.
People might like you, but you may not be able to see it. If you are very sensitive to rejection, you might jump to the conclusion that someone doesn’t like you even if you have no evidence that this is true. If you lack self-belief, you may assume that no one wants to be your friend, which makes you uneasy and awkward in social situations. It’s a vicious cycle that can stop you making a real connection with anyone because you feel too self-conscious.
Learning to accept your flaws and improving your confidence will help. Read “How I Stopped Caring What Others Think” for more tips.
See our main article on what to do when it feels like people don’t like you.
For example, is it really true that no one has ever liked you? If you have ever had just one friend, that’s enough evidence to disprove that idea. Or if you think, “No one ever enjoys talking to me,” think of a time you have shared a joke with someone that made them laugh. It’s unlikely that you have never had any successful social interactions. Try to show yourself some compassion and remember times you connected with others.
Knowing when someone doesn’t want to talk to you will prevent awkward moments. If you keep talking when the other person would rather end the conversation, you will come across as socially clumsy.
Watch for these signs:
- Giving minimal responses, such as “Uh-huh” or “I guess, yeah”
- Leaning or turning away from you
- Not smiling
- A reluctance to share anything about themselves
- Sticking to surface level questions or small talk
- Pointing their feet away from you
- Using closed body language, such as folding their arms
See this article on how to tell if someone wants to talk to you.
It can be easier to feel connected to others when you know from the start that you have something in common. Look on meetup.com for groups that meet regularly. Going to a one-off event probably won’t result in any connections, but if you get to know people over several weeks, you might become friends.
You may be making the same social mistakes over and over again. Here’s our list of the best social skills books. If you’ve tried improving your social skills and meeting new people but aren’t making progress, you could ask a trusted family member or therapist for their opinion.
See our guide on how to improve your social intelligence.