The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
We have all had to experience the awkward tension of trying to make friends or finding a social connection in a room filled with strangers. Perhaps you associate these interactions with a moment of uneasy silence followed by polite small talk and fake laughter, all while wishing to escape the whole situation. As for myself, I experienced this in 2019 during my first few weeks at university. I distinctly remember being stuck in a lecture hall with 600 new peers who looked as unsure, weary, and distraught as me, realizing we had to learn how to make friends again. I was lost for words in a room filled with potential friends and struggled to convince myself to put myself out there and say “hello” to the students sitting around me. However, since then, I have come to realize that it doesn’t take extroversion, but instead, just a few tricks to skip the awkwardness and instead facilitate the space for meaningful or simply friendly connections to bloom in lecture halls and residence buildings.
Firstly, you need to prepare yourself. It is essential to understand that people are likely to match your level of engagement and play off the attitude that you initiate. In a sense, you are in control of how much you can gain out of an interaction based on how much you are willing to put into it. The scariest part is probably opening your mouth to say the first “hi, how are you,” but realize everyone else is in the same boat. Even if the conversation does drop after the initial greeting, there is no harm in trying and so much to gain.
Now let’s consider the approach. While engaging with multiple people may seem like an extreme task, it is likely to develop more naturally than with just one person. With everyone just as nervous in the lecture hall or residence common area, individuals will feel less targeted, mainly because they have space to think and relax as others take their turns talking. A group of people allows a better balance for less talkative people to be included and will enable them to choose to partake with the discretion of their own comfort level. Simply addressing people in a general area about something they can all comment on, such as something you have noticed about the room you are all in, opens the space for people to opt in or out of a conversation. For the people who choose to partake, you can then initiate introductions to create base-level familiarity.
To bridge the gap from awkward small talk to enjoyable connections, I have found that the key is an informal and jovial interrogation of sorts.
Having a small list of funky questions in your back pocket can go a long way. For example, one of my personal favorites to ask is, “what is the most expensive thing you have ever broken?” With friends or strangers with whom I’m trying to become acquainted, I don’t even need to find a smooth way to fit these questions into conversations because everyone is desperate for conversations to feel less effortful and forced. Therefore, when I was sitting in a residence room of students I wanted to know better, I literally just prefaced with “ok, table topic” and jumped right into asking these icebreakers. People tend to recognize the energy I have set forth and run with it by either sharing a personal story or whatever comes to mind when pondering the topic. This method is especially effective because people can open up with deep, personal stories if they feel comfortable or just a simple fun response, and either way, it is equally enjoyable for the group. The goal is to encourage stories with whatever questions you choose to use. However, it is essential to avoid questions that limit answers, such as asking for their favorite anything, if they agree with a statement, or yes or no questions.
Feeling connected can be as simple as sharing a laugh, facilitating positive interactions, or hearing stories that you can associate with someone. If all goes well and you find someone or a few people you enjoy interacting with, try setting up a simple activity that you are both/all new to or share an interest in. This will help establish an equal environment to continue facilitating the blossoming friendship. Of course, making friends isn’t as simple as following a few steps, but having an arsenal of tricks and approaches can empower you to take the risk to discover the wonderful people hidden around you in those awkward silent spaces.