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Thursday, October 14, 2021

Eight Ways To Make Yourself Popular

Retiring can shrink your circle of friends. Brush up on how to connect and be someone others seek out. 

Most people don’t think about older adults needing to be popular. That ends at high school, right? Wrong. Given COVID distancing, friends moving to downsize or be closer to grandchildren, losing work friends at retirement — getting older can be a lonely place. And it’s easy to let social skills get a bit rusty.

We combed the Internet to find tips for making new friends and keeping old ones. These eight tips are a good reminder for all of us on how to be the sort of person others want to be around. And some of them may surprise you.

Where to Find New Friends

Many older adults feel sidelined by the Delta variant and/or a health condition. Others may need some new ideas about where to hunt for new friends. Here are some likely sources:
  • Your local library has book clubs, game nights, author talks, and other programs. This is also an excellent resource if you need help finding a volunteer opportunity, don’t know how to contact a MeetUp group, etc. Libraries have free computers with internet and staff to help out. 
  • Check MeetUp online for local groups with a shared interest, then try them out.
  • Volunteer at the local food bank, animal shelter, or any other organization helping those less fortunate. 
  • Visit your local senior center. 
  • Join AARP
  • Attend Osher Lifelong Learning classes. 
  • Join a local church or synagogue.
  • Take Fido to a dog park.

  1. Introduce yourself. If you’re in a situation where you don’t know anyone, the best way to break the ice is to go up to someone standing alone and say, “Hey, I’m John.” Sounds way too simple, but there’s almost always at least one other person just as scared as you may be, and the best way to offer relief is just to say “hey.”
  2. Ask questions. Make it all about them, not you. It’s often easiest to ask how they know the birthday girl, or what brought them to this get-together, or if they come to this bar often. Maybe you both know Michelle; a good follow-up is to ask how they met. Or maybe the person wanted to see the West Coast so he signed up for the Pacific Sea Turtle Conference, and your next question can be what sparked his interest in sea turtles. Does he snorkel? Does he love the beach? Has he seen the tide pools here? And you’re off. Of course, it’s fine to throw in a line or two about yourself but keep the focus on the other person. Remember that Barbara Bush would always tell son George growing up that he should ask other people about themselves. He was president and a guest when Barbara and the elder Bush were giving a dinner party at their home. Barbara overheard her son start telling some guests a story about some heads of state and she admonished him, “George, no one wants to hear all about you!”
  3. Be a good listener. Most of us are too worried about what we’re going to say next to really listen. Being a good listener is all about digging a little deeper and then remembering what you heard. If you ask someone how their day is going and they answer “fine” with a smile, ask what made it good. If they tell you they got a hole in one, remember that and the next time you see that person ask if they’ve been out on the golf course lately. It will make them feel special, and you will move up on their esteem meter.
  4. Deliver your opinions with a spoonful of honey. It’s great to have confidence in your beliefs and know where you stand, but smart to offer them sparingly and with a smile. Brilliant statesman Ben Franklin noticed that people were more likely to reject his arguments when he used firm language like “certainly” and “undoubtedly” so he switched to using phrases like “I think...” or “If I’m not mistaken…” Another way to offer an opinion without offending someone is to tell a little story to illustrate your point. Let listeners come to their own conclusion. 
  5. Fake it ’til you make it. Yes, you can! Research shows that making eye contact, staying relaxed and speaking evenly, and using decisive hand gestures signals that someone is confident, even if they know almost nothing about what they’re saying. Demonstrating this social confidence will help you attract and keep friends.
  6. Get good at small talk. We know, you hate small talk! But it’s a learned skill, and it is how people build relationships. It’s all about listening and then keeping the conversation going based on what you’re hearing. Every few questions, you can throw in something about yourself. This is what skilled conversationalists do. Nothing is more wonderful to someone else than to talk about their favorite subject: themself. And by offering a tidbit about yourself, you are giving them the opportunity to ask you a question back. It’s a little like playing tennis: a skilled player in a friendly match can keep hitting it right back to the other person to keep the game going.
  7. What about body language? Don’t get too worked up about how you’re standing, the direction your feet are pointed, or the many other specifics you may have read about. Author and speaker Ramit Sethi advises people to use the acronym “SETHE” to practice the essentials. They are: Smile, Energy, Talk slowly, Hands and Eye contact. He says most of us don’t smile enough, or big enough, when we’re nervous. Practice in front of a mirror or videotape yourself on your phone. Project positive energy — probably 50% more than you think you need. Talk slowly so others can understand you and you will also sound more relaxed and self-assured. Make eye contact. If you’re not sure how much, watch people in films or on TV and then practice in front of the mirror or with a good friend. Most importantly, just work on one thing at a time. You don’t want to be so nervous about getting everything right that nothing works. As Sethi says, “You have your whole life to get good at this.”
  8. Be sincere. A sincere compliment goes a long way. “I love your haircut. Where did you get it done?” works great if you’re being honest. But saying something just for flattery often comes off as shallow and desperate, and actually reduces your social credit. Remember what author and speaker Dale Carnegie said: “The difference between appreciation and flattery? That is simple. One is sincere and the other is insincere. One comes from the heart out, the other from the teeth out. One is unselfish; the other selfish. One is universally admired; the other universally condemned.”

For a more robust explanation of how to be popular, with added videos, check out author Ramit Sethi’s blog. Sethi penned “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” and these days he travels the globe (or at least Zoom!) on speaking tours, but he was once an awkward child and teen.