3 Ways to Create Connections in a New Group
February 8, 2016 | Focus on Women
Have you ever been the only working mom at preschool drop-off? The only childless woman at a jewelry party? The only unmarried woman on a volunteer committee? Maybe even the only woman in the room?
The struggle for acceptance doesn’t stop after the teen years. Even adults can feel like awkward outsiders. And if you fall prey to the misconception that “different than” means “less than,” your confidence is sure to take a hit.
Realize That What You’re Feeling Is Fear
“We’re wired for connection,” said Michele Hempel, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who founded Clarity Counseling Center in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. “When we feel disconnected—like we don’t belong or don’t measure up—that pushes our fear button.”
In social situations, fear might prompt you to fixate on reasons you don’t fit, mentally evaluate everyone else or avoid eye contact and make a speedy exit. These are natural responses. “When we feel threatened, we try to defend ourselves,” said Hempel.
As normal as they are, these defensive behaviors create even greater distance between people. So if connection is what you’re after, taking these three steps may help you find your place in a group.
1. Search for common ground. If you feel left out, you’re probably fixated on how you’re different from others. Instead, focus on how you’re the same. What do you have in common?
You can learn a lot without saying a word. Look around. Maybe you and another person arrived in the same kind of car. Perhaps you and a few others are walking in late—and maybe even because of the same delay. Maybe you notice someone shares your taste in food or drink. Opportunities for connection abound.
Even if you’re too shy to start a conversation, noticing what unites you with even one other person can give you greater confidence within the group. And if you have courage to speak up, coincidences offer an easy starting point for small talk. So raise your antennae and find points of connection.
2. Ask questions to get beyond yourself. “Asking a question means putting yourself out there and inviting someone else in,” Hempel said. “It says, ‘I’m interested in what you have to say.’”
You can ask questions about similarities you notice, as mentioned above; or you can explore things you need or know. Hempel suggests asking yourself, “What can this group bring to me, and what can I bring to the group?” Maybe you’re looking for a restaurant that has a private room for an event; ask if anyone has a recommendation. Or mention the new yoga place you love and ask others about their favorite type of workout.
Once you’ve raised a question, listen. Instead of considering what you’ll say next, really notice how others respond. In addition to what you might learn, paying attention has another benefit: “While focusing on yourself can create nervousness,” said Hempel, “turning your attention to someone else can have a calming effect.”
3. Stop comparing and be grateful. As conversation unfolds, stay curious and plugged into your search for common ground. And beware of sliding into comparison mode—feeling inferior or superior to others.
“When we compare ourselves to other people, it never goes anywhere good,” said Hempel. “Comparison is a happiness killer.”
The minute you find yourself comparing, she said, “stop, and turn your thoughts toward gratitude.” Search the moment for anything that makes you thankful—even if it’s as basic as appreciating that you’re not stuck in traffic or that you’re spending time with other grown-ups .
Beyond giving you a more positive mindset, gratitude further reduces any insecurity you might still be feeling. As Hempel put it: “It’s hard—if not impossible—to be afraid and grateful at the same time.”
But Wait: Maybe You Don’t Need to Fit In
If these proactive steps feel like more than you care to manage, then you have a decision to make. “Ask yourself what you really want,” said Hempel. “Do you want to be in this group? Or do you just want to get on with your day?”
If you choose not to be “in,” then it’s important not to harbor negative feelings about being “out.” That means no judging.
“We tell ourselves all kinds of things about other people in order to feel better about ourselves,” Hempel said. “When you catch yourself saying, ‘I’m glad I’m not like them,’ you’re judging.”
Instead, she said, you can learn to embrace judging’s healthy opposite: allowing. “I can allow me to be me and allow you to be you. There’s so much grace in that.”
Next time you feel like the odd woman out, remember to focus on similarities, ask questions and practice gratitude. These three steps can help you overcome fear and face social situations with confidence and composure—an advantage whether you choose to get into the mix or stay on the fringes.