How do I get better at reaching out to people?
May 24, 2018 9:11 PM   Subscribe

I’m terrible at reaching out to people generally or when they’re in need. I want to be better. Help!

This really hit me today. My dad was in an accident (he’s fine) yesterday and I didn’t reach out to say anything until he called today and I felt terrible. For context, the accident was related to something he does I don’t really like him doing / makes me nervous (eg motorcycling) and for most of last night I was just really angry. But all day today I kept thinking “I need to call/text” and either my phone was far away or I was rushing on a work project or the thought of what to say made me anxious and then I just ... forgot. And repeat. I feel TERRIBLE about it. We don’t have the best relationship, but we’re certainly not estranged. I should have called!!!

This plays out in a ton of other areas in my life too. I always forget to send thank you cards after gifts or thank you texts after seeing friends. I’m terrible at reaching out to catch up with friends who live in other cities. I obviously am also awful at making friends because I never follow up with initial contact. I literally had to put a reminder in my phone to call my mom once a week.

I do not want to be this way! I hate that it makes me look impolite and rude and I thoughtless because I really do care a lot. I want to fix it. I feel like it’s a combo of social anxiety / worry about what I’ll say or stressing about holding a conversation / thinking they don’t really want to hear from me / just plain getting distracted every time I think about it and then forgetting.

Have any of you ever had this problem? How do you fix it?
posted by good day merlock to Human Relations (5 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
One of the best things about technology today is that you can schedule reminders and to-dos to cover whatever the heck you need. If you need a reminder to nudge you to make the call or write the note, set it! If a calendar would help you set time aside to write notes to your friends, use it! That's why these apps exist, it's exactly what they're for. The idea of a social diary is centuries old and millions of people use them to structure their time to maintain relationships.

As for the social anxiety part, the two things I would recommend are:

1. It's never too late to call (edit: in terms of number of days passed, not "call at midnight their time"), and
2. When you're trying to think of what to say, just be truthful and nice.

Lots of people have social anxiety and everyone has their own stuff going on. They will understand. Just tell them, "Hey, I was thinking it's been a while since I chatted with you, how are you?" or "I'm so sorry I didn't call after your accident! I got wrapped up in a project and fell down the rabbit hole. How are you doing, are you okay?" "I was thinking about you today and wanted to call and see how you were." In my experience, people appreciate it when you're just honest about your thought process. People appreciate knowing that you were thinking of them and reached out. It doesn't have to be perfect.
posted by Autumnheart at 9:34 PM on May 24, 2018 [6 favorites]

As far as remembering to reach out, when you have that thought -- "I need to call/text" -- as long as it's an appropriate time of day (I stick to phone calls between the hours of 11am and 8pm their time), do it the moment you have the thought. Don't put it off to later. You just end up with more anxiety about it. It's taken me many years to do this, but has helped immensely.

Regarding what to say, I agree with autumnheart, in that you should just be honest and it doesn't have to be perfect. You learn by doing. The more you reach out, even when you're anxious about it, the more practice you'll get, and the better you'll be in the years to come. Maybe if you frame it this a learning experience, a teaching'll lean into the fear instead of away from it.

My usual go to for these situations is to say something like, "So-and-so told me you were in an accident. Are you okay? Tell me what happened." Most people just want to know you care and have a kind ear to listen.
posted by pdxhiker at 10:47 PM on May 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

What I am hearing is there are unidentified barriers to making these connections. Some of these may be logistical or organizational. Others may be social. Both can be handled better with some preparation.

It may help to identify the format of contact that you are most comfortable with. As one example, maybe you avoid phone calls because you have an unidentified issue like Central Auditory Processing Disorder that makes phones calls hard for you. If so, sticking with email and text messages may help. You don't need a formal diagnosis to conclude "I am more reliable about email than about phone calls, so my new policy is to tell people that email is the best way to contact me."

You mention not contacting your father. Familial relationships have a long backstory and most people on the planet have some personal issues and can be difficult. Their closest relatives tend to get the brunt of that. You could start a private journal and try to identify pain points and longstanding issues in such relationships and come up with a plan for side stepping known "potholes" there. That way texting dad doesn't turn into "And then this will be episode 1204 of that old argument we can't get past" or "Yet another discussion of my weight" etc.

For befriending new people, it can help to recognize that they probably have many of the concerns you have and just focus on trying to make them feel accepted and welcome in your life.

For Thank You notes, it helps to have a little box with an assortment of blank cards, a small address book, stamps and a pen you like. Then you can whip one off the minute it occurs to you and be done with it.

As for social anxiety, here is a helpful rule: If it isn't some issue that requires serious diplomatic efforts, just contacting them is the most important piece. You don't need to be any good at saying the right thing for them to feel you care because you bothered to call. Bonus: With practice, you will tend to get better.

You can also start a journal to write about it. Applying a bit of analysis can help you grow more rapidly.

Also: Eat right, exercise and work on any sleep issues. A sound mind in a sound body is a good baseline starting point for overcoming any problem in life.
posted by DoreenMichele at 8:22 AM on May 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've been trying to get better at reaching out regularly to all kinds of people, and one thing I've tried that works is, every week in my planner (ymmv depending on what, if any, type of calendar or planning device you use), I make a note, "Reach out to 3 people", with three check boxes beside it. I can check these off by either reaching out to a friend I've been meaning to talk to, or sending a note to someone I'm interested in being friends with. If you are also someone who's motivated by checking off boxes, it might help!
posted by ITheCosmos at 10:03 AM on May 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

I literally had to put a reminder in my phone to call my mom once a week.

You say this like it's a bad thing?

If it works for you to put reminders on your calendar, do that.

If someone in your life is making you feel bad for doing this, adjust your calendar settings so they can't see your calendar. Or if you are accidentally posting it to the wrong google calendar and 20 people have to see "call mom" on their calendar, learn how to stop doing that -- that IS a bad thing, but there's nothing wrong with using your own personal calendar however you like.
posted by yohko at 11:25 AM on May 27, 2018

« Older PRAWN EMERGENCY   |   How can I prepare myself to get my first tattoo? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.