Social Courage: How to Meet New People


Meeting new people is easy. At least it should be. I just got back to my University residence where I spent part of the first day knocking on random doors and meeting the new residents. I’ve probably met over a hundred new people in the last few days.

But while meeting new people doesn’t appear difficult, it rarely feels that way.

The problem is never lacking something to say. “Hi,” is good enough for almost any situation. “My name is…” is usually a good follow-up.

The problem isn’t usually a lack of opportunities. Short-term situations can make meeting people difficult. But over the course of months and years there are usually plenty of places to see new faces. Classes, work, mutual friends, organizations, bars and even the grocery store can be a place to meet.

Building Social Courage

The problem is usually you. Anxieties, social politeness and an unwillingness to get rejected all keep you from taking the first step. Sometimes this manifests as an unpleasant feeling when surrounded by strangers. But usually, thanks to some social guidelines, it just becomes excuses or rules for why you should stay inside your head.

Social guidelines are the rules we keep inside our head of when it is and isn’t appropriate to meet people. While some of these rules have some basis in reality, most of them are wrong. These rules may keep us from getting uncomfortable, but if you have too many it becomes very difficult to meet people.

Examples of Social Guidelines

It took me awhile before I realized I had guidelines. I can’t claim to be perfect in seeing through them. And breaking them down isn’t as easy as simply recognizing their existence (more on that later). But once you start to see how artificial these rules are, you have a chance to combat them.

The day I realized I had guidelines was during a conversation with a friend. He said the best place to meet people was on the bus. This had caught me off-guard. I was surprised because, unlike my friend, I almost never felt comfortable talking to someone on the bus. And here he was, asserting it was one of the easiest places to do it.

Suddenly the idea kind of clicked in my head. I had a social guideline that said, “You can’t talk to people on the bus.” I assumed it was true, even though my friend proved it didn’t really exist.

Even though I was able to meet people in many different settings, I had avoided talking to people on the bus. The more I thought about it, the more I saw how everyone has their own set of social guidelines. I was comfortable talking to new people in residence although many of my friends would not have been.

Breaking Your Own Rules

Cause and effect don’t always run in one direction. Your social guidelines may be based on good reasons. You might have said hi to someone on the street and got an odd glance back. You might have asked to meet with someone and they said no. You might have e-mailed someone who could help your business and failed to get any response.

Based on these few experiences, you formed guidelines to keep your social ego from getting hurt. Unfortunately, these rules can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Your own nervousness in breaking a rule can feed the awkwardness that promotes rejection in the first place.

This cycle is why meeting people can be difficult if you aren’t already outgoing. Instead of brushing off a small rejection, it becomes the entire sample you test to see what is socially appropriate.

Make New Rules and Build Social Courage

Meeting new people requires that you test out your old rules. Break some of your old rules and building up social courage. This process isn’t always easy, but here are some suggestions I’ve found helpful:

  1. Go Slow. It’s way easier to be motivated than patient. Trying to test out a social rule you have that’s huge is possible, but if you start working on little things it is easier to build up to it. The key is to go at your pace, if you can handle a big jump, go for it. Otherwise start slow.
  2. Make Friendliness a Habit. If you want to go approach the attractive stranger at a bar or the speaker after a big event, now isn’t the time to improve. You need to already have the skills of friendliness and approachability before you can get started. Focus on the process of being friendly rather than the results so you can get more practice.
  3. Try Different Mediums. Courage isn’t linear. You might be terrified of snakes but have no problem skydiving. Same with social courage. E-mail people you want to meet, try cold-calling, try going through mutual friends, try talking to strangers or people you already are aware of.
  4. Get Bruised. Rejection sucks. But after awhile, you become somewhat numb to successes and failures. Don’t try to look too much into individual failures and look for patterns instead. You’ll meet people who don’t respond back, give you odd looks or flat-out tell you no. When that happens just focus your attention somewhere else and try again when you’re ready.
  5. Observe Others. The easiest way to see when your rules are false is when someone violates them with ease. Watch for people who have social courage and see what happens. Generally they will point out the absurdities in your own rules.

  • Chris

    Good article. It always feels cheesy to mention them, but one area that discusses this topic a lot is the “seduction community”. It’s not a well kept secret that this community is mostly made up of shy, nervous, inexperienced guys who are looking to have their first success with women, and not a legion of pimps.

    Being afraid to approach women is a huge problem for these guys and they’ve written a lot about how to get past that fear. Dealing with your excuses is a common topic they talk about. That whole scene has a lot of weird elements though. More than usual, you have to filter the good from the bad.

    After you meet someone, I think the biggest barrier to making friends for a lot of people is taking the relationship out of the context where you’ve met them. To get them to be a ‘friend’ instead of the guy you chat to at work. I think that step mainly involves taking the initiative to invite them out to do things with you (and not waiting for them to make the first move).

    That step also takes some courage and carries a risk of rejection. It’s also easy to come up with excuses (“Oh, he’s just the guy I sit beside in class. It would be weird to invite him for a beer on Friday”)

  • Judith NL

    Hi Scott

    First impression: interesting niceguy.

    You seem to have a really open way of looking at people, make observations others easily relate to and you come up with helpful guidelines.

    So here’s just to let you know that I know nothing about you exept this first post and your blog picture, and that from the little I’ve seen I’ve become curious.

    From today, I have you on rss. At this time, I am still confident this modest Dutch girl will write history by discovering Scott H. Young. I will first post this comment. Then I will click the INFO button, possibly only to find out there were thousands before me.

  • Wade M | TheMiddleWay

    Hi Scott,

    A great article, thank you for this. I like your approaches of building structures/exercises as well as “Get Bruised”. Letting go of the outcome, and going for it allows for real growth I’ve found.

    Peace and Thanks,


  • Leon

    Fantastically written, I have taken a lot from this article and will put some of your tips in practice. It’s time to build my network:)

  • Truthteller

    It doesn’t matter whether its in a social context or a business one, a decent boldness is what seperates the happy successful people from the lonely imoverished people.
    Here is my contribution to the subject…

    excellent content on this site, keep on writing!


  • Dan Sage

    Sometimes it’s good to invest in things that can make it easier to make conversation or seem more approachable. I specifically buy tshirts for that purpose. I’ll only buy it if it is able to engage someone else or a group. I’ve often wondered if there are other things I can wear or do to make myself more approachable.

  • Mike Savage

    I think releasing inhibitions and not focusing on outcome as much as the process is very benificial to social creatures, and im glad you brought it up because i dont beleave enough people truly understand this, i grew up in a small town where everyone talks to everyone in many different settings, so when i moved to the city (vancouver, then surrey B.C.), i naturally took my attitude with me, i would talk to people anywhere, my favorite place was actually on the bus because your stuck in this moving room with a whole selection of people, i was able to pick a person (or group of people) that i wanted to talk with, comment on something about the situation or there apperance, and quikly got into a deep conversaition, most of the time i dident ask to meet with them again unless i really felt the urge, i figured, if our paths alinged again, then we could continue our fresh relationship, altho you can meet people anywhere, i find that i like to pick the places i meet people for example, my favorite place to meet people right now is at this really cool licensed cyber cafe in Edmonton, the reason i like to meet people there is because the cafe seems to attract people who i find really interesting, and typicaly when people go there they are in a social mood and are intersted in engaging in thought provoking conversation over a beer. I really do think there is something to finding settings that atract the type of people you want to meet and going out and meeting people at these places. One thing i would like to note is there are always people who dont want to talk to you (the reasons are many), but i find these people stick out, and you dont want to talk to them anyways, if you do find yourself in a situation trying to talk to some1 who doesent want to talk to you, i find it really easy to figure out quickly and it takes a little practice, but it is equally easy to gracefully end the conversation(and sometimes give them something to think about). the more people open up, the better off we all will be. I find it peculiar that even tho we are surrounded by people all of the time, most people find it strange or akward to talk to people they dont already know, perhaps it is because we are around so many people from day to day, we are jaded as to the value held in each individual. one thing that really got me talking to lots of different people (of all types, shapes, colours, textures, smells, etc…), was realizing that EVERYONE has something they can share with me that could be benificial, and that i have something to share with everyone. very nice article yet again scott, we seem to have come up with very simalar ideas about things independently, this is something i find very interesting, i wouldent be supprised if there are othere parallels in our childhood, genetics, and eviroments leading us to simalar thoughts, i have found many others in line with my ideals / concepts of life, and have later found out we have been in many very simalar situations, and often have met some of the same people (often even in different towns or citys throughout canada). the more you open up the smaller and warmer this world becomes, for you and every1 you come in contact with.
    thanx for reading my rant, please excuse my poor spelling and grammer, and any feedback would be appreciated.


  • Sebastyne R. Young

    Second article I read by you, and I’m becoming a fan. 😉 I have no problems at talking to strangers at a dog park, but there seems to be a huge barrier in getting past the chat phase. There’s a bunch of people I really like, but never meet apart from these random meetings at the dog park. It’s sad really. But what is even more sad, is that as a Finn, the places you’re commonly allowed to talk to strangers are far and between… But I bet, that if someone would break the rules, it wouldn’t be as bad as everyone thinks… Interesting thought. 🙂

  • Greg

    It is always a big first step for anyone to reach out an open themselves up to someone for the first time. We deal with a good number of job seekers who are scared to put themselves on the line when meeting employers for the first time. This is especially true at our job fairs, even when employers are there with the sole purpose to meet these job seekers, ‘in person’. This is a great post to pass on to my job seekers when faced with an uncomfortable situation. Thanks Scott. Looking forward to future posts.

  • Douglas Woods

    A very interesting and worthwhile article. You are correct to say that it is often ourselves who hold us back in social situations. meeting people, especially new people, is very intimidating for many people.
    It seems that many of us fear that we shall be judged by the other person.

  • Craig Brown

    Hey, great article! I’m a flight attendant for American Airlines so I meet people on planes more than buses ;-), but I’ve have met some incredible people while flying…people who are now close friends, who live all over the world where I’ve been able to visit them, and who have just generally enriched my life. Here are two points:
    1. To further one of your points…it’s a matter of odds. I exchange emails with many many people, often to send them my vacation pictures or whatever. Of 20 emails I receive, maybe 1 develops into some kind of friendship. But if you are putting yourself out there 1 in 20 adds up to a lot!
    2. Focus on the positive people. Most flight attendants get on the plane and within 5 minutes they find the one person they HATE. I look for the one person I LIKE. Who took a trip to Nepal? Who is going to be an exchange student in Ghana? Who is studying ecological landscaping (what’s that?)? Hey, I was thinking of reading that book…what do you think?

    I’ve been drivin around New Zealand, Invited to use someones apartment in Paris while they were gone (talk about trust!), and many have come to visit me ( I live in a beautiful place).

    Anyway, thanks for the article.
    Oh yeah, LOL, If you want to see some of my vacation pictures, email me at and Ill send you the link from kodakgallery.

    Cheers, Craig

  • james mallwood

    b Straight up interesting , timely, relevant , conscious, meaningful, nurturing.Great when a topic as sweet as communicating naturally with fellow sapient beings is well presented.

  • Christoph Dollis

    I can’t believe I learned a lesson this important from a vegetarian (hey, I had to say it before it becomes illegal).

    You’ve sold me, Scott. You were right. I wasn’t.

    Courage is the beginning and confidence is a result. Thinking we can start new things (or restart old ones) from a position of enormous confidence is batshit crazy.

    Profound observation. I thank you for it from the bottom of my heart.


  • Social Natural

    Scott, the one thing I like that you said was that courage isn’t linear. People might have fear of snake, but completely confident in skydiving. That is why I agree with of your post how confidence is overrated. Almost every self-help program address the problem as being a confidence issue. It’s deeper than that. They don’t address the skillset, and just tell you to just be confident.