How to Build Relationships in Adulthood

The get-to-know-you process can feel like a weird version of Twister. You hold your breath, approach someone, spin a metaphorical wheel of chance, and start a dialogue. At first it’s awkward, thoughts roiling: “What can I say? What are they interested in?” You navigate, trying not to move too fast, be too intense, or cross a line before trust has been established.

All the while, the wheel spins and you watch, hoping to land in a place where you can have stable footing. Sometimes it’s fun and natural and you get really comfortable sharing space and life. Other times you see an opening, reach out…and lose your footing. Sometimes it hurts. Generally you hope you don’t fall on your ass or end up stuck with an ass in your face. In short, Twister.

When we’re young making friends is as simple as looking across the playground or classroom, seeing another person doing something you’d be interested in — reading a book, coloring, clambering adventurously through the playground or soaring on the swings — walking up to them, and asking if you can play too. We’re much more open and accessible about our passions in our youth. Children have the additional benefit of having it be socially acceptable to wear apparel depicting their favorite fandoms, making it even easier to flag like-minded people in a mere glance.

As we get older, we have a tendency to put our passions into situational boxes. Not every work environment or social gathering that we enter into is conducive to showing up in apparel that highlights our interests, and depending on the office structure, it may be difficult to gauge personalities without engaging in an in-depth conversation. Sure, you could be creepy and subtly stalk your coworkers via social media, (don’t deny it, we’ve all done it now and then) but passively browsing a profile on social media is not a substitute for the vibrant connection that takes place during an interactive dialogue.

In an increasingly digital world people are building friendships on a local and international scale. I myself inadvertently met the man I would eventually marry via an accidental email. We started dating long-distance after four years of “e-friendship,” and have been a couple for the past eight years. In an age where disconnectedness reigns supreme, it’s a wonderful yet baffling story that never ceases to amaze. The lesson? Life is short. Start a conversation. Be friendly. Reach out and foster connection. Sometimes the best relationships come from unexpected sources.

That being said, the posts in a person’s Facebook timeline or Twitter feed are largely controlled, polished, and edited to strategically feature specific facets of a person’s life. They’re snapshots of a movie, not the movie itself. Getting to know someone in a real way requires an interactive dialogue, vulnerability, and disclosure. A consistent give and a take of ideas and information is necessary, and this goes beyond passively scrolling through a timeline.

Most adults form lasting friendships within their workplace. You may be hesitant to do this, thinking something along the lines of, “should I really crap where I eat?” It’s true, building relationships in a professional setting is a delicate process. However, forming trusting bonds in your field and your company is a powerful asset in and out of the office.

The process of doing this is a little different from your typical social interaction, but the end result is the same — a feeling of trust, and the knowledge that you have people in your corner supporting your success. Engage in conversation with your colleagues, take an interest in who they are as people, and be ready and willing to both ask for and offer help. Most importantly, do this with a genuine desire to know who they are and boost them along in their professional journey.

Trust is the essential ingredient to any relationship, personal or professional. When you feel a connection with someone, it can be tempting to steamroll right into a lengthy detailed barrage of questions. Unfortunately, even among those who do genuinely share our passions, building relationships of any kind takes time and work. Put in the time required to nurture trust. Reach out, be patient, invite reciprocation, and let a connection form organically.

In order to build trust, it’s important to cultivate an environment of open communication and emotional safety. Keep it simple, say what you mean, and do what you say. If you’re communicating remotely, this is even more important considering the lack of body language, facial expression, and tone of voice.

Encourage meta-communication. Be open to asking what people mean, (in a non-confrontational way) look for intent, and never make assumptions or be quick to pass judgment. Be open to receiving feedback about perceptions regarding communications. Take responsibility for social missteps, and work to rectify misunderstandings. When we’re willing to address how we talk to one another we minimize miscommunication, and open the door for mutual trust and understanding.

Relationships are our support system and lifeline, so it’s important to value quality over quantity. When you meet people who share your passions, values, and beliefs, make the time and effort to reach out with sincerity. That’s not to say that you can’t be solicitous, friendly, or helpful to those you don’t form deep connections with — and certainly you should, because it’s nearly impossible to forge a deep bond instantly. Simply be discerning as to who you let into your circle, and be mindful of the reciprocity ratio. If you find a kindred spirit then great! If not, you’ll have a better working relationship for your kindness.

Primary Characteristics of the Inner Circle:

  • Shared Purpose: find people who share your core passions, values and beliefs.
  • Reciprocity: notice the people who seek you out as often as you seek them.
  • Compassionate Givers: these are the people who reach out and show up to help you whether or not you ask for it. These individuals are rare gems. Treasure them.
  • Unconditional Love & Respect: Empathy and understanding are vital ingredients to trusting relationships. Seek people who accept you as you are and don’t judge you for any differences.
  • Authenticity: People who say what they mean and do what they say. Words are powerful, but they need to be backed up with actions.

Building a strong circle of friends takes time. Understand that rejection does not devalue who you are as a person, and it doesn’t mean that the other person thought you were horrible either. Sometimes people just don’t click. Don’t overanalyze your interactions, stressing over how you phrased things or how someone might have perceived something.

Be respectful, passionate, and direct. If someone has a problem, let them come to you about it and ask for clarification like an adult. If they choose to ghost you, then they’re probably not worth your time anyway. At the end of the day be genuine, and even if you do come on a little strong, “Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Life is made up of stories that form our identity. As children, the toys, books, movies, and activities we engage in are symbolic of who we are. The same concept is true in adulthood. The only difference is the mindset and method in which we go about uncovering each other’s stories in order to connect.

Genuine relationships are the bedrock of a happy personal and professional life. It’s no secret that people thrive when they bond, share experiences, and learn from each other. As Simon Sinek would say, together is better. So as we get out there and build relationships as adults, it’s crucial to remember to tap into our passions, learn the fine art of communication, and connect in a real way by nurturing strong friendships cemented in the stories we share. These stories form a solid foundation that makes “social twister” a much more enjoyable experience.

Thank you for reading this story! If you enjoyed my musings, please take a moment to share this to social media in the hope that it may touch the heart of someone who needs to hear it.

Poet, aspiring writer, passionate advocate for emotional intelligence, avid nerd and Lyme warrior.