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Hello and Goodbye
by Kevin Eikenberry

"It's really hard to make new friends, but it is even harder to say goodbye." - Aaron Mendenhall, Age 4

Two thousand miles from home, we stepped on a tour bus knowing almost no one. As we found a seat we noticed that almost everyone already seated was a generation older than us. Since this was the first time we had ever been a part of a tour group we didn't exactly know what to expect. Internally, I thought this could be a long couple of days, trapped in planned activities on a bus with people we didn't know.

We had a tour guide, as most all tours do. She meant well and tried hard, but made a few blunders, and had an interesting way of turning a phrase. Soon these phrases were leading to some soft mimicking among the group, which led to laughter, which led to people turning and getting to know those around them a bit more. Don't get me wrong, this was a generally friendly group, and people had said hello and done some initial introducing at the beginning of the day, but the laughter started to really break the ice, at least for Lori and I.

As the first day wore on, we started to "hang out" with two couples. Since the tour group was large, and we weren't assigned specific buses, the next morning I wondered if the whole first morning scenario would play out again. Those thoughts were quickly forgotten when our new buddies searched us out and wanted to make sure we all got on the same bus.

We spent as much time as we could with Bob and Barb, Kurt and Beth during the rest of our trip. We ate together New Year's Eve. We led the singing of our college fight song in the restaurant. (Did I mention this tour was to the Rose Bowl game?) Generally, we had a great time! In fact, if I were to bet, at least one of those couples will join us on a trip to a future Bowl game.

Recently, my sister was telling me of her experience during Homecoming weekend at her alma mater. She and her husband met while in school, and for this, their 15th Homecoming, they went back and found many of their closest friends there as well. Her children got to know the children of her friends, which led my four-year-old nephew to make the observation that leads this essay.

Making New Friends

We have all been in new situations, wondering if we would or could make friends. It is a natural reaction to wonder about this. Some who read this and know me well will think, "Kevin is such an extrovert, this doesn't sound like something that would bother him." To those wondering that - surprise, surprise. Most of you know what I am talking about. It doesn't matter what our personality type is, building connections with new people in new situations takes some time, some risk, some luck and I believe, most importantly, some decisions.

Deciding to be Friendly

You've been there before, there is a group of people and you don't know anyone. It might be a professional setting or a social one, it doesn't matter, these situations can be uncomfortable. The biggest key to making new friends, or at least making enough connection to have a conversation, is to focus on the other person. Decide to be friendly. Smile. Compliment. Get them a napkin. Say hello. Listen to their name. Use their name. All of these actions show that our focus is on them. When we start focusing on others and their needs, something magical happens: we stop worrying about ourselves and our discomfort, or insecurities, or whatever barriers we were experiencing.

Our outward focus shows. People like to be noticed. They like to be called by name. They like to be smiled at. Your friendliness helps them lose their discomfort in the situation as well. It is a very powerful truth.

Hard Work?

My nephew said it is hard to make new friends. Though I agree with the concept, I'm not completely sure I agree with his word choice - but hey, he's only four! It may not be hard, but it does take effort. Make a decision to be friendly, and your apprehension will drop. Make the decision to be friendly and friends will appear. Make the decision to be friendly, and yes, you will have to say goodbye, but the time between hello and goodbye will make the effort worthwhile.

Hard work is a virtue, and usually pays us big benefits. The "work" of making new friends, as Aaron calls it, follows this truth. It is worth the effort to make the connection. It benefits everyone. The benefits make even the difficulty in saying goodbye worth it.

c) 2001 Kevin Eikenberry
Kevin is a speaker, trainer, author, and President of the Discian Group. He also writes VantagePoints. You can reach Kevin at kevin@discian.com.