How not to be the outcast in your group of friends

Stuck on the sidelines? Here's how to move closer to the centre

How not to be the outcast in your group of friends

Everyone feels like a pariah among their friends sometimes. Sometimes your friends spend the entire night cracking inside jokes about a vacation you weren’t a part of. Sometimes they make plans without you. And sometimes you feel awkward just being around them. You’re tired of being on the periphery. How do you stay close to your friend group when it seems like they’ve stopped caring about you?

1. Focus on individual relationships

Instead of volleying for popularity, focus on individual relationships. Have at least one or two close friends in the group. If they are outgoing, they will make an effort to include you in conversation.

At the same time, your friendship needs to be sincere. Don’t be a weasel. People will sense something’s up if you befriend only the central members of the group, while ignoring the rest. Figure out who you already feel an affinity to and do what you can to strengthen the connection: invite them out for drinks, SMS them during work, and be a friend when they need one. See who their close friends are in the group and include those people as well. You won’t become close to everyone overnight, but having a couple of good friends in the group will ensure that at least one person will remember to include you in gatherings.

2. Keep tabs on everyone and prepare some conversation topics accordingly

Remember, this isn’t networking. This is friendship. Throw away your mental list of favourite TV shows, travel stories, or funny anecdotes from work. Focus on what THEY want to talk about, not what YOU want to talk about. Keep in mind that this might take a little bit of uh, research. Pay attention to their social media profiles. Casually ask your mutual friends (in a non-gossipy way) what everyone else has been up to. Then engage people in conversation instead of sitting passively amidst inside jokes. You heard that they started a new job. Congrats! How’s that going? Or if you know they’ve been stressed, ask how work’s going, and then ask if they’re planning on holidaying anytime soon.

Sure, it sounds like common sense. But people in the group will remember you more for being interested, not interesting.

3. Help the group and allow them to help you

Don’t be over-the-top generous in a way that makes people feel awkward. But you can help out in small, everyday ways. Going out to dinner? Offer to watch people’s bags while they order food. Let others speak before you. Buy a round of drinks. The next time you all gather at someone’s house, help do a chore. Or bring some baked goods. The key is to be aware of others’ needs and to do everything without expecting any payback.

Research also shows that people tend to like you if you allow them to help you. Asking people for favours makes them feel needed and important. Keep them small – if someone in the group offers to help pick up coffee, say yes, even if you’re not very close. If someone who lives in your neighbourhood is going to the same party you are, ask if you can hitch a ride. At the end of the day, helping others and accepting help in return isn’t about keeping a balance sheet, it’s about creating more opportunities to bond with people in the group.

4. Go to everything you can and don’t cancel

Have you been rejecting a lot of invites lately? If you start to feel yourself falling off the radar, well, it might be time to start accepting every invitation you can. It’s simple: if you give people the impression that you’re too busy with school, work, or your personal projects, then they’ll stop inviting you out. Show them that you value their company and that you’re happy to carve out time for it. You can worry about looking desperate or “too available” once you’ve secured your place in the group.

5. Take the initiative to invite people out

Those of us on the periphery of a friend group tend not to initiate hangouts because we’re afraid of getting rejected. But if there’s one thing almost every clique has in common, it’s that the core people are the most active, fun, and spontaneous ones. They’re the ones who ask who’s free on a Friday night. They’re the ones who open their house on Chinese New Year to visits from friends. They’re also the ones who let everyone know when there’s a new brunch place open, when there’s a cool new film out in theatres, and who broadcast the fact that they’re bored and need people to chill with. So be active in socialising. Initiate hangouts under the assumption that there are others in the group like you, passively waiting for someone to start something. It can be as simple as dropping a message in a group chat telling people that you’re craving pizza, and asking who else wants to come.

To keep things even more casual, try to find an activity you can do on a regular basis (say, spin class). No worries if they can’t make it. You’re going again next week anyway! When people show up, let them know that you’re happy they’re there. Give them a hug, take photos, and be genuinely interested in their lives.

6. Never repeat gossip

One of the easiest ways to “add value” to a group is by sharing a juicy piece of gossip with them. The same goes for friendships. Confiding secrets makes you feel useful, cool, and best of all, close to the person who’s hearing it. But gossiping will ultimately alienate you from a group of friends. Suppose person A tells you something she hates about person B. This conversation makes you feel special. You distance yourself from person B to further align yourself with person A. But later on, person A tells person B something she hates about you. Person B keeps a distance from you as well. Since person A and B were closer to each other than to you to begin with, they make up, and you get stuck with a bad reputation.

7. Have a life outside the clique so that people are interested in your comings-and-goings

You can want to be part of a group without needing their approval. Just because they’re having fun without you doesn’t mean you’re home alone, watching TV and hoping that they remember you next time. If they want to hang, you’ll say yes. But if they don’t, it’s okay, you’ve made other plans (besides, you know, working late or buying groceries.) You travel. You have other friends. You go to the gym. You’re learning to speak Korean. You’re volunteering at the animal shelter. Having your own life and other friends will not only make you more confident, it will give you more opportunities to include people in your other group.

Like we said, if you want to be included, you need to be the first to initiate.

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