Do you ever feel like your relationships are stuck at a surface level?
Opening up for more emotional connections satisfies the human need for belonging and acceptance. But getting past those shallow conversations about work or the weather isn’t always easy. Here are 15 science-backed ways to improve your social interactions with better connections.
Why are Connections Important?
Deep human connections are vital for mental and physical health because they fulfill an innate human need to belong. Connected relationships allow you to open up, be authentic, and feel truly supported by those around you. If your relationships seem to be lacking depth, improving your capacity for connectedness can:
- Make you feel closer to friends or loved ones
- Build your emotional support system
- Increase your social charisma
- Help you approach conversations in a more meaningful way
- Expand your social group
- Improve your professional success
The human need for emotional connection goes back over 300,000 years. Yet, with nearly 8 billion people on Earth and regular social media use, modern humans are more depressed and lonely than ever. Even as people interact in person and online daily, they can often feel isolated or unable to open up to people.
And most importantly, connections are scientifically proven to make you happier! For over 80 years, Harvard’s Study of Adult Development repeatedly reveals that the happiest, longest-living people have a thriving support system of interconnected relationships.
Data from 148 other studies show that people with stronger social connections are also 50% more likely to survive. So forging better relationships isn’t just vital for your mental health—it directly impacts your physical health!
Here is more about the 7 Science-Backed Reasons Why Friends are Important, including how quality friendships can:
- Make you less likely to get sick
- Improve your financial success
- Provide a feeling of safety and belonging
- Reduce your risk for mental illness
Why Do I Struggle to Connect With Others?
When people deal with abandonment, trauma, toxic relationships, or other emotional damage, they often build walls around their hearts and emotions to protect themselves from further hurt. But sometimes, these dense barriers can do more harm than good. People who fear vulnerability often push people away when a connection gets too deep for comfort.
A struggle to connect could be due to the following:
- Social isolation or loneliness
- Negative social experiences
- Social awkwardness or social anxiety
- Shallow relationships
- Trust issues
- Attachment styles
Whether you or someone you know is facing these barriers to connection, the tips below will dig into specific communication skills you can use to create a safe space to build relationships.
Disclaimer: Overcoming and healing these issues is possible, but we are not mental health professionals. Suppose you think you may be dealing with a mental illness or psychological barrier to connecting with the people in your life. In that case, we highly recommend reaching out to a licensed therapist or counselor.
How to Connect With Others: 15 Ways to Deepen Your Social Connections
You can’t force a feeling of connection, but you can do many things to open the door to better relationships. To build deeper, more fulfilling, and emotionally secure connections, try these 15 tips for expanding your social bonds.
1. Dig deeper with unique conversation starters
It’s almost impossible to deepen connections when you ask the same old questions: What do you do? Or Where are you from? Or How are you?
These create terrible small talk! Instead, ask better, deeper questions. Worried it might be awkward? Research shows that people tend to overestimate the awkwardness of deep conversations. This misunderstanding can encourage more shallow interactions that are unfulfilling and draining. Instead, try steering the conversation toward a more meaningful direction with a unique conversation starter demonstrating your care.
If you are trying to connect with someone new, here are 450 Fun Questions to Ask People in ANY Situation (That Work!). Our favorites are:
- What skill would you like to master?
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
- What has been the highlight of your past week?
- What do you daydream about?
- Would you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert?
If you are already in a relationship you want to deepen, here are 170 Deep Conversation Starters For Couples For Connection. Our favorites include:
- If you could describe our relationship in one word, what would it be?
- What personality trait or quirk did you inherit from one of your parents?
- Who in your life do you feel the safest with?
- What makes you feel nostalgic?
- Do you sing in the shower?
- Do you feel like I take too much control in our relationship, or do you wish I would be more assertive?
- What do you do for self-care?
- How do you see yourself?
2. Make micro-commitments first
A micro-commitment is a baby step that helps you check someone’s character so you can build up to a more profound, long-lasting friendship down the line. Instead of diving off the deep end into a full-fledged BFF relationship right after you meet, micro-commitments help slowly build trust and connection over time.
For example, it’s usually best to go on a coffee date before you commit to a fancy dinner date. Similarly, you probably wouldn’t plan a road trip with someone you haven’t ever had dinner with.
As you build new friends and form deeper connections, you can make micro-commitments like:
- Like a post on social media
- Exchange phone numbers
- Send a funny GIF
- Go on a coffee date
- Watch a video you might like
- Send them a small gift for their birthday
You can see how people react to these baby steps so that you can work your way up to deeper connections. These micro-commitments help you build “friendship insurance” into your relationships to protect yourself from toxic people and ensure you connect with the right people.
You want to ensure there are plenty of successful micro-commitments before you dig into conversations about your past or share intimate details about your life.
Learn more in our full video guide to The Friend Code: How to Build Authentic Connections With People.
3. Do a project or challenge with them
Sociologists have found that people are more likely to connect over a shared goal or mutual effort, even if they are complete strangers! Two peoples’ joint attention on a project or challenge brings them closer together through problem-solving, discussions, and mutual accountability.
You can use this social bonding trick to your advantage by starting a project or setting a goal with someone you’d like to connect with. For example:
- If you notice that your coworker talks about doing yoga, consider finding a 30-day yoga challenge on social media and working to improve your handstands together.
- If you want to connect more deeply with a family member who enjoys being creative, ask them if they’ll start an art project with you or attend a weekly painting meetup.
- If you want to bond with someone who likes photography, consider signing up for a class or creating a unique photo project about an interesting topic in your city.
- If you have a friend who regularly talks about wanting to get in better shape, invite them to create a fitness goal together, such as going to the gym together three times a week or training for a 5K race.
A mutual effort to make something happen will help you forge a deeper bond and open the door for many new conversations.
4. Extend invitations
Inviting someone to an event or get-together is a gift! Everyone loves an invitation, even if they can’t attend. Think about invitations as a gift. Don’t be afraid to make the first move. You may worry:
- What if they say no?
- What if they reject me?
- What if they’re too busy?
But without invitations, how will you ever connect on a deeper level? The truth is that people love when someone else (hopefully you!) takes the initiative to invite them to hang out.
- Being invited to an event makes people feel more socially accepted and included in a group.
- One study found that over 70% of men prefer women to make the first move in the dating world.
- Inviting someone to your home shows that you care about them, trust them, and want to invest in the relationship.
Action Step: Think of someone you want to know more deeply. Give yourself a little pep talk so you can muster up the courage to invite them to do something with you. If they say no, remind yourself that people are busy, and it probably has nothing to do with you.
To extend an invite, try texting or asking in person:
- “If you aren’t busy this Saturday, I am having a get-together at my place and would love to see you there.”
- “I heard you are really into [shared interest]. I am going to a [concert/event/museum/meetup] this weekend. Would you like to come along?”
- “Hey, I enjoyed talking with you about [shared interest] the other day. Want to grab a coffee with me next week and talk more?”
5. Be present and actively listen
Presence and listening are like a master combo for connection. On the one hand, mindfulness and presence in interaction tend to enrich relationships. At the same time, active listening is a critical cue that you are interested in a closer relationship because you want to hear what they have to say.
Improve your listening skills by replacing the habits on the left with habits on the right:
|Distracted, Inattentive||Present, Active Listening|
|Wandering eyes or avoiding eye contact||Eye contact (40-70% of the conversation)|
|Standing back and point your body away from them||Open body language; nodding and leaning toward them|
|Interrupting or talking over them||Verbal interest cues like “mhm,” “oh,” and “interesting.”|
|Checking your watch, phone, or other distractions||Undivided attention|
|Ignoring the topic or focusing only on you||Asking relevant follow-up questions|
Without a presence in a conversation, the other person may think you don’t care what they have to say. Nothing blocks connection quite like wandering eyes and an inattentive mind. If someone is opening up to you or sharing something vulnerable and you aren’t actively listening, they may not feel comfortable doing it again.
6. Maintain “tennis match” conversations
When trying to break through surface-level conversations into deeper topics, it is crucial to maintain a balance of communication. On average, most people spend more than half of a conversation talking only about themselves! Talking too much can even cause more disconnection. If you want to connect more deeply, it helps to take a break from the self-talk and think of your conversations like a tennis match.
There should be an equal give-and-take as you exchange stories, interests, and questions. A balanced conversation may sound like this:
- You serve the ball: start with a question or one of these 40 Conversation Starters For Getting Someone to Open Up.
- They answer (while you actively listen), then pass the ball back to you.
- You discuss their answer or mention a story that you can relate to.
- You ask another question to dig deeper and send the ball back into their court.
When in doubt, the more interest you express in the other person, the better! Hopefully, they will return the favor and ask about you. If they don’t try to “serve the ball” back into your court, it may be a sign that they’re not the right person to connect with.
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”―Dale Carnegie
7. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable
Vulnerability is the key to deep connection. If you don’t share anything about yourself, other people may never feel like they can know you, let alone want to share things with you. One of the easiest ways to get people to open up to deeper conversations is to start sharing something about yourself. While vulnerability may feel scary and awkward, research shows that self-disclosure makes you more likable.
Think about it: You probably wouldn’t try to enter a store with all the lights off and a giant “closed” sign on the door. When you are willing to share more profound things (even just slightly below surface levels, like a pleasant memory of a childhood dog or a dream you’ve always had to travel to Europe), it’s like turning on the lights and placing an “open for business” sign on the door.
Your openness welcomes potential new friends in to connect with you. As you let down your guard a little bit, it usually signals a feeling of safety for the other person to let loose.
Key Caveat: This doesn’t mean wearing your heart on your sleeve and emotionally dumping your deepest darkest thoughts onto a stranger or acquaintance. That extreme vulnerability is best for friends and family members you deeply trust. Instead, connect with others by showing empathy and relatability, for example:
- “It makes me so happy/sad/excited to hear about _____.”
- “I can totally relate! One time I had a similar experience when _____.”
- “Honestly, I feel very ____ about that topic.”
- “I used to be so afraid of _____, too!” (If they mention something that gives them anxiety or fears they have overcome).
8. Maintain open lines of communication
It’s hard to form emotional connections without keeping in touch. Connection is a two-way street that requires both parties to invest in the friendship or relationship. If you want to get past shallow interactions, you may need to maintain more communication with those who matter.
Checking in on someone takes little time out of your day yet speaks volumes about your dedication to the relationship. It shows that you are thinking about them and caring about their well-being.
Consider doing one of the following:
- A weekly “catch-up” phone call
- An occasional text message to see how they’re doing
- Send a picture of something that reminds you of them
- Regularly inviting them to events or hangouts
- Swinging by their office to say hello or bring them a coffee
- Stopping for a quick conversation whenever you cross paths
- Prioritizing face-to-face interactions
This can be a bit vulnerable because you are reaching out to someone that may not respond or have time to make plans. Everyone gets busy sometimes, so it is important not to take this personally. Opening up the communication with a weekly text or phone call can be a great way to show you care and want to connect more.
However, it is best to avoid bombarding someone with messages. You also want to check that you’re not in a one-sided friendship. If it feels like there isn’t any reciprocal effort or that you’re the only person carrying the weight of communication efforts in the relationship, it could be a sign that they don’t want to be your friend or that you have outgrown each other.
9. Respect people’s boundaries
Boundaries are the root of clear communication and intimate connection because they clearly express what you will allow someone to do (or not to do) in a relationship. For example, if you express that certain topics make you uncomfortable, your true friends will avoid those topics. Similarly, they should respect that boundary if you don’t want your significant other to read your journals. If you respect others’ boundaries, they are more likely to respect yours.
Unfortunately, many people have been hurt by those who have previously disrespected their boundaries. For example:
- A friend may have betrayed them or gone behind their back.
- Someone they trusted with private information shared it with other people.
- People made promises they didn’t keep.
- A significant other went through their private messages.
- They felt taken advantage of by someone they shared time or resources with.
- Someone pressed them for information about something they didn’t want to share.
To gain a person’s trust and move deeper in the relationship, you need to take great care to respect the boundaries they have in place. For example:
- If someone trusts you with private information, don’t gossip about it to mutual friends.
- If you make a promise, keep it. Otherwise, don’t make any promises.
- If you have a deep or emotional conversation, keep the details to yourself.
- If you bring up a sensitive topic and someone responds with physical surprise (stepping back, widened eyes, faster breathing, or looking away), change the subject.
- Don’t ask intrusive questions. If a topic makes them uncomfortable, steer the conversation differently.
If you need to learn more about setting and respecting boundaries, this article might help: How to Set Boundaries: 5 Ways to Draw the Line Politely.
10. Understand attachment styles
If you notice that you attract the same kind of people into your life, it may be due to your attachment style. Attachment styles describe the patterns found in childhood and affect how you connect to people. Research shows that these attachment styles explain why we often repeat many of the same relationship patterns repeatedly. The attachment theory also explains:
- How willing we are to open up and trust other people
- If we act clingy, possessive, or needy for validation in relationships
- The ways we respond to conflict
- The depth of our relationships
Whether it is due to childhood trauma or past relationships, certain attachment styles (specifically avoidant attachment and fearful attachment) find it harder to connect to others. Emotionally avoidant people often withdraw from others and avoid vulnerability because they don’t feel safe expressing their emotions. This can be a major barrier to connection, but many avoidants have found healing by establishing secure relationships with trustworthy people. If you want to build trust with an avoidant or fearfully attached person, you can try 40 Conversation Starters For Getting Someone to Open Up.
Action Step: Take our Attachment Style Quiz to understand the four attachment styles and figure out yours. This awareness can help you move towards a more secure attachment and have more compassion for others when they seem unable to connect with you in certain ways.
11. Genuinely compliment them and express gratitude
Who doesn’t want to feel admired and appreciated? Studies show that compliments make us feel closer and more socially connected in the workplace or personal life. The giver and receiver of a compliment experience a burst of dopamine by being praised or appreciated.
Instead of focusing on outer appearance or accomplishments, give sincere compliments on morals, skills, and core values. This is especially important for people whose love language is words of affirmation! For example, you can share one of these thoughtful praises in a quick text message or during a conversation:
- “I love the way you see things in such a positive light.”
- “I appreciate having your motivational energy in my life.”
- “You are such a great cook. I tell everyone about your delicious food.”
- “I am so grateful to have such a caring friend.”
- “I admire your persistence and determination.”
- “Your integrity is so inspiring. You always do the right thing, and people notice it.”
Some of the best times to share compliments are:
- As random surprise texts, emails, or phone calls
- When someone is feeling low or needs a pep talk
- After someone does something that impresses you
- When someone helps you with an important task
- When someone supports you through a hard time
- When you are bragging about your friend, coworker, or significant other to someone else
12. Connect to the future
Evidence shows that thinking about the future (“prospection”) makes life feel more meaningful and exciting. Making plans with someone indicates that you invest in getting to know them better. It is a simple way to make people feel comfortable to share their thoughts, emotions, and dreams with you because they know you will be around to deepen the relationship in the future.
This is especially important for signaling the transition from a casual dating scenario to a committed romantic relationship. Without prospects for a future relationship, people may not feel as devoted to connecting with you.
Action Step: Think of someone you want to build a deeper connection with. Have you ever discussed an exciting future dream or project you want to do together? Brainstorm a few ways you can plan to do something one week or month later.
- If it is a friend, you can plan to throw a party for their birthday.
- If it is a significant other, perhaps you can plan a romantic vacation or road trip for them to look forward to this summer.
- If it is a professional contact, you met at a conference, mention a future phone call or dinner where you can discuss doing business together.
Just be sure that your plans aren’t empty promises. You can quickly shut down a connection if you extend an empty cliche (i.e., “Let’s get coffee sometime!”) and never follow through.
13. Show compassion and empathy
Feeling connected to someone who doesn’t show compassion for others can be challenging. Many of the most socially isolated people have narcissistic traits that inhibit them from feeling or expressing empathy. When you want to deepen a connection, it helps to show your “softer” side so that people feel like you care.
Compassion is an emotional response and willingness to help others in pain or trouble.
Empathy is an intuitive awareness of other people’s emotions and an attempt to understand how they feel by “putting yourself in their shoes.”
You can develop both by:
- Trying to understand other people’s perspectives based on what you know about their life story
- Responding to journal prompts about empathy
- Using more “we” language (instead of “I”) to help improve your bond as a team or duo.
- Create a judgment-free zone by avoiding judgemental phrases like “That looks…” or “I can’t believe you….”
- Practicing meditation and mindfulness
- Doing random acts of kindness for people in need
- Reading books like The Power of Kindness: Why Empathy Is Essential in Everyday Life by Brian Goldman or The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki
Here is more about The 15 Habits of Highly Empathetic People (Empathy Guide).
14. Work on your personal development
It may seem counterintuitive, but personal growth and self-development are not just about you! Getting to know yourself can deepen every relationship in your life. As you become more aware of your values, beliefs, and behavioral patterns, you can bring more to the table when bonding with others. This can also help you be more vulnerable and empathetic!
If you have found yourself in social circles that don’t really “get” you, it may be because you don’t know yourself well enough to seek out “your people.” Self-discovery is vital for finding a community of people that you can connect with.
Action Step: If you haven’t already, embark on a self-discovery journey by trying out some of these daily habits that help you better understand yourself:
- Journal or reflect on the questions, “When do I feel the most myself?” or “What do I truly enjoy doing?”
- Take yourself on a solo road trip
- Take chances and try out new things
- Try self-care practices like dancing, a skincare routine, or listening to podcasts.
- Take yourself on a date to your favorite restaurant.
Self-discovery will ultimately set you on the path to becoming the highest version of yourself. Here are 10 Life-Changing Steps to Become the Best Version of Yourself, including:
- Why and how to find your purpose
- How to face failure with courage
- How to implement a mindfulness practice to keep your mind from wandering
15. Find people with shared interests
Meaningful relationships rarely come knocking on your door. You must get out into the world to find people to connect with. But not just any people—your people! Discovering likeminded individuals requires:
- Knowing what you’re interested in
- Trying new things
- Going to places where people with similar interests hang out
Here are some simple ways to find likeminded connections and expand your social sphere:
- Deepen your connection with people you already know: The easiest place to begin looking for deeper relationships is within your existing network of acquaintances. Inviting a neighbor to coffee or talking with coworkers are great ways to uncover potential shared interests that you may not have known about before!
- Practice talking to strangers: Approaching random people may feel intimidating, but it is a quick way to practice your conversation tactics and potentially connect on a deeper level. There is significant evidence that people are likelier to open up to strangers than to people they know! Here is How to Talk to Strangers Like a Pro (& Avoid Awkwardness).
- Download a friendship app: These friendship apps are like Tinder for friends. You can create a profile, list your passions or hobbies, identify your location, and instantly make connections. Whether you’re a dog lover, a new mom, an athlete, or a traveler, there is something for everyone.
- Try a social hobby: Whether it’s a woodworking class, running club, or community gardening meetup, these adult social hobbies make it easier to find and connect with people with similar interests. You may be surprised how much easier it is to dive into deeper conversations when your hands are busy working on a hobby.
Key Takeaways: Forge More Connections with Openness
Some people just “click,” but most of the time, it takes effort to create lasting connections. If you want to form lasting bonds with the people around you, remember to be open:
- Be open to unique conversations that dig into deeper topics.
- Be open to asking questions and actively listen to show people they are important to you.
- Be open to extending invites instead of waiting for others to invite you.
- Be open to vulnerability. Self-disclosure can make you more likable and relatable while helping others open up.
- Be open to new people by getting out of the house and meeting others who share our interests.
For more social fulfillment and closeness in your relationships, use this Ultimate Guide on How to Make Friends and uplevel your social life.