It’s time to tear down those fences (not literally), and connect with the community next door. Here’s how you can strike up a conversation in the street, and turn good neighbors into good friends
For some, the pandemic placed an added significance to our sense of community, as we stayed close to home and people helped each other out. But still, many of us aren’t familiar with who lives on our street, or even next door, with 73% of people in the UK saying they don’t know their neighbors.
I’m a shy person, but really value connecting with others. So, recently, I’ve found myself feeling frustrated at how little I know about the people who share my street, who I see every day. If you’re in a similar boat, you might be asking: what can I do to feel more confident and start making these community connections?
Lend me some sugar
Although we may be unsure about reaching out to our neighbors, there are good reasons to give it a try. “Getting to know our neighbors has so many benefits,” explains life coach Sohaila Sophia. “Even just a simple ‘Hello’ every day can give our wellbeing a huge boost! Increased social connection supports our mental wellbeing, and decreases our rates of anxiety and depression. A sense of social connection is one of our fundamental human needs.”
Developing our relationships with our neighbors builds our sense of community, and helps us feel safer. Plus, you never know if a quick chat with someone about the weather could end up developing into a meaningful friendship, bringing with it all the joys that come with making new friends.
Knowing our neighbors increases our feeling of belonging, too, something Sohaila explains is essential to being happy and fulfilled. “When we feel part of something such as a community, we feel supported, and when we feel supported we can often cope better in life, and experience less stress and anxiety,” she says. “Feeling a sense of belonging to our community can help us to feel like we are living with more purpose and meaning. When we feel as though we are living with more purpose and meaning, we often experience less stress and depression.”
There are pragmatic advantages, too. I’d love to be able to pop next door to ask to borrow their hedge trimmer, or to know I’d have someone to turn to for help if I locked myself out, or had an emergency. With these close-knit connections can spring comfort and support.
Reach for the stars
It’s normal to feel nervous about getting to know your neighbors – I know I certainly do. So, to build your confidence, Sohaila recommends starting with small actions. Smiling or waving, or saying good morning helps to break down barriers. It also shows you’re friendly and open, and the kind of person who would be willing to pause for a chat.
Give it a go and see how your neighbors react. Don’t be disheartened if they don’t seem to acknowledge you – they could have been distracted, having a bad day, or even be taken by surprise. I must admit that when I saw neighbors, I tended to avoid eye contact and felt quite awkward. I gave people a smile, but found it hard to do more than that.
Now, I am actively trying to follow Sohaila’s advice, and making an effort to say hello. Stepping outside, when I see that the people next door are out in their front garden, tidying up, I make a point of saying a friendly “Hello!” and am delighted when they respond the same, with a warm smile. It’s a small thing, but it puts a spring in my step.
Sohaila suggests, once you’re comfortable with this, that you try engaging in a conversation. “Perhaps ask if they have had a good day or a nice weekend,” she says. “If you notice their children are wearing dance or sports kits, you could ask how their training or classes are going. Take a moment to notice these small things so you can engage in conversation with them with more ease. You will notice over time that they are too likely to ask you questions, and it becomes a two-way process, which will ease your confidence and become a more natural interaction.
“You will probably find a lot of neighbors are so pleased you started the initial conversation with them, and are happy to keep this going, and create more social connections within the community.”
This makes me think of the neighbor I feel I know the best. We bonded a few years ago by talking about her lovely tabby cat who kept getting lost, and we’d find snoozing in my garden. This topic of connecting made me realise that I haven’t spoken to her for a while.
When I next saw her, I made sure to say “Hi”, and soon we were chatting away on the pavement for a few minutes. The simple conversation starter leads me to find out more about her, and enjoy the chance to talk out how I’m doing as well. These short conversations can bring so much meaning to our day. I work from home, which can be quite isolating, so making these connections can be even more valuable. Afterwards, I felt brighter, and more confident that I know someone who lives just across the road.
Meet me at the crossroads
“Once you’re comfortable with general and light communication, you can then take this further if you wish to,” says Sohaila. “Perhaps suggest a coffee one afternoon, or going on a walk together. If you have pets or children you can involve them too, so that it can easily form part of your day.”
Sohaila suggests getting a few people together and starting a weekly walk, book club, or coffee morning at a local café. “You can start small by just inviting a couple of neighbors, and ask them to spread the word to see how it progresses. People love connecting, and being part of something.”
If organising something yourself sounds nerve-wracking, it could be worth looking at what’s already going on locally. Many places have community centers that run groups and activities. These are a great chance to meet other people in a way that can feel more structured than striking up a conversation in the street.
For me, joining creative groups has helped me meet those nearby who share my love of writing. It’s nice to know there are people down the road who I have something in common with, and it can be easier to make connections when you share an interest. Listening to Sohaila’s words of wisdom inspires me to text someone who lives just around the corner who I met at a community get-together to see if she wants to meet up, and soon we have a coffee morning planned.
It can take time to get to know our neighbors, but the wellbeing benefits make it worth the effort. Say “Hello”, give a smile, and see where it takes you – at the very least, you’ll boost your sense of belonging. You may find you make a great new friend, or even have someone to turn to next time you forget your keys.
To find out more, visit Life Coach Directory.