Building connections can be hard.
This is especially true when we’re trying to do so with people who are distant and standoffish.
Many times we lose out on opportunities for friendship, growth and even love because we interpret their bristly silence or detachment as rejection.
Here’s how to build connections with standoffish people in a productive way that will also improve your communication skills and confidence overall.
1. Find common ground
First and foremost, the best way to work on breaking the ice and building a connection with standoffish people is to find common ground.
What this means will vary by situation.
If you’re trying to form a business partnership with a standoffish person, perhaps you could bond over their love of hockey or their love of country music.
Usually even the most standoffish person will give you some clue about at least one thing they love.
I used to work with a guy who was cold as ice and absolutely standoffish in the worst way.
But there was one thing he really loved: his SMART car. You could bring that subject up and he’d glow like a Christmas tree.
It’s just a matter of finding something that makes somebody get enthusiastic.
Even the smallest patch of common ground can be the start of a real connection.
2. Use humor to break the ice
Never underestimate the power of humor.
When it comes to no-nonsense strategies for building connections with standoffish people, jokes and laughter are absolutely at the top of your list of strategies.
There is nothing better than a well-timed joke that’s just the right touch.
Life is plenty serious and stressful for everyone at times, and when you tell a joke or point out something humorous people really appreciate that.
Even the most standoffish individual is going to warm up a little when they hear or see something funny.
Use affiliative humor as well, which is humor that builds others up and brings people together, rather than focusing on negatives or tearing certain people or groups down.
Your job is to present humor without any expectation of feedback or laughter. When you think about it this makes sense:
The funniest people are those who aren’t trying to be funny, they’re just being funny.
Consider laughter to be a bonus.
3. Search for win-win situations
There are two main ways of looking at interactions: both personal and professional.
One is to see situations as win-lose. The other is to see situations as win-win.
Now granted, some situations truly are win-lose.
I don’t want to be overly brutal, but if there’s only one banana left and you and another person are stranded on a desert island, and that banana only has enough calories for one of you to make it through the day and potentially be saved by a passing ship that’s scheduled to come by…
Then one of you is going to have to get that banana or decide to sacrifice themselves (or have that decision made for you).
But most things in life don’t work this way. Most situations and interactions can be win-win.
For example, imagine I can sell your tech company a software program I created and benefit from it, but your company can also profit from the added advantages of this software program.
I get richer, you get richer. Nobody loses. Users gain by having a better interface and smoother website operations.
4. Make friends with their friends
The next of the recommended strategies I have for building connections with standoffish people is to make friends with their friends.
This is a way of showing that you not only respect and have interest in them, but also in those who surround them.
If they don’t have friends, make friends with their colleagues or coworkers.
At the very least, this kind of professional bridge-building represents a real effort on your part and a reaching across the aisle.
Standoffish people have often been hurt in some way, or at least learned to deal with life and others in a kind of cold fashion.
By showing them that this doesn’t faze you, you begin to slowly gain their trust and – in some cases – their affection and friendship.
5. Don’t take their behavior personally
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, one of the saddest things which happens when we deal with detached or standoffish people is that we take their behavior personally.
I’ve been there myself:
Meeting a fairly cold or arrogant-seeming person and responding to it indignantly.
“Well, they don’t seem to appreciate me or the efforts I’m putting in at communicating, so screw it.”
I then disengage and more or less ignore them or pretend that I’m fine with them when I’m really not.
Apart from the passive aggressive nature of my own behavior in this example, this is just plain the wrong approach.
You won’t build bridges with a standoffish person if you take their behavior personally.
Keep in mind that often the warmest hearts are under the iciest surfaces, and sometimes great minds are buried under dull words.
Don’t let their outer behavior fool you. Stay patient.
6. Communicate clearly with them
Clear communication is a difficult skill, but with care and attention it can be yours to command.
It’s especially important when talking with a person who is quite standoffish.
Mumbling or talking in a very indirect or unclear way can result in them further distancing themselves from you or feeling frustrated.
Keep in mind, of course, that the standoffish person themselves may be a very poor and muddled communicator.
This is part of why the torch is passed to you to try your best to enunciate, form clear sentences and say what you mean.
The standoffish person will gain respect and affinity for you as they see that you talk in a coherent way that has a purpose.
You’re not just chattering or saying random things, you’re talking to them with the purpose of real communication.
7. Be patient with their pace
The biggest reason why standoffish people push others away is that some take it personally while many also simply lose patience.
Detached and standoffish people often move at a much slower pace than other people.
They may like you and respect you without you even really realizing it.
If you walk away or give up after a few days of trying to engage or make friends or partner with a standoffish person, you may be losing out on a real opportunity.
Just keep in mind that sometimes you need to be patient with their pace.
If this means waiting a little longer for an email response or not taking it personally when they don’t laugh at a joke you tell, so be it!
You need to walk at their pace, and sometimes that means honing your own ability to be consistently patient and tranquil.
Consider this like a test for your own ability to work for something long-term rather than getting feedback or results right away.
Detached and standoffish people can feel like an uncrackable bank vault that would take Houdini to figure out, but once you slowly get those gears moving and it eventually opens up, the gold inside is often worth the wait!
And if it’s not? You still gained vault-cracking skills! That’s worth a lot…
8. Appreciate their contributions
Many times, standoffish people have an injury or trauma in their past which has contributed to them being withdrawn and cold.
They are generally people who are slow to trust and slow to show any affection for someone.
This may be due to something as simple as being raised by parents who didn’t show them enough love and attention.
Or it could be an assault or injustice they suffered which caused them to see the world as generally hostile.
It might just be that they feel insecure about some aspect of themselves and cover that with a mask of indifference.
One antidote is for you to appreciate their contributions.
Tell them you appreciate what they do, care about what they care about and see their value.
This goes such a long way, especially in a world where so many are struggling with serious isolation, depression and insecurity.
You can be a force for good and help this standoffish person see that they are wanted, accepted and valued.
9. Focus on solutions, not problems
Standoffish people can make you feel a bit down.
First you wonder if they don’t like you, then you may feel a desire to gain their approval or interest but be unsure.
They can set off some of your deepest insecurities.
Whether it’s in business or your personal life, you may feel like you’re not good enough or like getting closer to them could just result in more pain.
This is when it’s time to focus on solutions, not problems.
I’m not saying to deny problems that may exist: those must be resolved.
But put the weight of your attention and emotional energy on solutions.
Instead of spending your time warding off what you don’t want…
Spend your time approaching and working for what you do want…
This is a major way to draw people closer to you, especially standoffish or skeptical individuals who you may feel aren’t sold on getting closer to you or not.
10. Make collaboration king
Collaboration is wonderful, and almost everything we see around us is built on some form of it.
You yourself are built on the collaboration of two people who came together to create a human being.
The chair you’re sitting on is the result of collaboration between a designer, a forester, a woodworker, a screw manufacturer, a logistics company, a truck driver and countless other members of the supply chain.
The water you just drank is the result of collaboration between hydrogen and oxygen.
What a beautiful partnership that is, especially with some ice cubes in it on a hot summer’s day…
When dealing with a standoffish person, ensure that you emphasize collaboration.
Show them the benefits of working or creating together with you.
Even the hardest shell eventually opens up under the steady caresses of the ocean tide…
A note on standoffishness
Standoffishness is often the result of some kind of trauma or difficult experience that somebody experienced, as I noted.
It can also be cultural. Certain cultures are simply more reserved and detached than others and may encourage more indirect or passive aggressive communication.
For example, I find English Canadian and British culture difficult to navigate due to how much emphasis it puts on politeness and how direct and emotional interactions are generally only reserved for close friends or family.
It’s just not the way I, personally, operate.
But by learning that standoffishness is nothing personal against you, you can strengthen yourself in response and come to understand how it can benefit you and lead to growth.
If you meet somebody standoffish or are trying to figure out how to navigate a personal or professional situation with a standoffish person, use the tips I’ve outlined above.
Remember to not only be patient with them, but also with yourself.
Building connections with standoffish people is all about looking for win-win solutions.
The motto here is better together.
Life is full of opportunities to go out on our own and live our own life and find our own way.
But so many of the best dreams and plans come true through collaboration and partnership.
Standoffish people can make socializing and building bridges feel like an uphill climb, but it’s often worth the effort.
When we learn to be more patient and adjust to somebody else’s mode of communication and emotional expression, it can be like learning a new language.
It can be frustrating, yes. It can be confusing, absolutely.
But in the end, if you pursue those connections which are worth pursuing then you need to be willing to at least give a chance to those who seem harder to reach or less appreciative of your efforts.
If you’re trying to break through someone’s icy exterior, just keep in mind that sometimes good things take time!