Making Plans With People
In many of the other articles in this section I say one of the keys to getting a social life together for yourself is to take the initiative to hang out with potential friends, instead of passively waiting for people to invite you out. To do that you've got to organize a plan with them. Sometimes this is very simple and straightforward. At other times it's more of a hassle to coordinate. If you can get the hang of setting up plans with people though, it can allow you to very actively take charge of your social situation. Rather than waiting for whatever comes along, you can step up and arrange the kinds of outings you'd like. You don't have to wait for ideas to occur to other people first. If you want to go to a certain event with your friends, or just see them more often, you can make it happen. If you get along great with your co-workers, but no one ever sees each other outside of work, you can be the one to set something up.
I've noticed the idea of actively coordinating plans is strong enough that even people who don't have particularly outstanding personalities often have busy social lives, just because they're constantly arranging one outing or another. Meanwhile, someone who is technically more fun or interesting than they are, but more lazy about making plans, may not get to go out as much as they'd like.
Making plans isn't super hard, but it does take some work. Here's what I've learned:
Different ways of making plans
If you look at how people naturally make plans with their friends you'll notice there are a few main ways they do it.
Having a solid plan in mind and inviting people
Here the most or all of the details of the plan are all in place beforehand, the activity, the time and location, and the people they want to go with. All they have to do is make the invitation. An example would be someone asking their friends if they'd like to a see a particular movie on a specific date. From there a few things can happen: Everyone can accept with a minimum of fuss, everyone can not be able to make it, or everyone is more-or-less interested, but some of the details need to be changed (e.g., an old classmate can go to lunch, but next week instead of tomorrow).
Proposing a skeletal plan to people, then working out the details if they accept
Friends do this with each other all the time. They'll propose they do something together soon, but most of the details of the plan are left vague. If everyone seems keen then they'll flesh things out together. For example, someone might ask a friend if they want to do something on Friday night. If the other person is free, then they'll decide what it is they want to do. Or someone may ask three friends if they want to try that restaurant that just opened sometime, and then settle on a time and date afterwards if they're all up for it.
Figuring out what other peoples' plans are and then getting on board
This article is mainly about when you come up with and arrange your own plans. Like I was saying before, putting together your own outings is also the best way to really take charge of your social life and not wait around for others to do the work for you. However, it's important to mention that for most people a staple of their consistently having things to do with their friends is asking around to see what everyone is up to.
For example, if someone wants to go out on the weekend, on around Thursday they'll start pinging their social circle and asking them what their plans are for Friday and Saturday night. They're not going to try and initiate their own plan every single week. If they hear something they like they'll get on board. If no one has solid plans yet, but some people are interested in doing something, the 'asking around' conversation provides a starting point for them to begin figuring out what they could do together (e.g., "Um, we could all go to that party Sam was talking about the other week"). Also, asking around like this is also a generally good way to take initiative, show you're interested in spending time with people, and generally stay on a group's radar.
Plans can take some work at times
It's fairly easy and satisfying to get a call out of the blue asking if you want to come to a meet up of six friends on a particular date at a particular time at a particular location. It's a lot harder to set up that get together yourself. Making your own plans can be hard in the following ways:
Fear of rejection
It takes a bit of guts to ask someone to do something with you. They may say no. They may not all show up. You may feel bad about yourself if they turn you down. Someone may also hesitate to ask around to see what their friends are up to, for fear of seeming like a pest or a needy tag along. Sometimes this small amount of discomfort can hold you back, or make the process seem like that much more of a chore.
Figuring out what to do
Sometimes it's easy to come up with something to do. At other times you have to have to put some time into thinking of a good idea. I recommend spending some time to learn about all that your city has to offer in terms of attractions, festivals, eating out, nightlife, recreation, etc. It's a bit easy to fall into a mental rut where you think there are only a handful of things you can possibly do with someone, like either grab some drinks or see a movie.
Coming up with a plan may involve looking into any number of things: restaurants, movie times, local concerts, hotel rooms, etc. Sometimes you have to find this information for a specific plan. At other times you may have to spend a little time here and there keeping your "ear to the ground" so you're up to date on what's going on in your area. You can also keep up to date on what's happening in your social circle, so you'll have an idea when people are free, events people are excited about attending in the future, etc.
Time spent asking people
If your potential plan involves more than one or two people, it can take a surprising amount of time just to get in touch with them all to ask them if they're up for your idea. You may have to talk to them all in person individually. Or you could call them one by one, and have to leave a message and wait for them to get back to you if they're not available. Or you may have to compose a group email, text message, or Facebook event and then wait for their responses to trickle in.
Adjusting the plan so it works for everybody
For plans that involve a lot of people this is often the most lengthy and tricky part. Once everyone knows about the plan, you're in luck if they all simply agree to show up at the place and time you've set. More often than not some details of your suggestion won't work for them and they'll offer alternatives. "Can we go to this bar instead?", "That weekend doesn't work for me. Can we do next weekend?", "Oh no, next weekend is Dan's wedding. How about the weekend after that?", "Can we do it at 7:00 instead of 4:00?"
Not only does everyone have to agree on something, or have the plan fizzle out, but somehow they all have to be kept in the loop about what the latest version of the activity is, and what each other's opinions are. This may mean you have to be the go between, constantly calling one person or another back to let them know other people's availability and whatnot. If the plan indeed dies, then you have to start all over again with the next one.
Time spent convincing people to attend
Sometimes you have to be a little persistent and persuasive to get people on board with your plan. Like they may feel like staying in that night, or heading home after work, but a little gentle prodding will make them change their mind. Sometimes people are a little flaky and disorganized, but if you keep following up with them they'll get their act together.
Setting up things necessary for the plan to happen
If you're going to a restaurant someone has to make the reservations. If you're having a barbecue or a party you have to go out and pick up the food and drinks. If you're going on a road trip someone has to rent a car, and maybe book accommodation somewhere. If the event is fancy do people need to worry about suits or go dress shopping? You may also have to work out the logistics of how everyone's going to get there. Are some people splitting a cab? Do you have to give certain people a ride? Are some people meeting you down there?
Come up with an original plan or build on someone else's idea
Coming up with your own plan takes more thought, and you may have to sell the idea to your friends a little more. It gives you more freedom to set up the kinds of events you want to attend though. What if you want to go to the annual car show, but none of your friends know it's coming to town? Again, you don't have to wait for anything to occur to other people first.
Just as common is taking someone else's vague suggestion, fleshing it out, and making it a reality. Like an acquaintance may casually mention having drinks sometime, but not follow up on it. You can pick a specific time and place and ask them if they want to go. The benefit of this route is other people have already expressed interest in the activity; someone just needs to get it going. A fruitful source of unrealized ideas is the shit friends talk when they're drinking. Yeah, sometimes talk of, "We should all rent a cottage together!!!!" comes to nothing, but if someone actually picks up the ball, it might happen.
Have a semi-solid plan in mind before asking people
This isn't a diamond hard guideline, and it depends on the friend, but all else being equal, when asking people to do something, it's better not to go the vague route of saying, "We should do something sometime." or, "We should catch up, it's been forever since we last got together." That shows you're interested in hanging out with them, but it's not the ideal recipe for action. For one, you're transferring some of the responsibility for arranging something on to them, which they may not be up to. Overall, it's too easy for the other person to go, "Yeah, we should..." and then leave it at that.
If you suggest something more solid, it gives them something to react to. They either want to go or they don't. They can either make it that day or they can't. If they can't do that specific get together, but are eager to hang out with you, you have a foundation to work from. Maybe they can meet you for dinner, but on Thursday instead of Wednesday. Or they'd rather have coffee earlier in the day then go for drinks at night.
Before you invite someone out, have something in mind, even if it's just a starting point and you're open to it being adjusted. Giving people some alternatives right off the bat works too, but keep it to one or two. Too many and things get confusing and you're essentially back to saying, "Let's hang out sometime."
Once people have accepted your plan, be open to it changing in any way
If you're arranging something with a bigger group, and everyone's agreed to your plan, but are working out the details with each other, it's not totally yours anymore. Don't get too hung up on it going one particular way. Be flexible and be prepared for the date, location, time, or even every last detail to change, possibly multiple times. Also, expect things to change up until the very last minute. They may even change on the cab ride there. Obviously there are times where you have to be more rigid than others, like if your favorite band is coming to town for one date this year, but if you just want to get together with some friends, what's it matter if you're doing it on Friday instead of Saturday? Or heading out at 12 instead of 11?
Another thing to accept is that until you're actually there with everyone, the plan could fall through at any time. It may never get off the ground because everyone is too busy in the first place, or their schedules all conflict. Or it could be canceled at the last minute because two of the four people attending can't make it after all. These things just come with the territory, and it does no good to be too uptight about them. Embrace the randomness.
For larger activities, don't get too hung up on certain people attending
If you're doing something like throwing a party or arranging for a bunch of friends to meet up, once a certain number of people are involved, getting the event off the ground takes precedence over every last person being able to make it, or guaranteeing certain people show up (unless it's for something like their own birthday party, of course). People have stuff going on in their lives, and it's usually not realistic to think every last person will be free on a certain date. If you try to set up the plan so that everyone can show up, what tends to happen is that it keeps getting put off for a perfect time when everyone can make it, until it's eventually forgotten about.
You can never be totally sure who's going to attend and who isn't until they actually show up. Unforeseen circumstances may keep them from coming. They may naturally be flaky like that. People often like to keep their options open too. If you invite them to an event taking place a week from now, they may tell you they can make it, but then get a better offer and back out at the last second. They may never want to attend in the first place, but rather than say so, they'll be polite and say they can probably make it, then inform you they can't at the last minute. If you invite five people to something and three of them show up, that's still pretty good, so have a fun time and make the best of it.
If no one can come, try again later
Sometimes even the most well-liked person will throw out a possible plan idea and it will be a dud. Sometimes everyone is just busy, or the stars aligned in such a way that no one felt like going out that night, or they tried suggesting something a little different and no one bit. No one wins all the time. If your plan doesn't go over well, try initiating something else.
Be in the loop technology-wise
Two things: First, get a cell phone if you're a hold out (that sentence gets more and more irrelevant each month. I think by now most people have them, but I'll leave this paragraph up just in case). When you don't have one what can happen is that a plan will change at the last second and no one will be able to get in touch with you. So there you'll be, waiting somewhere for your buddies to show up, not knowing they're running late or going somewhere else. The downside of mobile phones is that people are probably worse about sticking to plans than they used to be. They know they can always get in touch with you, and can feel this gives them license to announce they're going to be an hour late ten minutes before they were supposed to show up.
Secondly, be sure to join whatever social networking sites your peers are members of. For one, being able to send group invitations through them is a lot more convenient than talking to everyone individually. You can just write down the details, select the recipients, and hit 'Send'. The follow up process can happen here too as people announce whether they can come or not, and leave comments with their own suggestions. Keep in the loop yourself as other people often announce plans through these sites. Sometimes that's the only way they get the word out about an event.
Plant the seeds for future plans
If you want to hang out with your co-workers outside work more often, you don't want to go for drinks one time and then never do it again. Taking the reins and setting up future outings is the way to go. Something else you can do is plant the seeds of future plans in other people's minds. Like right after going out the first time you can say, "That was fun. We should do it again sometime." In the following days or weeks, you could also mention here and there that you want to go out again. That should make it clear you don't see this as a one-off thing. Then when the time comes, try to set up another outing. Or maybe someone else will take the lead this time. That never hurts, but if it doesn't, feel free to take charge again.
You can also try to set up a recurring plan, like having coffee with your friends every second Wednesday, or having dinner at someone's house once a month. It's great when you can set up these consistent social activities for yourself. They can take work to maintain though, don't take them for granted. Especially when people get busy with other aspects of their lives, it can still take some effort to gather everyone together each time. At times you have to cancel or move some outings to accommodate people's other priorities. If everyone is way too busy, the arrangement tends to fall apart as people consistently have other things to do and can't make it.
Different people can be good at different roles in making plans
Most of this article is about the idea of you creating a plan yourself and then trying to get other people on board. I think everyone has to do that at least some of the time. I've also found that in larger social circles different people can fall into different planning roles.
Some people are a good fit for initially suggesting things. If they say to their circle, "Hey, let's all go out for dinner sometime this week", everyone gets on board. If someone else suggests the same thing the idea doesn't get off the ground nearly as often. The 'suggesters' may naturally fall into more of a leadership role in your group, or just be looked up to a little more.
Other people are better at taking a plan someone else has suggested and bringing lots of others on board. They may be more networked, or have a wider range of friends. They may have a 'the more the merrier' attitude. They're the people that text you and say, "Hey a bunch of us are going to the park on Saturday. You should come." The person who initially suggests the plan may not know as many people, and hope their more networked friends can spread the word.
Some people are also good at adding on to a plan to make it better. They're the ones that say, "Hey, well why don't we all hang out at my place first. Oooh, I'll make nachos!" or, "Oh, let's go to Paddy O'Brien's instead. I'm friends with one of the servers there. He can probably get us in even though it'll be busy that night."
Give making plans a try. If you've never done it before, organizing a plan with a bunch of people can feel a little awkward at first. Fortunately it feels more natural with time, and you get better at it.
This article addresses some of the worries people may have about making plans:
This article provides some examples of what makings larger plans can look like: