“People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.” – Joseph F Newton
If you met me today, you’d probably see a happy, smiling girl chatting with a bunch of people around her. I bet, hidden beneath this social butterfly, you’d never recognize the quiet, shy girl I used to be…
Being an only child with an introverted personality is an interesting experience. It taught me how to feel great on my own, to appreciate my own space and allowed me to have lots of fun. I was always more introspective than others; I read and practiced drawing a lot and even built my own world inside my head.
The world inside my head became so unique and special that it was difficult for me to let others in. But at the same time, I missed other people and thought it would be easier for me if I were more social…
Is the world tailored for extroverts?
Yes it is. It’s definitely easier to be a confident person who knows how to express your feelings and say directly what you think.
My grandmother used to say: “Be nice and polite; people will notice you and your values.” That’s not true at all! If you want to achieve something at school or at work, you have to know how to represent your values well.
The social capital you build from your social connections is often much more valuable than your degrees. It’s worth incorporating some extroverted character traits because being social and a good communicator can open many doors and simply make you happier.
I’m an introvert and I like it. I really appreciate time alone and would prefer getting stabbed over revealing the serious stuff happening in my mind. But at some point, I made an effort to change and open up a bit towards other people, which was a nice change.
I don’t know when I started being known as a person who enjoyed hanging out with all sorts of people, from various backgrounds, ages and subcultures. Going alone to a party and talking to strangers while travelling solo is not an issue for me anymore.
It took a lot of practice and mental work to become more social. It’s not a process that’s accomplished overnight. It’s a process of enriching your personality and takes place in many small steps. But I’m sure that becoming more social is possible for everyone. Here are seven keys to becoming more social:
1. Start small
Don’t try to suddenly take huge steps. To become more social you need to learn how to expand your comfort zone, slowly. If you have a tendency to do things alone or with an old friend, just try going a step further. Go to a place where there’ll be plenty of people you don’t know well. Don’t sit in a circle and talk to only the people you know. Use parties or meals with friends as an opportunity to talk to people who are in your circle but you don’t know well.
2. Chat with strangers
Master chatting with people you’re unfamiliar with so you can speak to people who you actually want to get to know later. Coming over to talk to a pretty girl at a bar or going into a circle of unknown people and inserting yourself into the conversation requires advanced social skills. You might never be an accomplished conversationalist without trying small things first. Find your own way to approach strangers and open your mind to them.
You can come up with a variation of the method I developed when I was a kid. My teacher suggested that I ask random people what time it was. I thought it was for fun but now I see that it was a simple exercise to teach social skills. Just asking people about the time quickly went into much further conversation and so I advise you to try the same… Chat with a taxi driver, passengers seated next to you on a train, or a shop assistant. You can ALWAYS say something more than “hi” or “how much does it cost” or “thanks.” Talk to a person waiting with you in a queue or with a barrista who is making your coffee. Ask when the bus is coming, or say that there are so many people here today. Whatever matches the situation and is said in a friendly way with a smile will be great. You’ll be surprised by the positive effect!
3. Don’t get overwhelmed by those who speak too much
Do you know the saying “barking dogs seldom bite?” Don’t let yourself believe that people who speak too much are the only ones who have anything really important to say. I sometimes think that people who speak loudly and talk a lot must think of their voices as some music we all must hear, unfortunately… Never let yourself believe that people who speak too much have more to say, because it’s usually quite the opposite. Really chatty people are usually by no means the most interesting people in the world. I’m sure you have at least as much as they do to say. It’s high time for you to believe that you do too!
4. Learn to act like likeable people do
If you want motivation for becoming more social you need positive feedback from others. There are certain things all likeable people have in common. Try to incorporate some new ways of communication.
- Smile a lot. There’s no person in the world who doesn’t like an honest smile. If you’re not used to it, train in front of the mirror everyday.
- Speak loud and clear so people don’t have to struggle to understand what you’re saying.
- When people talk to you ask them questions and follow the conversation. It’ll pleasantly boost their ego, because everyone needs to be listened to.
- Ask people for advice. They love to feel validated and important.
- Ask open questions so the conversation doesn’t get stuck on “yes” or “no” responses.
5. Don’t be afraid of silence
Introverted people usually like silence. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Once you accept the fact that during your interactions you may experience silence, it will cease to be awkward.
6. Don’t control yourself all the time
Many people need alcohol or drugs to become more sociable. Why is this? Are they becoming different people? No! They’re simply eliminating the block inside their heads that makes them control themselves all the time. Switch off this auto censorship because it’s useless. Other people are usually less judgmental than you think. They could really care less because they have their own issues. Simply enjoy being with people, without questioning everything you’re going to say a million times.
Try meditation. It may sound counterintuitive for an introvert to do something that’s seemingly an even more isolated activity but this really helps get you out of your head. Just sit down, set a timer for 15-minutes, close your eyes and take slow breaths into your stomach. As you do this, you’ll notice that a lot of random thoughts will invade your mind – things you probably haven’t thought about for years – but that’s okay. Just become aware of those thoughts and try letting them pass (thinking of nothing).
Doing this will clear your head of excess thoughts that permeate your subconscious mind. This will greatly improve your ability to be in the moment when talking to others, instead of filtering your thoughts.
7. Find a hobby that’s social
Find people in your area with similar interests. Do you play guitar? Maybe you should check out an open mic night or the musician’s classifieds. It’ll be easier to expand your social circle with people who share your passion.
You should definitely consider joining Toastmasters (there’s a club in almost every city). It’s a club of regular people who come together 1-4 times a month to practice public speaking. The topic of your speech is totally up to you and the people in the clubs are very nice and polite, so if you have stage fright, you can be sure there won’t be any harsh feedback, because everyone’s there for the same reason. This might be a big step for some introverted folks, but it’s definitely worth the work!
People who like similar things as you are easier to get to know. Try socializing more of these people, whoever they are, because they might have a similar sensitivity etc.
So, what are you waiting for now?
Go and smile to someone!