Confession time. I used to be really shy. Not kind of shy. I’m talking weird, sits in the corner, wearing a trench coat, is that kid gonna shoot up the school shy.
I got over it. Now, I have a good social life and great self-confidence. It took a few years and some really directed effort on my part. I learned a lot along the way.
I really feel for people out there who struggle with being socially awkward or who don’t have many friends.
The following is my guide on how to overcome that shyness, make friends, and develop some social skills.
This guide will help you by giving you some strategies and tips to improve your confidence, your attitude, and your behavior. However, if you just see these as strategies or tactics you won’t end up making anything more than superficial relationships.
If you learn nothing else from this article – aim to make genuine connections. The other stuff is just a means to that end.
- 1 First Things First
- 2 Developing Your Social Skills
- 3 Go Beyond the Basics
First Things First
Before you go out in the wild and start actively trying to improve your social skills there’s some basics you need to know.
Don’t Listen to Fear
Fear is enemy number one. You know that little voice inside your head? The one saying things like:
- What if I can’t think of anything to say?
- What if they don’t like me?
- Everyone is staring at me!
- Nobody likes the same things I do – why am I so weird?
That voice comes from caveman days, its trying to protect you from social failure. In those times, failing socially meant getting hit on the head with a large wooden club. Nowadays, the consequences aren’t as severe – but our brains haven’t caught up.
I want you to give that voice a dorky name and anytime you hear that voice, recognize it by name and tease it:
“Nice one, Mandark.”
“Yep Mandark, I’m so weird…I’m the only one in the WHOLE WORLD who likes Classical music.”
Always treat that voice as your enemy. Its lesser than you and deserves no respect.
My sincerest apologies if your parents named you Mandark.
Have Thick Skin
Some people just plain won’t like you. No matter what you do. Even Mother Theresa had some haters.
When you first start making an effort to grow socially you will experience more rejection than you normally face. This is okay – in fact its a good thing.
There’s a lot of people in the world. Seven billion and counting. If someone doesn’t value your attention, move on. I guarantee you, there’s people out there that will like your style.
Don’t take it personally if someone dislikes you. Don’t try to win them over.
The 7/10 Rule
I’m going to preface this by saying I have no statistics or facts to back up this claim. In my experience its true and helpful nonetheless.
This rule means that 7/10 people will like you on initial contact. Before you even start talking, most people will be happy to talk to you.
Humans are social animals. Most people like to talk, as they enjoy being social. The odds are already stacked in your favor.
Use Your Voice
You can tell someone is shy or introverted in the first five seconds you talk to them. They don’t speak loudly or clearly. They respond with yes/no answers or fail to go into detail when describing things. Their voice sounds robotic because it is completely monotone.
Listen to a radio host – you’ll hear the opposite of what I just described. You can hear the emotion in their voice, every word is clear and audible.
Don’t mimic a radio host in daily conversation – people will think you’re nuts!
Instead use those same techniques: speak loud enough that people can hear you, make your words clear – and most of all – use your voice to inflect emotion into your words.
People listen to radio hosts for a reason – nobody wants to listen to a computer talk.
Use Your Body
The majority of communication is non-verbal. If you’re not using your body, people will only get a fraction of what you are trying to communicate.
Body language adds a level of excitement to communication. A quick wink or leaning in close to someone adds a whole new world of meaning to an otherwise boring interaction.
Use your hands, your stance, and your face to add some punch to your words.
Just like salt and pepper, too much ruins the meal and not enough makes it bland. Be careful not to over or under do it!
Be Interested in Other People
People like to talk. More than anything, they like to talk about themselves. Everyone is an expert about themselves.
Most importantly, everyone craves validation. The need to be accepted is deep seated in the human psyche. The majority of people do not get this need met on a regular basis.
Help them out! Ask other people about themselves. Be genuinely interested. This makes people feel great about themselves. Since you’re the vehicle for those good feelings, they will associate those happy feelings with your presence.
Don’t Be a Snob
One huge barrier to making a connection with someone is when things are going great and then out of nowhere you suddenly shoot them down.
Jim: “So I was watching the new Justin Bieber concert and…”
Snob: “Ugh. Bieber is a no-talent, sellout, wannabe. Can’t believe you like him.”
Jim: *Silently dying inside*
Accept people for who they are. Don’t trash things they like. Its fine if you hate Justin Bieber but save it for your close friends and only share your hatred if its relevant.
Follow the 3 Second Rule
A rule made famous in “We’re The Millers”, useful whenever you want to do anything that requires a little guts.
Whenever you are in a social situation where you would normally freeze up, instead count to three. Then do whatever you would do if you weren’t nervous.
Ask Open Ended Questions
Yes and no questions don’t get people talking. They are good for surveys but they kill conversations.
Open-ended questions give people the chance to open up and share part of their life and personality. They give room for you to share back or follow up with more questions.
These questions typically begin with “How”, “Why”, or “What”.
Some good examples:
- What did you end up doing this weekend?
- How did you two meet?
- I’m looking for some interesting date ideas around here, what do you think would be a good choice?
Be More Observant
Observe everything and everyone. People tend to wear their emotions on their sleeves. You can learn a lot about a person by just looking at them. How they stand, their expressions, the stickers on their laptop – all of these are clues to what this person has going on in their head and their life.
Use those clues when talking to people. Observe their facial expressions and body language. When you get the hang of this you can use it to find something to talk about with almost anyone.
Developing Your Social Skills
How do you think a master mechanic feels about working on cars? Is he afraid he’s going to mess things up?
No. He knows what he’s doing. He knows his tools inside and out. Everything he does seems to come easy to him. He just gets it.
Now imagine a mechanic fresh out of trade school. He has an idea of what he should be doing but instead of displaying confidence he’s nervous and timid. He fumbles around with his tools. He hasn’t put in the time to become skilled at what he does.
Conversation and people skills work the same way. A few quick tips will help you short term, but overall they will just be gimmicks. If you want to get good you’re going to have to put in some work.
OK, so you’re ready to take on the world…how do you get started?
Take Some Baby Steps
Everyone starts somewhere. So pick one of the exercises below that matches your skill level and work up from there. Try to do the exercise everyday for a week or two. Multiple times per day if you have the opportunity.
Deathly Afraid of Strangers
As you go about your day – smile at someone you don’t know. Not a huge cheesy, full-teeth smile. Try to look approachable, like you’re just having a good day and they caught your attention.
They might think you’re a total weirdo for just smiling at them for no reason.
They might look away and start power walking away from you.
Most likely, they will give a quick smile back. Then they will go about their business as usual.
The point of this exercise is to help you get over your fear of other people and to help you realize that rejection doesn’t hurt that bad. If you try this exercise I promise you won’t get a bloody nose, you won’t get the cops called on you, and you won’t get slapped in the face.
Unless you give them an absolutely creepy smile. Don’t do that.
Start conversations with people you’ve never met. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation or a good one. You just have to start it and see it through for a minute or two.
Instead of just ordering a coffee, compliment your barista on her choice of nail polish. If you’re waiting in the line at the grocery store, ask the person next to you an open-ended question:
Is there any good restaurants around here? I’m not very familiar with the area…
The key to success here is to listen to what they are saying and then follow-up with more questions or some small conversation bait:
Oh I love In-N-Out, they have the best burgers!
Once you feel confident, start going bigger and adding humor. If you can get people to laugh/smile they will overlook awkwardness. Often, just making an attempt will be endearing.
Coming Out of Your Shell
If you’ve already got some skill talking to people one-on-one, now is the time to start branching out. The risk of rejection is low when you are talking to one person. When talking to a group, that risk can be and feel a lot bigger.
This is where most people start to sweat.
This exercise takes some finesse to pull off without feeling like an idiot, but the rewards are great. Once you can interact well within a group you will start to make huge leaps in confidence with your social skills.
You’ll need to be in a group setting like a classroom or a meeting to try this out. Your goal is to break the ice with multiple people in one fell swoop.
Observe what’s going on around you and make an interesting comment or joke – not directed at any one person – but to everyone in the room. You’ll know you pulled it off if the mood in the room brightens up and becomes more talkative or if you get a good chuckle out of a few people.
If you hear crickets…sit back and analyze why you got a negative response. You might have had poor timing or your humor might be in poor taste.
Regardless of success or failure – you get points for putting yourself out there.
Go Beyond the Basics
Once you’re capable of handling rejection and putting yourself out there, practice these tips to improve your interactions even further.
Make the First Move and be Outgoing
Even though most people enjoy being social, most people are equally afraid to start a conversation. You probably feel the same way.
In order for a personal connection to begin, there has to be some kind of communication. Verbal or non-verbal, someone has to stick their neck out and take on the risk of being rejected.
Be that person. Break the ice, start talking. Start conversations. Put yourself out there. When you take the risk of talking first, the other person is at ease.
By acting first, you demonstrate that you are friendly and outgoing, meaning you’re not going to bite someone’s head off if they say something stupid. In their mind you’ve diminished the odds that they will get rejected.
If you know there’s something interesting about yourself, and you’ve already given the other person an opportunity to share something about themselves you can move the conversation toward yourself.
So do you have any siblings?”
“Yeah, I have two brothers. You?”
“I have a brother, but my family still feels big. My dad has 20 brothers and sisters.”
“Yeah, really! [Story about what it’s like to have a bazillion family members]
“So where did you grow up?”
“Connecticut. Near Stanford. You?”
“Sanibel Island, Florida. You’ve probably never heard of it.”
“Is it a Key?”
“No, it’s like right across the state from Miami. [Illustrate location using hand]It’s a really small beach town. Kind of old timey. It doesn’t have stoplights.”
“Yeah, really! [Story about how old timey Sanibel is]
Get Out of the House / Office
It is hard to practice social skills when you stare at a screen all day.
Join a club or attend meetups. Pick up a sport or activity. This is one of the best ways to meet new people. Since you already share a common interest in whatever activity you choose, making new acquaintances and friends comes much easier.
Always Have an Out
Conversations always end. That’s just how they are. Sometimes they end poorly or awkwardly because the people having the conversation linger on even though there’s nothing left to be said.
When you sense this is happening or about to happen, give yourself an escape plan so things can end smoothly.
- Hey there’s Sheila, I need to ask her something!
- Looks like I’m empty, gotta go refill my drink.
- Jim’s trying to get my attention. Better go see what he needs.
Humor is probably the fastest way to get people to open up to you. More importantly, its difficult to be around someone who is serious all the time. The best humor isn’t canned jokes but comes naturally.
However, if you haven’t developed your comedy skills canned jokes are a great place to start. There are numerous sites on the web where you can find good jokes. Pick up a few and master them.
Watch or listen to some stand up comics. Study their jokes, but also their timing, and body language. When it comes to making people laugh, the execution is everything.
One final note on this topic: Don’t be a clown. Being funny is a good thing, but it shouldn’t your only good thing. Trying too hard to be funny, or at inappropriate times loses you points.
Keep in Touch
If you feel like you’ve made a connection with someone – don’t let it be the last time you see them. Add them on Facebook, or get their email/phone number.
Give it a few days then contact them. Invite them to do something fun, share something interesting, or just catch up with them.
Following up and making time for people is what turns an acquaintance into a friend.
Thanks for reading! Got more tips? Post them in the comments below!