Let’s start with a provocative statement:
If you can meet anyone, you can be anyone.
It’s no secret: Everything I’ve ever had, career-wise, I’ve gotten from the web. I started podcasting and quit 9-to-5 because of it, I wrote a book because of it, and I fly all over the world, too. It’s pretty amazing.
Without the people I’ve met, I would be nothing.
All of us on the web– hell, anyone in business— knows that the more people are in your network, the more powerful you are. So, maybe you’ve readÂ How To Make Friends and Influence People. Maybe you’ve read much more.
You’re also probablyÂ pretty smart. You’re really good at a few things. You might be totally awesome, actually.Â Still, like me, you’re probably pretty shy.
Despite our success in our respective fields, and no matter how many friends we have, we’re still little scared kids inside.
Why?Â Clarity. We can’t fix it because we don’t know how.
Everything is easy when we know how to do it, but successÂ is obscure and difficult when we don’t know what steps to take. Yet, most of us somehow do not take the first step, even when we feel we need it.
There’s not much I’m good at, but this particular one, I’ve figured out. So I can help you become outgoing.
I can help you not be shy. Here are some lessons to help.
1. We’re all the same.
The first step isn’t actually an action– it’s a realization. If you go to a party and you don’t know anyone, you might feel like everyone is enjoying themselves and doesn’t want to talk to you, or that they’re all perfectly relaxed while you’re crapping your pants.
This is simply not true. Whether it’s at a party, a conference, or any other social situation, most people are anxious about their social status. Alain de Botton referred to this as Status Anxiety, and it’s very real.
So first, recognize that these people are as nervous about you as you are about them. They’re worried that you’d judge them, or that you’d reject them. But what’s most important is that they’d love to be proven wrong, and for you to be awesome. This is where the next step comes in.
2. Adjust to people.
Coffee shops are one thing; these are places that people get together and don’t talk, so if you’re seriously people-phobic, you can start there. But the important thing is to adjust to them talking to you.
Go to places where people talk to each other. I have a cafÃ© I work at where everyone is from the neighbourhood and knows each other, so when I go there, I have to talk to people. If I go to a restaurant by myself, I sit at the counter and chat with whoever runs it.
Doing this gets you used to people and used to low level, easy conversations. They also make you realize that “faux-pas” (social mistakes) won’t kill you– and that the person you made the mistake with wants to smooth over and forget them just as much as you do.
3. Assume rapport.
Meeting someone can be awkward and uncomfortable. You don’t know what their status or function is. One easy way to first work around this is to talk to people whose function is clear (like information desk workers, waiters, police officers, etc). Then, it’s time to assume rapport.
I’ve also called this a false social role. Essentially, by giving a person the opportunity to act familiar (even though they aren’t), you’re giving a function to a stranger that they can then participate in.
I do this with people who I’ve barely met sometimes. Try it sometime by saying “oh my God, it was great talking to you,” or “Wow, it’s been so long!” Do this especially if you’ve never met them before. 🙂 This kind of forward, ridiculous gesture helps build a commonality, which helps conversation. By assuming you’re already friends, you become friends.
Oh! And do it with a smile on your face.
4. Confident body signals and “energy”
Ok, I’ve been reading a Cesar Millan book, so I’m sorry about this but I have to say it. “Energy” is real– and you can feel it when you’re inside a conversation. Whether it’s “energy” at all is debatable, though; it’s probably subconscious gesture, posture, and other signals of confidence that show you’re trustworthy.
One example of this is smiling– something I’m only now getting better at. Those of us who don’t smile much often think that, because we’re happy, we must be smiling. Nope– we’re often not displaying any facial expression at all. And we need to learn to smile, because it’s the ultimate social defuser.
But be careful about the fake smile! Smiles that are fake look horrible, so practice in the mirror by thinking about something happy and smiling with your eyes, not just your mouth. You’ll see the difference.
Many other things contribute to good energy. If you want to have better posture (another problem I used to have), go do Alexander Technique or learn to pull yourself up by your spine when you walk. Talk more slowly and gesticulate less so that you can have a calmer energy. Remember, if anyone can be seen to “win”– or get their way– in a social setting, it’s usually the person who is most confident and the most relaxed.
5. Hate small talk? Read this.
Some (ok, lots of) people despise small talk. I don’t. If you do, I’m going to guess your mind probably wanders very easily and you get bored with the “usual.” That’s fine. But I can get you used to, and even liking, small talk, because it’s one of the easiest ways to get to know someone well.
It’s very easy to turn small talk into any number of subjects if you know how. Something as easy as the weather can turn into how much snow you’ve gotten, which can turn into shoveling and then exercise and going to the gym, then swimming, vacations, and on and on. You can go on like this for 15 minutes with basically anyone– if you can branch early.
To branch means to switch subjects based on something that someone else has said. Do it early, and do it often. You won’t get bored, and as you do it, you’ll find a ton in common.
And if you don’t? Move on, no sweat.
6. Not every social encounter must succeed.
Learn the following phrase by heart: “Hey, nice meeting you.” And mean it.
Then, when you want to leave a conversation, you can say it and put out your hand. They’ll shake your hand. Congratulations! You’ve just escaped a conversation you didn’t want to be in. Amazing.
It actually took me years to learn this trick, and some rather popular people I know at conferences have yet to learn it. I see them stuck in conversations they really want to get out. They don’t know how. Little do they know is that all it takes is that one phrase, and a smile on your face.
And hey, if a conversation goes wrong and becomes awkward and tense, say it anyway. Then, you’re guaranteed to get out of there quick, and the other person will be just as happy as you to have gotten out of it. 🙂
So there’s no need to fear failure. What happens if a conversation goes bad, anyway? Nothing. You take a breather and realize, despite the fear of failure, nothing much happens when you screw up.
Then, you get out of your funk and go do it again.
6.5… actually, there’s a lot more.
This article is getting pretty long, and I like to make my point early and then cut out quick. Plus it’s late and I’m sleepy. 🙂
I’ll continue this later, though. I hope it was helpful. If it was, feel free to tweet it out or send it to friends.
There’ll be lots of good stuff later, too. Enter your email below and press enter if you’d like more.
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