Introverted? Here's How to Be More Social
Not a fan of huge crowds or being the center of attention? Do you recharge best when you spend time alone? Would you classify yourself as reflective, a good listener, and someone who prefers to observe a social setting before diving into it? Hey there, introvert.
First, let us just acknowledge: There's absolutely nothing wrong with how you're naturally wired. In fact, you may not even be sure of where you fit along the personality spectrum of introvert vs. extrovert these days, in which case this break down should help. Honestly, most people describe themselves as somewhere in the middle.
Still, whether you see yourself as an introvert or you're just looking to be more social in general—after all, making new friends as an adult can be daunting for anyone—there are plenty of ways to do so. Here's where to start.
1. Be confident in who you are.
"The more people embrace their right to be who they are and take pride in who they are, the more successful they become in the world of job interviews, dating and parties, because they are now negotiating those spaces on their own terms," says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking and co-author of Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverted Kids. Cain adds that it's important for introverts to engage in group activities from a place of self-acceptance and not from a place of "I'm an introvert, but I should be more social."
Jenn Granneman, proud introvert and founder of IntrovertDear.com—an online community and content platform for introverts—totally gets this. "Like many introverts, I tend to have a lot of ideas running through my mind at any given moment, but I didn't say them out loud, because I worried about finding the exact right words, or what other people would think," says Granneman, who also wrote The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World. "The more confident I became in myself as a person, the better I got at expressing my thoughts, and the less I worried about the 'right' way to socialize. When you're comfortable in your own skin, people will notice and like you, even if you're not the superstar of the group," she says.
2. Know that it’s okay to be quiet.
"No one expects you to talk all the time," Granneman says. "Follow the conversation and when something occurs to you, say it without much fuss." Then feel free to get your hush on again.
3. Step outside your comfort zone, then refuel.
Referencing personality psychologist and Cambridge University professor Dr. Brian Little for this tip, Cain recommends introverts identify the people and projects they care about and stretch themselves socially in the service of those things.
"Every once in a while, say yes when you want to say no," urges Granneman, pairing this with challenging fellow introverts to ask themselves what they would do if fear wasn't a factor. "You never know when you might meet someone special or make a memory," says Granneman, who also co-hosts The Introvert, Dear Podcast.
Afterwards, the key is to give yourself what Little calls a "restorative niche." That is, a space to recharge yourself after an activity that takes a toll. For example: Let's say you're going to a party and you know that's going to be draining. Maybe the next morning you schedule a solo walk, or plan to stay inside catching up on the latest romance novel. Feel entitled to give yourself those moments and nourish the introverted part of you, Cain says. "One of the great benefits of that is it gives you more energy and the ability to be present when you are out—because you're doing it from a place of feeling comfortable with who you are."
4. Plan conversation starters ahead of time.
Try to think of topics you might want to discuss before your next wedding or networking event and reframe your perspective on your role there. Cain suggests introverts take on the job of making the other person feel comfortable (while knowing that almost nobody is confident in a room full of strangers).
Cain likens it to public speaking. "The most terrified orators are scared because they're assuming the audience will judge them" says Cain. "Shift your focus to 'What can I give to the audience? Maybe not everybody will want what I have to give, but maybe there's one person in the audience whose life or work will be changed by I share,' and focus on that," she says.
5. Try to befriend an extrovert at work.
As you may know, opposites tend to attract. That's why introverts and extroverts are often drawn to each other as partners, friends and even colleagues. Use this to your advantage by making sure you have at least one coworker that's plugged into office chatter and can keep you informed on after-hours events, advises Cain.
"But, be strategic about which ones you go to because if you approach all of them you're going to end up feeling burnt out," says Cain. Pick the ones you think you'll most enjoy or give you a boost professionally.
6. Go to work functions and leave early.
Once you're at those office shindigs, walk in with the freedom of knowing it's okay to leave early. "You get a lot of points for showing up and people don't really mind if you make your gracious exit," says Cain, adding they probably won't even notice most of the time. People are just usually happy you went, so don't sweat it if you're ready to leave after a drink.
This is an especially helpful social coping mechanism for those who struggle with shyness, which Cain describes as a kind of fear. "The way to overcome it is to expose yourself to the thing you fear in very small doses," says Cain. And don't forget to celebrate your progress by taking note of the small successes you have along the way, she adds.
7. Ask easy-to-answer questions and bring up topics you're into.
Start with questions that are specific and lead to something interesting, like: What's something you love to do over the weekend? What's a project you’re working on now that you're really excited about? And so on, Cain advises.
"The upside of taking more responsibility in social interactions is that the introvert can pick the people—and topics—that they find interesting, thus reducing the risk of becoming bored and wishing to withdraw," says Granneman.
8. And, then when you're comfortable, go deeper.
Ok, let's be real. Does anyone actually enjoy small talk? It's a polite formality you can breeze through before following any openings to take the dialogue to a richer place, according to Cain.
"One meaningful conversation can easily fill an introvert's 'social bucket' and sustain them for days or even weeks," says Granneman. "Shallow small talk not only leaves introverts mentally and physically drained, but it does little to satisfy our need to connect deeply and authentically." So, take a chance and ask a bold open-ended question or peel back the mask of your own pleasantries to reveal an honest struggle, passion or dream.
9. Think you're "awkward?" Try filming yourself.
You may have just cringed at this idea, but hear us out. Just two to three minutes of recording yourself in an environment you seek to grow in, running potential lines for a job interview or just chatting with a friend about a topic that really interests you, can provide a world of useful feedback for you to work with, says Cain.
"The first thing you'll probably discover is that you're a lot less awkward than you think," says Cain. The second thing you may come to find is there are easy changes you can make—like adjusting your hand movements or being a little less choppy in your conversations—to appear less uncomfortable, she says.
10. Become what you behold.
Dr. Laurie Helgoe, clinical psychologist and author of Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength encourages introverts to use their observational skills to notice what social behaviors they would like to emulate. Introverts can practice these skills in low-stakes settings to warm up, says Helgoe. Mirror said attributes at close family gatherings (unless those trigger stress) or during time with peers you have established relationships with. You can even ask loved ones for feedback and make adjustments from there, too.
11. Learn to manage rejection.
"We can't predict how others will respond to us, so developing a tolerance for rejection creates social resilience," says Helgoe. Instead of waiting to shed awkwardness, get used to it, Helgoe adds.
12. The more present you are, the less awkward you'll feel.
Summing it all up, the biggest thing you can do with all of these tools, as an introvert, is alter your thinking, says Cain. She emboldens introverts to just be fully present in whatever conversation they're in, "By which I mean you're really there, you're attuned, you're paying attention, you want to hear what the other person has to say," she says, adding that the more you get into that mindset, the less awkward you naturally are going to be.
"Keep in mind that no two introverts are exactly the same. Some pass for talkative extroverts, while others are slow to warm up when meeting new people. Some experience shyness and social anxiety, while others do not," says Granneman. "No matter what type of person you are, there's no wrong way to be—so please cherry pick from these tips and do what works for you."
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