How to be chill or energetic in social situations

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How energetic should you be in a social setting? Should you speak fast and loud and fill the room with your energy, or should you stay calm and chill and just let your confidence speak for itself?

At face value, both seem like viable alternatives. However, to be honest, I never got a consistently good response from either of those approaches.

You see, yesterday a friend invited me over for some pancakes. (“Some pancakes” was an understatement. I went into pancake induced coma) One thing that happened at my friends place made me realize that I need to write this article.

There was this couple there who caught my attention: They were each other’s opposites in terms of social energy level.

There was something forced about the girl. She spoke rapidly with a loud voice. She smiled constantly and seemed eager to be heard. That made her come off as a bit needy. I got the feeling she over-compensated her extroversion because she actually felt nervous. Or, her nervousness got her adrenaline pumping which made her hyper.

Ironically, her boyfriend almost didn’t say a thing. He seemed like a truly nice person based on the little we spoke, but he was extremely calm. Because his energy was so low in relation to the rest of us, I got the feeling he was nervous.

One was too energetic and the other one too “chill”. Because of this, I caught myself thinking “If they had a child that was the average between them, that child would be a social success”.

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social energy level likable

Every once in awhile I come across advice on how you’re supposed to be either energetic or chill. It frustrates me because it’s not that simple.

Here’s what I’ve learned from over the years trying dozens of different energy levels and messing up with most of them:

Mistake number 1: Thinking that “the more energetic the better” or “the more chill the better”

There’s no universally optimal social energy level. There’s only what’s optimal for the situation. If you’re in a chill setting and an energetic person comes in, that person will most likely come off as annoying, or needy. On the other hand, if you’re in a high energy setting, a low energy person comes off as shy or boring.

My talking speed used to go up when I got nervous. When others spoke, say, 2 words per second, I bombarded them with 4 words per second. That created an instant disconnect (this took a long time for me to realize).

Now I pay attention to how fast people speak and match that. I learned to “time-warp” myself by visualizing myself moving through jelly to counteract my sped-up manner as it originated from nervousness.

Other’s react differently and get quiet when they are nervous.

5 tricks to be more energetic:

  1. Speak with a louder voice
  2. Take a more active role in a group conversation
  3. Laugh and joke around more
  4. Use your hands and arms to reinforce what you’re saying
  5. Speak slightly faster (but still loudly and clearly)

Lesson learned:

Socially successful people don’t stick to a static energy level. They are socially successful because of the fact that they don’t: They pay attention to the energy level of the situation and adapt to it.

Mistake number 2: Thinking that you need to be chill and non-reactive to be “cool”

Whenever I saw a James Bond movie, I thought that I should try to be more calm and relaxed.

James Bond’s character works great in movies, but to bond with people in real life, you need to be able to get to know them by showing interest in them. You also need to show that you appreciate them. When I tried to mimic James Bond’s non-reactiveness, I accidentally came off as more distant instead, and that made me LESS likable. People who are both cool AND likable are able to adjust their energy level to the situation like I will go into detail about later.

Mistake number 3: Thinking that you need to be energetic for people to like you

A girl I know told me that she got exhausted from socializing because she felt like she had to be high energy whenever she had people around her.

I asked her why she felt like she had to be so energetic, and she didn’t understand the question. “Well, you need to be high energy to be fun to be with”, she said. Perhaps the girl at the pancake dinner had the same internal reasoning.

In reality, constantly having a higher energy than people around you creates a disconnect. Let’s look at what energy level you should aim for instead.

Mistake number 4: Always trying to match other’s energy levels

There are certain situations where you don’t want to perpetuate a bad mood, like if people are energetic because they are angry or nervous or chill because they are sad or depressed. Here, you usually want to first meet their energy level so they feel understood, and then slowly move towards a more positive mode.

Here are some examples:

  • If someone is in a panic
  • If someone is angry
  • If someone is obviously nervous, you can match them a little bit to build rapport, and then slowly transform both of your energy levels to a more relaxed state
  • When you are the leader of a group – you can direct the energy to what you want and the others will adapt to you

What’s your experience when it comes to being chill or energetic? Let me know in the comments!

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David Morin is the founder of SocialPro. He's been writing about social skills since 2012. Follow on Twitter or read more.

Go to Comments (1)

1 thought on “How to be chill or energetic in social situations”

  1. I’m an extremely quiet person so being a part of low-energy conversations makes me feel more comfortable. But when I am in a high energy situation with a group of friends, I find myself being extremely quiet. How can I have a higher level of energy and be funnier when I’m with them?

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