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Starting off as an awkward person who spent most of my time alone, I’ve over the years learned how to be social.
If you feel like you spend too much time alone, or if you don’t say much when you’re around people, this guide is for you.
1. Memorize these universal go-to questions that make conversation easier
One of the things that help me be more social was to memorize a set of questions that I can fire off whenever I’m at some party, dinner, or basically any social setting.
I realized that it’s enough to memorize these 4 questions:
- … Hi, how are you?
- … How do you know people here?
- … Where are you from?
- … What do you do?
Don’t fire them off all at once, but use them when the current topic dies out. When you have a set of questions to fall back on, it’s easier to make small talk, and people will see you as more social.
I have more detailed conversation advice in my guide on how to start talking to people.
2. But David, I hate small talk!
I used to think that small talk didn’t have a purpose and that it was something shallow people liked.
Small talk DOES have a purpose. When two humans meet, they need some time to feel comfortable around each other. During this time, they pick up on subconscious stuff, like…
- Is the person friendly or hostile?
- Could this be a friend, a partner, an ally, or someone to avoid?
While we figure this out, we need to make some noise with our mouths.
Here’s the good news: Done right, small talk works as the warm up to interesting conversation about stuff you do like.
So how do you transfer from small talk to interesting conversation?
By probing for commonalities and mutual interests.
I, for example, love philosophy. If I get the feeling that someone’s into that, and we talk about, say, books, I could ask:
“I just started reading Thus Spake Zarathustra by Nietzsche, heard about it?”
(You often get the feel for what type people are after you’ve made some small talk – are they nerds, arty, intellectual, jocks, et cetera). Where might you have things in common?
Probe about that by mentioning something they like.
I explain this in more detail in my guide on how to make interesting conversation.
3. To be more social over time, take small steps outside of your normal behavior
Make it a habit to do something slightly outside of your comfort zone. Not something scary! Just something you don’t usually do.
- If you usually ignore the cashier, give her a nod.
- If you usually give the cashier a nod, give her a smile.
- If you usually give her a smile, ask how she’s doing.
- And so on…
See what’s happening here? You’re not doing something super-scary, just something a bit outside of your normal behavior. This is how to be social over time!
Making this a habit is the most painless way to improve socially. Small changes like that amount to a massive difference after some time.
4. Use the ⅔ rule: Say yes 2 out of 3 times you get asked to hang out
To be more social, I first tried using the “yes man” method and say yes to every event I was invited to. But that was difficult to sustain. I eventually learned the ⅔ method from a friend:
Say yes to at least two-thirds of the events you get invited to.
I can’t understate the importance of pushing yourself a little bit and go out there.
I used to remind myself of this: It’s not about the event in itself. It’s about if I want to live life more and more alone or master a social life with people around me.
Below are two tips to make social events less intimidating…
5. Use the haysack-trick to worry less about socializing
The reason I disliked events so much was that I felt like I had to go “up on stage” – like I had to perform and that everyone would look at me and judge me.
That was until I learned the haysack-trick:
If I would end up in a situation where I get that performance anxiety, I can take a step back:
Just observe others, be boring, let go of my expectations to perform (like a haysack).
People won’t notice, and it took a MASSIVE amount of pressure off of me. After all, a haysack doesn’t have performance anxiety.
When you’ve taken your haysack-break, you can move back into the social interaction, but just knowing that you can be a haysack whenever you want to is comforting.
6. If you don’t feel like joining a social event, use the 20-minute trick
Another way to feel less intimidated going to social events is to use the 20-minute trick:
The important part is breaking the pattern of being by yourself. And you’ve already accomplished that by showing up. Feel free to leave after 20 minutes, if you don’t like it.
When I realized that I could go to parties for 20 minutes, being a hay sack 10 minutes of the time, saying yes to invitations got much easier.
And most important of all, I still got my social training!
However, if you mainly want to make new friends, parties aren’t your best choice…
7. Join clubs close to your interest if you want to make friends
I’ve realized that I know somewhere around half of my friends because of the different groups and clubs I’ve joined.
If you want to make friends, groups and clubs are so much better than parties. Why?
Parties are often loud and terrible for making conversation. Here, people often just want to have fun, not form close bonds.
Go to groups that are closely related to what you are interested in.
I, for example, was a member of one philosophy group and one for online entrepreneurs. When a group is similar to your interests, you’re more likely to find like-minded people.
It’s also easier to start a conversation with someone who’s into the same stuff you are.
My second advice regarding groups is to join places where you meet up regularly, optimally once per week. That way, you’ll have time enough to bond and get to know people there.
8. What to do if being around people drains you of energy
I usually avoided social events because they were tiring, and talking to new people consumed a massive amount of energy for me.
That’s not the case anymore, and socializing can even energize me. I think that’s because I enjoy it now and that I dreaded it back then.
Anyway, I recommend you to have a coffee at social events. That makes me (and, according to studies, 70-80% of the population) more talkative.
If you don’t react to caffeine, or if you want other ideas for how to get more social energy, read my guide here on how to be more high energy.
9. It’s better to say some stupid things than saying nothing at all
If you’re an over-thinker like me, you might worry that you’ll say stupid stuff that you’ll regret later.
Perhaps, that fear of saying something stupid can even turn you into a quiet person.
It’s more damaging to not say anything at all than talking and saying something stupid every once in a while.
Why? Because it’s human to say stupid stuff.
When did you last judge someone for saying something stupid? I can’t remember ever caring about that. But I can remember when people didn’t say anything because I thought that they maybe didn’t like me.
So rather than saying nothing at all, say something, every once in a while. It signals that you are friendly.
10. The secret to being interesting is to be interested
This is another one that took a lot of pressure off me:
Socializing isn’t about being an interesting person. People who try to be interesting by talking about themselves and their adventures tend to become boring or annoying after a time.
Instead, there’s a much better way to be seen as interesting:
People will think that you’re interesting if you’re interested in them. Ask sincere questions with the intent to actually get to know the person.
As I talked about earlier in the guide, you want to balance up the questions by also sharing bits and pieces about what you think about the topic and about your life.
11. “But David, it’s hard to be social if you don’t even like people”
At times, I’ve felt like I didn’t WANT to be social because, you know, people were stupid and I hated them anyway. 🙂
But whenever I thought about it, that was often my excuse to avoid the discomfort of having to meet people.
Sure, some people are stupid. But that doesn’t mean that everyone is.
Remind yourself that there are LOADS and LOADS of amazing people out there that you can meet. But you need to take the initiative to go out there.
(I talk more here about what to do if you don’t like people.)
Sometimes I still got demotivated because it felt like it took forever to talk to someone to make friends. So why even bother? That was before I learned to be warm and relaxed…
12. How do you make people like you? Be warm and relaxed
At first, I tried to be more friendly to people.
But because my nervosity made me come off as uneasy, I ended up coming off as needy.
(Imagine a nervous, smiling guy walking up to you.)
So, I tried to be more standoffish. That didn’t work either. People just assumed that I didn’t like them.
When I learned to combine warm and relaxed, something magic happened: I attracted friends with more ease than ever before.
With relaxed, I mean speaking calmly, with a relaxed voice and a fluid body language. Even if I was nervous, I could still act relaxed.
With warm, I mean smiling, asking sincere questions, showing appreciation and giving compliments. In other words, make people feel that you like them.
Combine these 2 together, and attracting friends gets easier.
13. How to stop worrying about being judged
I had this feeling whenever I walked into a room that people would judge me. That made me inhibit myself, and as a result, it was hard to be social.
Now, as you probably know, people care as little about you as you care about them. But a behavioral scientist once taught me something I’ll never forget:
If you feel that people will judge you, it’s really because you judge yourself.
Let me unpack what that means.
When I assumed that people would judge me for, say, my big nose, it was because I was really the one who judged me for my big nose.
As my self-esteem improved, I stopped judging myself. Automatically I also stopped worrying about others judging me.
Isn’t that fascinating?
Anyway, how do you then stop judging yourself?
By talking to yourself like you would talk to a good friend.
Remind yourself that you, just like everyone else, have flaws – and that’s OK! It’s part of being human.
This is what behavioral scientists call “Self-compassion” and it’s been shown to help our self-esteem. It’s basically about accepting that we’re only human and being okay with that.
When we do, we worry less about being judged by others.
14. If you think group conversations are hard, use this trick
I used to dread group conversations.
It couldn’t break into the ongoing conversation, and if I did, I got interrupted, and sooner or later I zoned out.
The secret is to SHOW THE SPEAKER THAT YOU LISTEN.
Let me show you what I mean.
Whenever someone’s talking in a group, I always do the following:
- I maintain eye contact
- I “Hmm” and nod when appropriate
- If something’s unclear, I ask to understand
(Behavioral scientists call this active listening.)
When you do, you’ll notice how the speaker starts directing more and more of the conversation toward you.
Because when you show that you are engaged, it creates the feeling that you’re part of the conversation (even if you don’t say much).
When you want to say something, everyone’s subconsciously already seeing you as part of the conversation, and they’ll let you talk.
I talk more about group conversations here.
Another challenge with group conversation is speaking too quietly. There are some methods you can use to get more power into your voice.
That guide helps even if speaking up makes you uncomfortable or you don’t have the voice resources.
15. Visualize yourself as a social person
Whenever you’re on your way to meet people, try visualizing yourself as a socially competent person.
We humans tend to complicate things (like how to act around others). But if you think about it, you already know pretty well how a socially skilled person acts, right?
We’ve subconsciously already formed a picture from movies and from observing others.
They are calm, positive, keep eye contact, smile, build rapport, and so on.
If you KNOW what a social person is like, you’re closer to being able to ACT like a social person, too.
You can experiment with going into the role of “social you” every once in a while. But to not put too much pressure on yourself, remember that you at any time can take the role of the hay sack instead as I talked about before.
16. Be less self-conscious by focusing on others
So, when we get self-conscious, we start worrying about what others think of us, the adrenaline starts pumping, it gets hard to think, etc etc.
In one study, they asked people with pretty severe social anxiety to either focus on themselves or on the conversation at hand. As it turned out, those who were instructed to focus on the conversation felt less nervous.
In other words, focus on the conversation when you’re talking to someone. Or, if you’re entering a room, focus on people in the room.
- “I wonder what she works with?”
- “I wonder where he’s from?”
- “That’s a nice shirt”
And so on.
Your thoughts are constantly going to try to creep back into your head:
- “What are they thinking of me?”
- “Am I walking in a weird way?”
- “Where do I put my hands?”
Therefore, whenever you realize that you’re in your own head again, push your thoughts out again to focus either on the conversation or your surroundings.
To me, this has done wonders to be less self-conscious and more social.
What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to being social? Let me know in the comments below!