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When I want in depth info on how to improve socially, I usually start by checking out the blog succeedsocially.com. It’s written by Chris MacLeod. That’s why I reached out to him for an interview to share some of his insight with you.
What piece of information or habit has had the most positive effect on your life socially the last 10 years?
Of course, it’s always a bunch of things that help, and everyone’s situation is different, so what had a big impact for me may not be useful for someone else. But personally, what stands out in my mind is taking more initiative in my social life – going out of my way to meet people and try to set up plans with them. When I was lonelier one of my big mistakes is that I was subconsciously very passive. I went about my life and figured if I was likable enough other people would do all the work of befriending me. When that didn’t happen I concluded I must be a loser.
It seems so basic in hindsight, but it was a big turning point when I realized, “Oh, if I want to have friends I could try working at it. Those co-workers I get along with, I could invite them to hang out, rather than waiting for them to make the first move. If I’m not meeting enough people I could actually get out of the house and try new hobbies and go to events and whatnot, rather than hoping friends will fall into my lap somehow.”
Another related thing that’s helped more recently is giving ways to meet people several chances, and not being too quick to say, “This doesn’t work”. Like I’ve met friends through meetup.com, though at times I’d go to a few events in a row that didn’t lead to anything.
If you could restart your life from when you decided to improve your social life, what would you do differently? Assuming your major relationships today wouldn’t change.
I decided to improve my social life in the early 2000’s when I was 20 or so. If I could start my life over at that point most of the things I’d do differently would be in other areas of my life, like traveling more, maybe going to grad school a few years earlier, and so on. Since then I’ve made a ton of little mistakes with my social life, that’s just part of the learning process, but I don’t have any giant regrets.
One mistake I made a few times, that does make me look back and cringe, is how I acted a few times when I met a friend’s friends. I had the false assumption that I had to make a big impression on them, that I had to be really entertaining and interesting and outgoing and memorable. I ended up trying too hard and put them off. If I could go back I would have aimed to chill out more – talk to my buddy’s friends and get to know them, but not feel I had to put on some performance and wow everyone. Realize it was fine to join someone’s circle little by little over several get togethers. Sometimes I still catch myself having this tendency to want to try too hard.
You’ve been writing your blog for over a decade, what motivates you to keep writing and improving your blog?
I still haven’t run out of new things to write about. That cliche that the more you know about a topic the more you realize how much there still is to learn definitely applies in this case. There are also concepts I’ve already covered where I think, “I may want to go back and clarify some of what I wrote or add a few extra points.” There’s always something to work on.
In general helping people with their social lives is still rewarding and interesting to me. I like it when someone asks me a question and I go, “Why did I never think to write an article about that before now?! Okay, let me put my brain to work and see what I come up with.”
What’s one advice that doesn’t sound like it’ll work before you try it?
One way to answer that if that if you’re someone who struggles with anxiety or feelings of discouragement about making improvements, every bit of advice can seem like this. It makes you nervous, and you can come up with a bunch of reasons why it might not work, but then you do it and it often turns out okay.
But to answer another way, I think most social skills advice isn’t that counterintuitive. It’s got a rationale behind it, where when you hear it you think, “Yeah, that makes sense. I can see how that could work”
Though one concept that still surprises me that it works when I use it is: If you don’t get much out of making small talk (i.e., many people), one good way to get past it is to go through it. Like, you run into a co-worker in the elevator and they make a comment about the weather. If you think, “Ugh, what an inane topic. Do I have to do this?”, then give them a halfhearted reply before pretending to check your phone, the conversation won’t go anywhere that’s potentially more interesting. If you pleasantly chat about the weather for a few moments, it probably won’t be long before the subject switches to something else. For one, as you talk about the weather, you could set up some kind of transition (“Yeah, I was hoping to check out this outdoor concert this weekend, but it looks like it’s going to stay rainy. What about you?”). Also, just by chatting and engaging with them, the other person may start thinking of you as someone who’s friendly and nice to talk to, and they may naturally want to switch to another, somewhat deeper, subject.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about becoming better socially, in your opinion?
Oh man, there are a bunch of these. One big thing people can unconsciously assume is that to have a rewarding social life they need to become this ultra-charismatic, confident, outgoing person who has a thousand friends. You don’t need to reach some elite level just to be in a spot where you’re socially fulfilled. Most people are happy when they can find some friends who get them, like them as they are and view the world in a similar way. And having a million friends may not be their style – lots of people are happiest with a handful of closer relationships. To be able to make those friends you may need to work on your self-esteem or shyness or conversation skills, but you don’t need to get them into perfect shape.
A second is that to practice your social skills you mainly need to go out in public and talk to strangers. Like someone will email me and say, “I’ve decided to improve my social life. So what do I need to do? Go to a mall and walk around and try to chat to everyone? Go to a nightclub and go up to random people?” Depending on your goals there can be some use in that, but for the most part, you’ll get more out of putting yourself in situations where you can meet and get to know people more naturally. Things like joining a hobby club or sports team, taking an improv class, volunteering, going to meetup.com events, and so on.
I don’t know if this is a Top 5 misconception, but another one is the idea that charismatic people are using a secret playbook full of social tricks that most of us don’t know. When I look back on some of the most likable people I’ve met, they were using the same core social skills we all do, but just executing on everything at a more polished, consistent level.
What type of person do you think benefits the most from your material?
From the feedback I’ve gotten the people who seem to find my writing the most helpful are ones who feel like they need a hand with catching up on the basics. Like they have a sense they missed learning all these social lessons everyone else just effortlessly absorbed as they were growing up. They were like I was when I was younger, in other words. I also write a fair amount about the kinds of issues and mental roadblocks that can come up as you work to improve your social skills, so my writing can help if you know what to do but have trouble putting it into practice. People who already have half-decent social skills, and are just looking for a handful of higher-end tricks say they don’t as much out of it. They say it’s a lot of things they already knew.
About Chris MacLeod
I started this site to create the kind of resource I wish I had when I was struggling myself, so that anyone going through the same thing may be able to get past it more quickly and easily than I did.
I have a B.A. Honors degree in Psychology and a Master of Social Work. I’m a registered social worker in Ontario, Canada, where I live. I worked in various psychology and research-related office jobs for a few years in between getting the two degrees. My MSW focused on counseling (as opposed to community organization and development).”
Chris has also written a book, The Social Skills Guidebook: Manage Shyness, Improve Your Conversations, and Make Friends, Without Giving Up Who You Are. It contains the most important concepts for improving your social life in a tight, organized, professionally presented package. I can confidently recommend this book to anyone who is highly motivated to improve or just to learn more.
Let me know if you want more interviews like this in the comments below! Any questions are welcome too, of course.