“I struggle to feel confident in social situations. I’ve heard advice like ‘fake it ‘til you make it,’ but I don’t want to change my personality just to fit in with everyone else. How can I feel more outgoing around people without feeling like I’m putting on an act?”
If you find social situations difficult, you may be worried that the only way you’ll make friends is by forcing yourself to behave like someone else. Fortunately, you can improve your social skills without changing who you are. In this guide, you’ll learn how to look and feel more confident in social situations.
When you try to adjust your behavior or learn new social skills, you might feel fake or as though you are putting on an act.
It can help to remember that you almost certainly adjust your behavior and persona anyway. You probably use a different communication style and adjust your sense of humor depending on who’s around. For example, you might make jokes with close friends that you wouldn’t make in front of your parents.
It may sound counterintuitive, but deliberately presenting yourself well helps other people to accurately gauge your personality. When you make an effort to appear friendly and positive, you aren’t hiding behind a mask—you are giving people a chance to see the real you.
You may have read that the best way to develop social confidence is to throw yourself into situations way beyond your comfort zone, such as approaching complete strangers and introducing yourself. But this method doesn’t work for most people because it isn’t sustainable.
Instead, grow your confidence by setting yourself increasingly difficult challenges. Take small steps. Make a list of social situations that make you anxious. Rank them in order from least to most intimidating. Start with the least difficult situation and work your way through the list.
For example, your list could look something like this:
- Make eye contact with a stranger
- Smile at a store clerk or barista
- Say “Good morning” to a colleague
- Make small talk with a stranger while you’re waiting for a bus or train for one minute
With practice, you’ll become less shy and more socially confident. Socializing will feel more natural and less like an act.
If you identify as an introvert who finds social interaction draining, you may find that you can improve your social stamina. You may also find our guide on how to be more extroverted without losing who you are helpful.
When you can bond over shared interests, you may feel less like a fake because it’s easier to build a genuine connection with someone when you have something in common. Meetups, classes, and hobby groups are all good places to start looking. See our article on how to meet like-minded people who understand you for more advice.
- What kind of topics does this person talk about?
- How do they hold themselves? What is their body language like?
- What is their energy level like?
If you watch several socially confident people, you’ll realize that they aren’t all identical. For example, some are calm and excellent at listening to people. Others are loud, extroverted, and draw people in with their sense of humor. Socially skilled people know how to let their personalities shine through while making others feel comfortable. With practice, you will find your own social style.
Socially anxious people tend to over-analyze their own behaviors. They worry about what others think of them and how they are coming across. Focusing inwards like this can make you feel self-conscious and awkward, especially around strangers or people you don’t know well.
Making an effort to focus outwards and concentrate on what other people are saying and doing can take some of the pressure off. When you meet someone new, challenge yourself to learn something interesting about them. If you find most people boring or assume that others have nothing to offer, read our guide on how to be interested in others if you’re not naturally curious.
Focusing on other people will also make you a better listener, which in turn will make you more attractive as a friend or even as a potential partner.
If you assume that other people notice everything you say and do, it might help to know that this is an illusion. Psychologists have a term for it: the “spotlight effect.” Several studies have shown that we overestimate how much those around us care about our appearance and behavior. Remembering this can help you feel less self-conscious.
If you lack social confidence, you might be quick to assume that other people don’t like you, even if you don’t have evidence.
For example, if you’re talking to someone at a party, but they don’t look very interested in what you’re saying, you might think, “I’m so boring!” This kind of thinking can lower your confidence.
When someone seems aloof or disinterested, it’s probably not personal. Try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Tell yourself, “There’s a chance they might not like me, but it’s more likely that they are shy or just having a bad day.”
It can also help to remember that roughly 40% of the population is shy. Someone might want to talk to you or be your friend but feel too intimidated or anxious to open up.
When you feel anxious in social situations, it’s tempting to leave as soon as possible. But if you can push through the anxiety, you’ll learn that you can cope with it. Your body can’t remain in a state of panic forever. In most cases, even very intense feelings of anxiety start to ebb away within 20 minutes.
People who are low in social confidence tend to imagine worst-case scenarios before they socialize. Imagining how you would cope if your fears came true can help you feel better prepared and more confident.
Possible scenario: “I start talking to someone, run out of things to say, and the conversation grinds to a halt.”
Solution: “I could smile, excuse myself, and leave. Yes, it would be awkward, but the feeling would pass.”
Possible scenario: “I make a joke, but no one laughs.”
Solution: “I’d be embarrassed, but I could change the subject and carry on talking.”
Our article on what to do if you’re worried about an upcoming event has useful tips to help you mentally prepare for a social occasion.
Research shows that maintaining good posture can improve your mood and self-esteem, which can make you feel more confident.
- Make confident eye contact
- Keep your back straight and shoulders relaxed. This video will help you improve your posture. Research shows that keeping an upright posture improves your mood and self-confidence.
- Use open body language. Avoid crossing your arms and legs. Try not to use bags or other objects as a shield between you and another person.
Check out our in-depth guide to confident body language.
When you decide that someone else is “better” than you in some way, it can be difficult to feel confident around them.
Some people withdraw from social situations when they feel inferior. Other people overcompensate by bragging. Neither response is helpful because they both get in the way of making connections with others.
Our guide on how to cope with feeling inferior to others has more practical tips on how to stop comparing yourself to other people.
If you rely on other people’s approval to make you feel OK about yourself, you may get anxious in social situations because you fear being judged. Self-acceptance can help you feel more confident around other people.
When you start criticizing yourself, it can help to speak to yourself as you would speak to a friend. Try to show yourself some compassion. If there’s something you’d like to change, think about how you could make progress.
For example, if you catch yourself thinking, “I’m so boring. I never know what to say!” you could tell yourself:
“I have several hobbies I’m passionate about, and I have some good stories to tell, so I can’t be a completely boring person. It’s true that I’m not always sure how to keep a conversation going, and my mind goes blank sometimes, but I’m working on that by getting lots of practice.”
Read this guide on how to stop caring what others think of you for more in-depth advice.
You might find our article on how to build self-esteem as an adult helpful. We also have a list of the best self-esteem books that contain advice on how to improve your self-worth and self-acceptance.
You don’t need a loud voice to be socially confident, but if you often speak in a quiet voice, other people may struggle to hear what you are saying, which can make social interactions feel awkward. Our guide on how to fix a monotone voice contains exercises you can use to make your voice more engaging.
A safety behavior is something you do to avoid facing your fears head-on. When you rely on safety behaviors, you can’t learn how to develop true confidence.
Common safety behaviors include:
- Playing on your phone in social situations and looking at the screen instead of other people.
- Only going out with a more extroverted friend. If you rely on someone else to help you make conversation, you won’t learn how to be confident in social situations by yourself.
- Using alcohol or drugs to relax. Having a drink or two can loosen your inhibitions and help you feel more confident. But drinking alcohol can become a safety behavior.
- Wearing makeup to hide blushing. It’s OK to wear makeup if you like the way it makes you look, but if wearing it has become a safety behavior, try learning to socialize without it.
If you’ve been relying on a safety behavior for a long time, you might not feel able to stop overnight. Gradual changes can work better. For example, if you look at your phone to avoid making eye contact, try putting it away for five minutes at a time. Give yourself permission to take it out again when the time is up.
Be prepared to learn from slip-ups. Making mistakes can be awkward, but when you know how to learn from them and move forward, they won’t feel so terrible. You may feel more confident in social situations when you know a mistake isn’t usually a big deal in the long run.
- What would I say to a friend who made this mistake?
- What can I learn from this situation, and is there any way I can prevent it from happening again?
For example, let’s say you call someone by the wrong name several times before they correct you, and you feel embarrassed.
If a friend of yours made a similar mistake, you’d probably tell them that it doesn’t matter very much. You might remind them that everyone else will probably forget about it quickly. You might also decide to read up on techniques for remembering names, such as repeating a name aloud when you hear it for the first time.
Research shows that regular meditation can help reduce social anxiety and improve your self-esteem. Meditation helps you to get some distance from your anxious thoughts, which can make them seem less overwhelming.
Using your social skills is the best way to improve, but sometimes role-play can boost your confidence. If you have a socially skilled friend, you could ask them whether they’d be willing to help you practice.
For example, you could practice:
- Introducing yourself to someone for the first time
- Telling a short story or anecdote
- Inviting someone to a social event
- Exchanging contact details
It’s often easier to be comfortable and confident in social situations when you’re with people who respect and appreciate you.
Our article on how to tell fake friends from real friends can help you decide whether the people around you are boosting or harming your confidence. For example, if your friends often put you down or rarely listen to you, it will probably be hard for you to feel at ease around them.
Even people with great social skills have to deal with social rejection. For example, they might ask a new acquaintance to grab a coffee and be turned down. Try to see rejection as a sign that you are making progress.
You can’t know exactly how a social interaction will go, but sometimes you can make a good guess about:
- Who will be there
- The kinds of questions they will ask
- The kinds of topics they will want to talk about
For example, if you work in a busy office, there’s a good chance that every Monday morning, at least one person will ask, “So, how was your weekend?” or a similar question.
In this case, preparing an answer wouldn’t take much time and could make you feel more confident. For example:
“I had a quiet, relaxing day on Saturday, and then I went to my cousin’s wedding on Sunday, which was a lot of fun. How about you?”
If you’re worried about getting trapped in a conversation, it’s hard to feel relaxed. It can help to prepare some simple exit lines. For example:
- “Oh wow, it’s later than I thought! I’ve got to be going. It’s been great catching up with you.”
- “It’s been so good to see you, but I have so many things to do this afternoon. Talk to you soon!”
We have a guide on how to end a conversation politely.
Consider therapy if:
- You’ve tried self-help strategies for a few weeks but haven’t seen any improvement
- Your social anxiety is so severe that it prevents you from leaving the house or working
- You are struggling with other mental health issues, such as depression
- You have a history of trauma or bullying and feel as though you haven’t come to terms with your experiences
Look on the GoodTherapy website to find a therapist or ask your doctor for a referral.