What Are Good Ways to Become More Outgoing?

Friends with bicycles in the park.
It’s not easy, but one can learn to become social.

Photo by Eldad Carin/iStockphoto/Thinkstock

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Trini Lopez, introvert turned extrovert:

I used to be very awkward and anti-social, but those who know me now refuse to believe it. I was that kid in middle school with sweatpants and bifocals who got picked last at every sporting activity and had no friends to speak of. Now in my 30s, I have a full and healthy social life, many close friends, and am able to sustain long-term and meaningful relationships with women. I have worked hard on becoming the person that I want to be. This is how I did it.

1. Have a deep desire to connect with people
2. Take risks
3. Observe, listen, and adjust
4. Don’t get discouraged

1. Have a deep desire to connect with people
I was incredibly awkward, got tormented in middle school (and high school), and didn’t have a girlfriend until my twenties. But I really wanted to connect with people. I wanted them to like me, and I wanted to have deep meaningful relationships all around me. This was the driving force of my transformation, and without that I wouldn’t have gotten very far.

I am assuming from the question that you have such a desire, but it’s important to not to take that as a given. Why do you want to be a social person? Is it because you truly want to connect with other people, or because everyone else in your family is social and you feel like the black sheep? Being a social person is not intrinsically better than being an non-social person. Everyone is different. See whether you truly want this for yourself, or whether you’re trying to live up to the expectations of others. if it’s the former, move on to step two. If it’s the latter, work instead on embracing your own traits as valid and accepting yourself.

2. Take Risks
Unless you’re a natural socialite (and even if you are), it can be scary to talk to new people. But in order to break through your own social limitations, you have to take risks. That means deliberately putting yourself in situations that you know make you uncomfortable. There is no magic potion (well, besides alcohol) that will make you comfortable without going through a gauntlet of situations that make you face and overcome your fear of social situations. You gotta go through it.

And start small. You don’t have to start with a stand up comedy routine, just make conversation with the guy at Starbucks. Smile at someone while you’re pumping gas. These little things will give you confidence and make larger social situations more accessible.

One thing that helped me in this regard was some advice an employer gave me once. I was working backstage at an outdoor concert and was asked to walk out on stage in front of 15,000 people to give water bottles to all the performers. I was terrified. I asked a barrage of questions:

“How should I do it? Do I just put it in front of them? Or hand it to them? Do I walk behind the speakers or in front?”

My boss looked at me and said, “Just go out there and pretend like you know what you’re doing.”

I’ve used that technique throughout my life whenever I’m doing something for the first time, and it’s helped me immensely. In other words, pretend like you’re the kind of person that is very social and comfortable with people. Play a character. This helps you break out of your own self-imposed social limitations by making you feel that you’re actually someone else. And before you know it, your alternate character will become a part of who you really are.

3. Observe, listen, and adjust
Pay attention to how people behave with each other, how they respond to social cues, and how they respond to things you do and say. See how the words and actions of others make you feel. Who makes you feel comfortable? Why?

Pay attention to body language, both of others and your own. Watch humans interact as you would watch the nature channel. See what makes them laugh, what makes them feel comfortable, and what does the opposite. See how people’s body language affects the way you perceive them, the way others do. People are incredibly perceptive, and our social dynamics are much more complex than they might seem. It has been said that only 7% of human communication is in the words we speak. The rest is body language, tone of voice, etc.  (Source: Body language)

Pay attention to everything. Then adjust accordingly. Rinse and repeat. Enjoy the process of learning and challenge yourself to pick up on social cues through observation, emulation, and most importantly, self-awareness.

4. Don’t get discouraged
Jimi Hendrix didn’t just pick up a guitar one day and play “Purple Haze.” He picked up a guitar and at first, it sounded like crap. But he worked at it for many hours until he became one of the greatest to ever play.

You’re going to make mistakes. That’s a given. You’re going to say or do something that is socially awkward, or makes others uncomfortable, and you will be mortified. But don’t give up. It will take time, and you will get better. I still feel that deep down I’m a very awkward person, even though by almost all outward accounts, I’m extremely social and comfortable with people.  That’s because it’s a skill that I developed, and not something that necessarily comes naturally. Trust me, if I can do it, anyone can.

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