I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel anti-social. If I’m working on a big project I go into “work mode” and tend to avoid chitchatting so I can get more work done. Then after a long period of reinforcing that habit I begin to find it harder to connect with people.
If you choose to avoid conversation consistently your brain learns that conversation is hard. And if you avoid it for long enough you’ll struggle to remember how to do it well. If you choose to avoid people consistently your brain will spend less time being externally focused on others. Instead you’ll be more focused on your internal thoughts.
You may be familiar with gems like these…
- “I can’t think of anything to say.”
- “She doesn’t like me.”
- “These people are better than me.”
And they’ll trip you up when you’re trying to make friends. The good news is that this happens to everyone. But what can you do to pull yourself out of it?
Saying Anything Is Better Than Saying Nothing
Each time you make the choice to stay in your head instead of saying something (anything!), you make it slightly harder for yourself to be social. Because the next time you’re faced with that same choice you’ll be more likely to make the same decision you made last time.
So it follows that each time you make the choice to say something instead of staying in your head, you make it slightly easier for yourself to be social next time.
Should I say “Thanks, have a great day” to the café staff as I’m walking out? Or should I just say nothing?
Should I say “Hi, how are you?” to the person who sits next to me on the bus? Or should I stare at my feet?
Should I ask the taxi driver how his day has been? Or should I scroll through my Facebook feed?
Even if these interactions last for ten seconds before going back to silence, deciding to initiate them is psychologically better for you than staying in your head. Your brain will go, “Oh, maybe focusing externally is something I should do more of instead of rattling around in this echo chamber,” and your negative thoughts will decrease.
If you’re feeling antisocial, expect to fail at this a bunch of times, but start small to keep yourself from getting discouraged. Start with Step 0 below and f*ck it up until you consistently get it right, then tackle the next step.
You’ll notice your confidence increase with every step. You’ll genuinely feel more comfortable around people, more motivated to talk, and more willing to take bigger risks if you just open your mouth and do this.
Step 0: Make eye contact and smile.
Keep doing this with new people and try new ways of doing it until you consistently get smiles back. Their smiles will make you feel more confident and will prepare you for the next step.
Step 1: Go out of your way to greet service staff with things like “Hi, how are you?”, “Thanks, have a great day,” etc.
Keep trying this in different ways until you consistently get positive comments back. Their positive comments will make you feel more comfortable.
Step 2: Say “Hi” when walking past people.
Keep trying this until you consistently get positive responses back and feel comfortable with it.
Step 3: Make quick observations and verbalise them. Like “Oh what a cute dog,” or “Nice shirt.”
You can end the conversations there. Keep trying this in different ways until you consistently get positive reactions back.
Step 4: Make a real effort to continue the initial conversation in ANY direction.
Just say anything after the initial introduction. Like “Where are you from?” or “What’s the dog’s name?” or “You look like you’re on your way to something important.” You can end the conversations there. Keep trying this in new ways until you can consistently continue conversations beyond the initial introduction, and get the reactions you’re looking for.
If this sounds difficult to you it means you’re probably not at Step 3 yet. Getting to Step 3 makes Step 4 easier, and so on. (And if you need more help with this, my site has a guide that will also help you figure out what to say and how to say it.)
Step 5: Add something personal about yourself, like “I want to get a dog one day.”
Add, “It’d be nice to have something to take care of,” or “You know I usually avoid taking risks but I’m starting to wonder if I should change that,” or “I love __. I could talk about it for hours.”
Rather than trying to impress people with what you say, just aim to keep yourself entertained or engaged. Keep trying this until you consistently get the reactions you want.
Step 6: Ask something that makes the other person think.
Say things like “What made you decide to get into that?” or “Are you usually lucky or unlucky?”, or “What’s something your friends would say you’re great at?” Anything that they have to reflect on before answering.
Now you’re having a legit conversation. Keep trying this until people consistently open up to you.
Step 7: Start group conversations.
For example: “Where are you guys from?” on a walking tour, or “Did anyone see that thing in the news today?” with your co-workers. Keep trying this until you can comfortably lead and continue these group conversations.
And of course do this without being the loud and obnoxious guy who doesn’t know when to shut up and listen.
Step 8: Play a character in conversation.
If I’m telling a story about the time Steve ate a rotten egg, for example, I might temporarily impersonate his voice and body language and re-enact the situation, rather than just saying, “He cried to mummy and spewed.” Keep trying this until people consistently laugh at your characters.
Step 9: Invite people to things that you organise. Get friends to bring friends you don’t know.
Now you’re leading the social circle. Keep trying this in different ways until people consistently accept your invitations.
At this point the world is your oyster. You’re taking much bigger risks than you were when you started this whole thing because you’ve built a consistent habit of getting out of your head and saying SOMETHING.
This isn’t the end of the road. It’s just a solid foundation that lets you take control of your social life. From here you’ll decide what risks you want to take, and which direction you want to grow in. And if you’re struggling with any of the steps, add your own smaller steps. For example you can ask the time or directions before verbalising observations if that’s easier.
So get up and say something (anything!) to the next person you see. It’s a skill you develop by doing it. Not something you’re born with.
Read more: 3 Steps To Breaking Out Of A Slump