In today’s world, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to be accepted and wanted by others. This is a natural part of our humanity. We need that social component for our existence, although, as a pretty severe introvert myself, some need it more than others. The fact remains, we all need it.
Some of us, like myself, feel very awkward and reserved in social situations. Some of us thrive. It’s always so easy to judge our insides against another person’s outsides and decide that they “do it better” than we do. And honestly, this is the core of all social awkwardness… comparison.
There is never a time when your insides, which include all of the weaknesses and fears that you are well aware of, are going to compare fairly to outsides of another person, which, for you, cannot include all of the weaknesses and fears that they are purposefully not broadcasting. We all try to put our best foot forward, but, at the same time, we are still glaringly aware of our own inner turmoil. As such, we are convinced that everyone else can see it too. This is not true. It is always so interesting to talk to members of my own inner circle who have no idea how severe an introvert I am because, in social settings, I come across like a social butterfly.
So, I thought I would take a few moments to share with you lessons, tips and tricks I have picked up along the way that help me thrive in social situations, even though these situations are not my forte. These are not difficult things at all. They are actually pretty basic components of human nature. And, when used correctly, they can help you be the center of any room.
Everyone loves to talk about themselves.
Now, you can compete with this, or you can use it to your advantage. In the context of working a room, there are two ways I see this integral fact of human nature used in most conversations. Either we are competing to talk about ourselves, or we are asking the other person to talk about themselves. We have this idea that an argument needs to be won. This is not possible. None of us really want the other person’s opinion so much as we want to hear our own opinion coming out of their mouths. This may be a little hard to swallow at first, but once we accept it as a fact of our nature, we have the ability to flow with this rather than work against it.
Accepting this about myself and others helped me to stop trying to “win arguments” which is just another way of working at hearing my own opinion coming out of the other person’s mouth. Even when it does, that doesn’t mean they actually see things the same way I do. No one really can. So there really is no way for anyone to fully agree with us, because we are all a unique spectrum of ideas, experiences and thoughts.
The best way to understand and connect to others is to ask them to talk about themselves. This is their favorite subject anyway, because it’s the subject they specialize in. Just like I specialize in myself. When I ask another person to talk about themselves, three wonderful things result: 1) There’s no room for disagreement because this is their unique story. They are the expert. 2) I actually understand where they are coming from and get to know them better. 3) They consider me to be an excellent conversationalist, even though all I’m doing is asking a few interested questions.
It takes all of the stress of needing to be a sparkling conversationalist off of my shoulders. They think I’m an amazing listener, and they want to talk to me more. And they will, over time, begin to ask me more questions about myself because I have put them at ease. When working a room, it’s an amazing way of taking the pressure off of everybody involved.
We all love people who are good listeners.
More than anything, we are all looking to be seen and heard. We all want to feel like the other person took the time to care about who we really are. But when we are competing to share who we really are, this doesn’t happen. We just compete ourselves further and further into opposing corners. And the stress of needing to “win” the conversation has us formulating our response when, if we listened, fewer misunderstandings would take place.
So, I just ask people questions about themselves and then listen. If I am asked a question about myself, I answer it and then return the conversation to them. Over time, it naturally balances out to mutual a interview. And this is really what conversation is supposed to be. It is supposed to be filled with curiosity and questioning, not simply repeating the same old tired content and “self sales pitch”. I love talking to people who interview me while I interview them, because we are both just flowing with the real purpose of a conversation.
After all is said and done, the person I am talking to walks away with the feeling of having been heard. They feel like I cared enough to get to know them, and that is the highest compliment anyone can pay me conversationally: “she’s a really good listener.” People talk about themselves when they are comfortable and people remember comfortable conversations and want to have them again, with the people who made them feel comfortable.
Basic facial expressions and gestures make or break a conversation.
A conversation consists of three different parts: the words that are spoken (7%), how they are spoken (38%) and what your body is simultaneously saying, or body language (55%). In western society, we are almost exclusively focused on our words, which is the smallest part of the conversation. While our mouths are speaking, our body is dominating the conversation.
I smile a lot when ‘working a room’. And I laugh a lot. At this point in my life, it is my habitual mode in conversation. This is not to say that I keep right on smiling and laughing as someone shares a traumatic childhood story with me, but I do smile and laugh the majority of the time. Smiling is literally more contagious than the flu and cannot be resisted. Employers promote people who smile. There isn’t a rich person in the world who can’t be made richer by a smile, and there isn’t a poor person in the world who can’t afford a smile. Smiling reduces stress. And people tend to attribute confidence to you when you smile a lot… even if you don’t have it.
I nod a lot during a conversation. In research, people get the message from you that you want the conversation to continue when you nod. It is an unspoken agreement and creates intense rapport between you and the person with whom you are speaking. Studies have also found that people find you more likable and easier to approach when you regularly nod. Nodding also reduces stress. I use it as my point of physical focus in a conversation to pull my attention away from the anxiety that talking to others creates for me. While I love to talk, I often get anxious and this rhythmic gesture helps me to relax.
I regularly tilt my head slightly to the left during conversations. In body language, when a person tilts their head to the left it means that they like what they are seeing or hearing. Once the person across from me begins to mirror this gesture, and tilts their head to the left, I know that we have established really good rapport. This helps me to relax even more and the conversation will naturally deepen. While it does take some conscious effort to develop this gesture as a regular part of conversation, the benefits are incredible.
Everyone loves to receive a compliment.
A compliment is just a verbal mirror of value, a mirror which is unfortunately underused in today’s society. We are told to be authentic, and because we are often competing in conversation to relay that authenticity, we sometimes find ourselves lacking in the actual knowledge necessary to give an “authentic compliment.” So, we don’t. Furthermore, people who just lather shallow compliments on others are labeled as disingenuous, which further puts pressure on us to come up with intensely personal compliments.
I ignore all of that. One of my favorite compliments is: “I am so proud of you.” And I mean it every time I say it. It bothers me that we reserve pride in someone for accomplishments rather than being. I am proud of anyone who is vulnerable. I am proud of anyone who tries, knowing they may face being labeled a failure. I am proud of those who are kind, those who are honest when it doesn’t serve them in any way, those who encourage others and those who focus on being better, rather than more accomplished, human beings.
Working a Room, Well, a Grocery Store?
One of my favorite things to do when I go grocery shopping is to throw compliments around the store like a wedding flower girl who has had too much sugar. “Your butt looks fantastic, sir.” It’s obvious that I’m gay and this never fails to get a smile. “Your hair is so gorgeous.” Women put a lot of effort into their hair and love hearing that the effort is paying off. “Your child is just adorable.” I can’t think of a single parent whose heart isn’t made lighter by a totally unsolicited compliment aimed at their child. It costs zero dollars to compliment someone, but creates a wealth of self-worth for the person receiving it. Since western culture focuses so much attention on our appearance, it is my personal mission to be a ray of “appearance sunshine” in the lives of others. And honestly, some of the most intensely personal and connected conversations I have ever had have been in line at the grocery store after paying someone an unsolicited compliment.
And for you life coaches out there, it is also how I have come across some of my clients.
Make eye contact.
For many years of my life, I was in the same class as that person begging for money in front of the 7-11. People often treated me as though, if they made eye contact with me, I might steal their soul. They wouldn’t even look in the direction of my head if they could avoid it. Many of those same people gave me money, but honestly, I would have traded the money for eye contact… for a moment of connection in which I mattered.
All of us want a connection with others. We want to feel seen, heard, valued and included. Eye contact is another completely free way of doing this. I must admit that I have been told that I tend to go overboard in this area and can often make people uncomfortable because I hold anyone’s gaze as long as they will let me. I guess this is the last vestiges of having been on the fringes of society for so long.
It is impossible to fake eye contact, and eye contact can only mean that my attention is focused on the person with whom I am making eye contact. It is one of the most genuine types of connection we can make. The eyes are, after all, the windows to the soul. Now, you don’t have to “mad dog” the other person and lock gaze until someone submits and looks away, but making regular eye contact during a conversation (30% – 60%) while listening is an optimal environment for a memorable exchange.
The combination is magical.
I’m giving away my basic set of skills for making magical conversations. If you have ever watched my interviews, or been with me in person face-to-face, or even in an online conversation, you know this is how I communicate. This combination is my calling card.
Now, unlike some people who want to sell you their “5 tricks to make a sale”, I am sharing with you my 5 techniques to overcome my extreme introversion. Although I am a gifted conversationalist and can talk about just about anything, doing so with others is hard for me. Focusing on the other person isn’t being used as a way to manipulate that person, it’s being used to help me stay present.
And this is the point, there are probably people reading this who are absolutely shocked that I am an introvert. And it’s because I have found a combination of skills that helps me to stay in the game. So if you struggle with conversation and dread it, you are my people, and this is for you. The easiest thing in the world to do, and the most powerful, is to stop focusing on yourself and trying to carry the weight of the conversation. Just relax and go with the flow and everything will be fine. You’ve got this!!