5 Important Social Skills Tips for Introverts How to Succeed in an Extroverted World
Not all introverts are the same and there are a lot of misconceptions about introversion that need to be cleared up. Understanding the type of introvert you are is the first key to developing better social skills. As a lifelong shy introvert, I can tell you nothing bugs me more at my core than people who say “You just need to be more outgoing” or “Just let go and enjoy yourself”.
There is the unrealistic expectation and pressure put on us to “just change”, but frankly, why should we have to? Adapt perhaps to make life easier yes, but fundamentally change just to please others? No. Like any other trait; you can learn to embrace the good parts of introversion and work through the parts that make social situations uncomfortable.
40+ years of shyness and introversion, along with a few psychology classes and books, have given me some insight into how to develop social skills that ease anxiety and make life easier. The key is understanding your particular type of introversion, how it ties into other aspects of your personality, and how to work with it.
Signs You Might be an Introvert
You find small talk boring and tiresome
The idea of “shmoozing” or “networking” makes you feel like you're being a big phony
You need more time to yourself than others
You need one on one interaction or prefer small groups
People think you tend to be “too serious”
It's easier for you to give a speech to 100 people than it is to interact with them in a social situation. Ironically, many introverts make very good public speakers!
You're a writer! Many introverts express themselves very well through the written word and are drawn to that over other forms of communication.
Not All Introverts are the Same!
In fact, our personalities vary as widely as extroverts. There are certain characteristics introverts are more likely to have, and you may have one or all of them in varying degrees.
Believe it or not, there are introverted people who are not shy. They may be perceived as extroverted even, but in private, they keep their feelings to themselves and are slow to warm up to others or to really let new people into their inner world.
There are introverts who are shy and don't talk much, but that doesn't mean they are not passionate, intelligent people. Often, it is your quiet, observant person who is exceptionally and keenly intelligent and aware.
They may not feel the need to jump into loud debates or to trumpet their wisdom in boisterous fashion, but that doesn't mean they aren't critical thinkers with a deep understanding of the world around them.
Other introverts may be more prone to anxiety. New places and people are stressful to this type of introverted personality. This person is more relaxed in familiar places or situations, with people who they know well. They may have “stranger anxiety”, but can talk for hours to those they know and trust. Going to new places or meeting new people however may trigger stress responses or even panic.
There is a common myth perpetuated that introverts tend to be anti-social. You've likely heard stuff like “It's the quiet ones you have to watch out for” or news reports about serial killers where everyone laments that he was a “loner”. This unfortunately creates a perception of introverts as being potentially dangerous, which doesn't help the situation.
Many introverts struggle socially, stigmatizing us doesn't help. I and many other introverts I know, are quite compassionate. Not wearing one's heart on one's sleeve, does not mean you hate humanity or are an uncaring person.
Introverts are often seen as “aloof” or “distant” and that isn't necessarily the case. I am someone who just doesn't think to respond to everything. For example, one of my family members became very incensed that I had not sent a thank you card for a gift. I said thank you to her upon receiving the gift, and felt that was enough, but she felt very slighted by that.
She is extremely outgoing and always wanting interaction with others etc. I am not really that way. I appreciate when people say thank you – but don't sit by the mailbox waiting for a card. We're both decent people, with different expectations and that's where introverts and extroverts can end up with hurt feelings or misunderstandings. The inner worlds and expectations of introverts and extroverts are very different. Understanding is the key to avoiding mishaps that can get blown out of proportion.
Many introverts tend to crave “down time” and they need a lot of time to themselves. In relationships, sometimes people mistake this as being “selfish” or "distant", but in reality, it doesn't mean either of those things to the introvert. Introverts thrive with plenty of time to recharge their batteries and are better to those they love when given some space.
So, what's an introverted person to do to avoid panic attacks and making others angry? Fortunately, there are ways to learn to adapt. With practice even hardcore introverts can feel more comfortable socially. You do not ever have to change who you are fundamentally, but every person, no matter who they are, can benefit from trying new things and pushing for personal bests.
Here are some tips to help you manage more effectively:
“Just Pretend Your Extroverted” - No.
This common advice is NOT the answer and does not work. How and why should introverts be expected to be someone they are not? Instead, the idea should be to expose yourself to social situations gradually or you'll just end up more frustrated.
If you are introverted, you are not going to be an extrovert no matter how much you try. You may be good at faking it, but you'll never feel comfortable in your own skin if you feel you have to be something you aren't. What's the use in that, right?
I am an extremely shy person who doesn't do well in crowds. I am better one on one or with a small group of people I know well. If I am going to a new place that is likely to have a crowd, like a restaurant that is unfamiliar etc. I don't go alone, nor do I go with a large group.
Instead, I always go with one or two other people who I can relax around, who understand my trepidation of strange places. This is a compromise that still pushes me a bit outside of my comfort zone, but not so much so that I freak out or can't have a good time.
This can be a steep learning curve for those of us who are shy, but it is vital to all your relationships with humans that you train yourself to be able to make and maintain eye contact. Eye contact says to others “I am trustworthy and I know what I am talking about”.
If you mumble and look at the floor, this does nothing to make people trust you. This can be crippling if you want to advance in a career where people skills are necessary.
Start slow. I started learning the habit of eye contact by looking between people's eyebrows. It's true! It gives the illusion of direct eye contact and gives a little bit of a comfort barrier.
Start slowly and work your way up. I worked in service for years and over time, I was able to overcome this. I will never be wholly 100% comfortable making eye contact with strangers – and you know what? That's OK! I can do it well enough to make people more comfortable around me, which in turn helps me be more comfortable around them.
If you cannot maintain eye contact without feeling like you are staring or without feeling like you're about to wet your pants: you can also develop a habit of looking down for just a bit and then back up. This gives the message that you are considering what you are saying – are thoughtful, and not avoiding.
Address Your Posture
Slouching and shrinking make you stand out more, and can even get you targeted in some situations.
For example, I had one college professor who could instantly tell I was shy and uncomfortable in his class. As an extrovert and a bully he thought it was fun to single out and mock people during his classes. Guess who he targeted at every given opportunity?
I was tired of being tense and humiliated and I was too far into the semester to get out of it. This was when I really learned about the importance of body posture and how it draws silent boundaries. I was so sick of this man's nonsense, that I started looking for ways to get him off my back without having to have a direct confrontation.
One day, he started in on me. Despite my inner terror; I sat up straight, made eye contact and said quietly, but firmly “I don't know, why don't you badger someone else for once?”. That act of straightening up, making eye contact and refusing to shrink back made me just assertive enough that he stopped picking on me as much after that. We do not have to be steamrolled by bullies. It happened to me all the time as a kid. By the time I went to college; I was over it.
I made it a point to focus on maintaining a good, upright posture from then on and I found it made me more relaxed – ironic huh? We tend to seek comfort in making ourselves small, but taking up more physical space is actually more conducive to being left alone. This is true even if you are a small person. I might be 5'2 with my shoes on.
You can learn to be assertive, without being aggressive. As an introvert, it will make life much easier. Body language and how you carry yourself is probably the most important aspect of this. If your posture exudes confidence, you are less likely to be a target.
This best selling and highly acclaimed book discusses the importance of embracing your strengths and getting ahead as an introvert in a world that tends to push only type A extroverts as leaders. There is an interview with the author in the YouTube video below. Highly recommended viewing and reading if you are a struggling introvert.
Assertive does NOT mean aggressive. Assertiveness can help you form strong boundaries with others, while still maintaining strong, healthy relationships. Shy people often find that others will be more inclined to try to take advantage of them. Why? Because shy people often struggle with being able to say no and they also tend to give off an aura of self-consciousness that people will pick up on. If you are a doormat, people will walk on you.
For years, I was the one that people would ask for favors that they knew no one else would agree to. I was easy to pressure with guilt etc. I was so self-conscious due to my shyness and introverted nature, that I felt like I had to do more to “prove” myself. Eventually, I got tired of being that way, and I taught myself a lot about how to be assertive.
Is it hard? Yes! But worth it. When you can learn to form healthy boundaries, people start respecting you more and life is much easier. I still have strong relationships with my close circle of family and friends, but they know and understand I have limits. I was also able to let go of one-sided friendships that were not beneficial to me without feeling like I had somehow failed.
Make it About Them Not You
As an introvert, trying to be social can be akin to stage fright. It feels like you are always “on”. If you struggle a lot with anxiety over how you are received, or constantly feeling pressured to perform, turn this around by focusing your energy on “them” and not you.
Direct conversation towards the other person. Get good at asking questions and being a great listener. This is usually what introverts are hard wired for anyway – we love a good story and to observe others. When you make it about the other person, the pressure to “perform” wanes and you start to naturally relax more.
When you focus on others, it helps you relax, and it makes other people warm to you because you are taking an interest in them. They will want to open up more and take that spotlight – and you will be more at ease feeling that spotlight removed from you.
If you are an introvert, what do you do to make life and social situations easier?
Do You Consider Yourself an Introvert?
© 2014 Christin Sander