Does socializing stress you out? Maybe you’re an introvert who wishes you could improve social skills, but don’t know where to begin. You feel so awkward, inhibited and tongue-tied in social situations, that it seems impossible to confidently connect.
Before I share some very simple and effective ways to improve social skills as an adult introvert, I should clarify something.
You may have heard people using the words “shy” and “introverted” interchangeably. I get it. As a kid, when I would go quiet around strangers my mother would say, “Oh she’s just shy.” And yet, I could be very bold and talkative with my family and BFFs.
Now I understand that shyness and introversion aren’t the same thing. Shyness has to do with a fear of social interactions while introversion has to do with where you get your energy from. You can read more about the difference between shyness and introversion in this article.
Even if you’re an introvert who is not shy, you may find socializing uncomfortable for several reasons:
- You take more time to think before you speak, which can cause you to go blank in conversations.
- You find socializing (especially in large groups) draining and overwhelming.
- You find small talk unbearable, but don’t know how to get past it and have the meaningful conversations you crave.
As an introvert myself, I’ve definitely struggled with all of the above.
Some of my most uncomfortable social experiences have occurred while traveling. Inevitably, I’d find myself in a group situation—whether it be on a tour, in a hostel common area, or at a party—that left me feeling beyond awkward and drained.
After asking and answering the same boring questions for the fortieth (ok, maybe just the fourth) time, I would start to retract and go into my shell.
Sometimes, someone would point out my quietness and make me feel even more self-conscious.
If I’d known then what I know now I would’ve done several things differently.
For one, I would’ve known how to better manage my introvert social batteries and planned my activities accordingly. I’d also try to prioritize meaningful one-on-one interactions over rowdy group activities (more on this later).
Now that I’m an introvert author and coach who specializes in confidence and connection, I know the steps to become a social genius—even if you’re normally quiet and reserved.
In case you’re looking to improve social skills as an adult, here are some introvert-friendly ways to do just that.
7 Ways to improve social skills
It’s a well-known fact that introverts are great listeners. Improving social skills can be as simple as becoming an even better listener.
You can add some oomph to your active listening by reacting with your facial expressions, and using encouraging nudges like, “that sounds amazing,” “I know what you mean”, or “that’s hilarious!”
Be interested in stories
If you’re an introvert who hates small talk as much as much as a tabby cat hates exercise, this tip is for you.
Focus on swapping stories in conversation. Rather than just asking “how was your weekend”, ask, “what was the highlight of your weekend?”
You can also ask journey questions that explore how they got from A to B. Here are some examples:
- How did you go from working for the government to owning your own business?
- How did you go from being shy to becoming a standup comedian?
- How did you go from never exercising to doing your first marathon?
Focus on one-on-one conversations
Introverts often struggle in group conversations. Why not do yourself a favour and focus your energy on one-on-one interactions?
Not only will you feel more relaxed and in your element, you’ll also have more opportunities to connect meaningfully.
Avoid sarcasm and complaining
In her book Dare to Lead, Brene Brown points out that “The word sarcasm is from the Greek work sarkazein, meaning ‘to tear flesh’.” This may sound extreme, but it’s hard to deny that sarcasm has negative and even aggressive undertones.
Likewise, complaining can create a negative vibe in social interactions. That doesn’t mean you pretend everything is peachy when it’s not. Instead, focus on sharing your feelings rather than airing your grievances (save that for Festivus!).
Trade judgment for acceptance
“I feel really comfortable with you!”
“I feel like I can trust you.”
“You have a really warm energy about you.”
These are things that people I’ve met recently have said to me during our very first interaction. Want to know my secret?
I go into interactions with the intention of making people feel 100% accepted. This means dropping judgments and going into conversations with an open heart and mind.
So if you want to truly connect in conversation, try out this approach for yourself.
Remember what’s important to them
Socializing is all about making people feel special. One easy way to do this is by remembering key things they shared and bringing them up later.
If someone tells you that they’re starting a new job, ask them how their first week was the next time you see them.
You might also follow up on information they share about their pet, family member or activities that they’re going to do. Here are a few examples:
- How was the volleyball game?
- How did it go with Sushi’s vet visit?
- How is your mom doing? Is she feeling better?
Make a graceful exit
If you’re like a lot of introverts, you may be planning your exit before the socializing even begins. And yet, once you’re in a conversation you may not know how or when to leave.
The key is to listen and watch for cues that the conversation is winding down. The person’s body language will usually change; they might take a step back, look around the room, or start angling their body away from you.
Also keep in mind that people tend to small talk their way out of a conversation. They might say something like, “So what are your plans for the rest of the evening?”
When this happens, be sure to take the hint and begin wrapping up the conversation by saying something like, “It was great chatting with you, hopefully we’ll get to connect again soon.”
The first step to social success
The first step to connecting as an introvert may not be what you think. If you’re like a lot of the students and clients who come to me, you might think you just need to “put yourself out there”.
But before you even leave your house, it’s important to make sure you have strategies that work with, rather than against, your introversion.
To help you get started, I’ve put together a free Introvert Connection Guide. It gives you 7 steps to confidently socialize and make friends—no extroversion required!