Friday, April 29, 2011

5 Tips for Being Social

Once in a while, it becomes apparent that I have changed quite a bit over the years. People that I meet now seldom know unless I tell them that I'm shy at heart, and used to be exceptionally shy, awkward, down on myself, unliked by guys, etc only a couple years ago. At this point in my life, I can usually overcome those feelings, and surprisingly, now I find myself in a position where people ask me for advice, as though I know what I'm doing! So I thought I'd write down some of the things that I do to be a more social person:

- Smile!
When I was 16 or 17, a guy that I had just met told me that I have a beautiful smile. I feel like that was a real turning point for me. For one, I learned that I could be attractive with the traits I already have. If you're smiling, it's also hard to feel scared. Smiles put others at ease and help them to feel welcomed in return. It's a great communication tool, and the most beautiful asset a person has (seriously - I melt inside when a guy gives me a really genuine/sweet smile). Sometimes it takes practice to make smiling feel natural in intimidating situations when you're scared, but that's where other tips come into play.

- Don't be self-conscious.
I know - it's SO much easier said than done! But try to apply it. If you do something weird, the people you're with probably won't care, or won't care for very long. My biggest problem is that if I start feeling self-conscious, I freeze up and withdraw myself from participating because I don't want to embarrass myself more. Remember that we are our own hardest critics, and sometimes unnecessarily/untruthfully. Just let the embarrassment/awkwardness slide off your back and keep moving forward. This one took me years to work on.

- Establish a connection/sense of camaraderie.
This needs to happen on an individual level - it's much less intimidating and more effective that way. I usually pick the person I'm standing next to and establish a connection with them; after all, we're both at the same event, at the very least, so we have one thing in common. To achieve the sense of camaraderie, I build off our shared experience and act like we're friends already. (This is where the smile really helps!). You don't have to stick with one person either (that can get clingy); especially if you're in a group setting, the group has something going on, so just pay attention to the conversation and contribute if you can. Pay attention to social cues, don't be a story hog (I've been guilty of that a LOT), and move with the flow of the conversation. 

- Be genuinely interested in individuals.
This is, in my opinion, the absolute key to success. I learned from the book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People," that it's useful to get someone to talk about their self. That strategy works because when somebody is interested in you, that's really flattering! If you engender positive feelings in somebody, they're more likely to exhibit positive feelings towards you in return. It's about more than just the mechanics of the conversation though: it's about making the other person feel special and worthwhile, and recognizing as much as you can the contribution that they make to what's going on. This is being friendly - caring more about the other person than caring how they make you feel. If you're more concerned about them, you have less room to be self-conscious, and people want to talk to you because you make them feel good about themselves. 

- Be brave!
When it comes down to it, you just have to brave - brave enough to swallow your fear, walk across the room, and begin a conversation with a complete stranger (or an intimidatingly-attractive acquaintance). You don't have to sweep them off their feet with how suave and awesome you are; in fact, that strategy usually backfires :) All you need to do is be interested in them, don't worry about impressing anyone, and just be yourself. It is hard to take the first step, but my personal philosophy is that sometimes you have to take the initiative in order to give yourself opportunities, so be bold! (But not overbearing - Alma 38:10, 12).

There's a strong connection between being social and having healthy self esteem. Recognize the contribution that YOU make (to your friends, to your family, to your community, to "the world" at large) and be confident in who you are. You need to have self-confidence to be really successful, but you gain confidence in the process as well. It's one of those gospel paradoxes - do you remember in Mark 8:35, that whosoever should lose his life should find it, and whosoever should save his life would lose it? There is a bidirectional relationship at work here: As we lose ourselves in love and service to others, we find increased love and esteem for ourselves. My life is one testimony that this does work! There is hope! You don't need to despair or settle for less just because you're too shy to make the first move right now. Start working on it a bit at a time, and it'll get easier with practice; even if you never become a "pro," you still make improvement and learn in the process. Christ helps us in our weaknesses, and I've seen that over and over in my life, including in my social life :) 

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