I used to consider myself an introvert before I started my own business and had to put myself out there. To be honest, I didn’t really like making new friends, I was pretty quiet unless something really irked me enough to speak up, and I had a pretty small professional network. Starting a business and having to raise capital forced me to change all of that. But I’ll never forget how deathly afraid I was at the first few months of networking events and meeting new people.
But I was able to do it. I raised capital for our business, built a pretty deep professional network with awesome advisors, and now feel really comfortable in social situations. It’s great now but all of this took time, practice, and a strong commitment. I learned something:
Socializing and communication are skills, similar to learning a new language and it’s something you can learn, practice and improve.
Do you walk into a social setting and think any of these things?
- I should leave now
- I just don’t like people
- I’m an introvert, I’m just wired that way
- I’m going to say something REALLY dumb
- Ugh, this is SO draining
Don’t worry you’re not alone. I used to think all of these things. Recently, I have spoken to people in my network, have dug around Reddit and read numerous forums. Trust me, you’re not alone. But the real question is do you want to improve this? The important thing to remember is that social skills are skills, meaning they can be learned, practiced, and perfected.
It’s tough to be committed to making a change and here’s why:
- You need to go outside of your comfort zone– it’s easier to do nothing
- Eventually, you will have to speak to people (oh no!)
- It takes a long time and is something that you’ll continue to work on and improve for decades
Now, let’s consider some things that could happen if you don’t change:
- You may miss important career or business opportunities
- You could miss meeting really great people who can turn into lifelong friends
- You could end up isolated and alone
- You won’t have a professional network to learn, grow with and contribute to
Now that we’ve gotten over the tough stuff, do you want to make a significant improvement in your social and communication skills? If so, read on.
I want to give you 3 actionable tips you can begin using NOW to start taking the baby steps towards improving your social skills. But before we dive into those tips let me preface it with a few caveats:
- Failing is fine- These are things you will have to work through and it will not be easy. Be prepared to fail and when you do, applaud yourself for trying and try again!
- Celebrate small wins- these are small, simple goals to set for yourself but taking action now and achieving them will give you confidence and motivation to keep on going.
- You must want to change– please don’t bother setting yourself up for failure, only try out these tactics and read this if you’re committed to improvement. No whining, only trying, experimenting and improving. It may take weeks or months to perfect these things and that’s totally fine as long as you’re trying.
THE FIRST STEP- WORK ON YOURSELF
This may sound anti-climactic right? You probably thought I was going to tell you how to make someone laugh or how to get the business card of a VIP. Let’s start with the basics. Based on my research I noticed time and time again that people who struggled with effectively communicating developed debilitating stories about themselves or the way they were perceived by others. Things like:
- “I can tell people don’t take me seriously”
- “My coworkers don’t like me, but they like my peer who’s less capable.”
- “When I go to social events all I do is worry about the way other people are thinking about me”
- “At parties, I’ve just realized that I’m that guy. The awkward one who’s not talking”
These types of negative stories are holding you back and they need to be changed NOW.
What you tell yourself dictates who you are. If you tell yourself you’re a loser introvert who can never network or improve your career, then unfortunately…you are. It sounds cheesy, but I cannot stress the importance of protecting your thoughts, identity, and self-worth.
If you cannot find your inner confidence, you will not be able to communicate yourself or socialize in a meaningful way. You won’t be able to progress doing the most basic parts of socializing like being in the moment or presenting yourself effectively. You have to fix yourself before you can try out the new, shiny tactics that promise to turn you into a master conversationalist. You may even find that making this tweak alone will naturally improve your social skills.
In order to improve your social skills in a sustainable way, first you have to train your mind work for you, not against you.
Okay I get it, then how exactly do I work on myself?
You change your self-perception by changing your mental habits.
3 tactics you can try NOW to change your self-perception through mental habits:
Action item #1: Transfer the guilt tactic- Do you ever do something silly and say “Jeez, I’m SO stupid.” You may think this is something really minor, but it’s not. You are the story you tell yourself. Try changing these words around and changing it to “Oops that thing I did was silly, next time I’ll think through it.” You’ve done 2 things here.
- First you removed your SELF from the equation. You did something that was a silly mistake, don’t equate that to mean YOU are dumb.
- The second thing you are doing is deciding how you will take action if that happens again. You have gone from making yourself a victim of “dumbness” to empowering yourself to someone who made a mistake and will work on making it better the next time around.
Action item #2: Identify the cues- I’m a big believer in the power of habit. The habit loop consists of the cue, routine, and reward. Start identifying the cues that make you think negatively about yourself. Is it when you make a minor mistake? Is it when you first sit down behind your desk at work when you don’t want to be there? Identify these cues and note them down. The next time your “cued” become aware of it and actively change the routine of negative self-talk by replacing it with something positive (whether you believe it or not). You may even want to try distracting yourself, anything to stop the routine of negative self-talk so that you break that mental habit and create a new one.
Action item #3: Change your vocabulary- When you hear those negative thoughts in your mind, change them into positive ones immediately, even if you have to trick yourself into doing it. For example:
- “I’m never going to be successful” VS
- “I can be successful, I just have to put in the work and energy to do it. I will start by doing X by this date”
- “That person doesn’t like me, they never stop by my desk or say hi” VS
- “That person hasn’t gotten the chance to get to know me. I’ll be the bigger person and introduce myself when I’m ready”
Remove words from your mental vocabulary like “wish, could, should, can’t, won’t” etc. Change those words into words like “Can, will, I will do this by…, etc.”
Even the simple step of using different words to talk to yourself can be transformative to your confidence. Identify those cues and the words you use. Do your best to change them every moment you get. In the beginning you may not believe the positive thoughts you’re telling yourself and that’s normal. Just keep on pumping yourself up, trust me.
Half the battle of beating your social hang-ups is to get over your own mental hang-ups. Improving your mental habits is key to developing your self-confidence. Improving your self-confidence will help you express your true self in an effective and socially confident way. Transform your mental habits of getting down on yourself by identifying cues and changing your routines to mental habits that serve you.