When you’re an introvert, people will often tell you to “Open up!”, to “Get out and smell the flowers!” and to follow other well-meaning-but-somewhat-patronizing advice. Yes, you want to do all those things, but you’d rather do them on your own terms, thank you very much.
Besides, you’re not shy or antisocial. Your brain just works differently from extroverts’ brains. Forcing yourself to go against your own nature is, quite frankly, ridiculous.
Still, there will be times when you’ll have to do things that normally make you cringe. This includes going to parties (“Ugh”), networking (“Sounds sleazy”) or making small talk (“Is there something we can talk about other than the weather?”). The good news is you can do all that without necessarily compromising who you are. Here’s how:
1. Fill Your Energy Tank Before You Go Out
If you just gave a nerve-wracking presentation in front of a gazillion people, don’t head straight to a drinking party afterwards. Give yourself time to re-energize by listening to music, reading a book or doing other things that make you feel good. Do this in a place where you can be alone and not be disturbed.
2. Practice Talking to Strangers
Observing people from afar is nice, but wouldn’t it be better to confirm your observations by actually talking to those people? Try striking up a conversation with a stranger, for example. Not only will the other person reciprocate, but they might even derive pleasure from your little chitchat. Just remember to keep the next step in mind:
3. Be Genuinely Interested in Other People
When you talk to others, it’s important not to make it all about you. People are interested in those who are interested in them, so focus half of the conversation on the other. Ask easy questions first (“Hey, isn’t that keychain from X show? Where did you buy it?”), then proceed to open-ended questions from there (“What did you think of the last episode from X show?”).
Of course, you want to share a little bit about yourself too. You don’t have to let them know everything right off the bat — just the bits you’re comfortable telling a complete stranger. The idea is to let the other person know that there’s a warm, awesome human being underneath your quiet, reserved exterior.
4. Find Like-Minded Individuals
Your social media feeds may suggest otherwise, but introverts are actually common. In fact, they make up around a third to a half of the world’s population. That’s between 2 and 3.5 billion people you can relate to!
Don’t assume that a bubbly, loud stranger is automatically an extrovert. If you dig deep enough into their history, you may be surprised at what you find. Also, tons of online forums are dedicated to introverts, so look those up when you have the time.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No”
Setting boundaries is especially important for introverts, because people often assume that quiet types are meek and submissive. If someone makes you uncomfortable, either because they’re too aggressive or set off certain alarm bells in your head, it’s okay to walk away.
Tell them “No” in the simplest, firmest and most polite way you can manage: “I’d love to babysit your kids this weekend, but I have other commitments during that time too. Would you like me to suggest someone else?”
Keep on Trucking
Even after following these tips, you may still feel queasy around people. That’s okay, because no one becomes a social butterfly overnight. Actually, you don’t even have to be a social butterfly any time in the future. As long as you’re the best version of your introvert self, it doesn’t matter whether you’re Mr./Ms. Congeniality or not.
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