Are you tired of feeling like you’re on the sidelines while everyone else is socializing? Do you wish you could be more at ease around new people and have better conversations? This guide is here to help. Whether you’re an introvert, struggle with anxiety, or just find social situations challenging, you’ll find practical tips for building your confidence, developing your social skills, and making meaningful connections with others.
- Tips to be more social
- Making conversation and knowing what to say
- Socializing as an introvert
- Specific situations
If you don’t currently spend much time socializing, or if you feel socially awkward, you might be wondering how you can become more comfortable in other people’s company. In this section, you’ll learn how to be more social by adjusting your mindset, meeting new people, and practicing your social skills.
Here are some general tips that will help you to become more social:
1. Practice self-compassion and positive self-talk
If you find yourself being overly self-critical and judging yourself, it can be helpful to change the way you talk to yourself. Practicing self-compassion and talking to yourself like you would a good friend can improve your self-esteem and make you less worried about being judged by others.
For example, if you tend to think things like, “I’m always weird and awkward, what’s wrong with me?”, try to reframe those thoughts in a more compassionate way. You could say to yourself, “Sometimes I’m awkward, but that’s okay. After all, a lot of people are awkward, and they are still good people. I can also remember times when I’ve been funny and social.” This kind of positive self-talk can help build self-confidence and make social interactions feel less intimidating.
Additionally, challenging your self-critical voice and coming up with examples that disprove negative self-beliefs can be an effective way to build self-esteem. For instance, if you feel like nobody wants to talk to you because you’re boring, think about times when people have shown interest in what you have to say. By recognizing that negative self-beliefs aren’t always accurate, you can learn to be kinder to yourself and feel more comfortable in social situations.
2. Turn your focus outwards
Instead of worrying about your inner monologue or anxious thoughts, watch the people around you. When you’re concentrating on others instead of remaining stuck in your own head, you might feel less socially awkward.
When you meet someone, try to find out something meaningful about them, such as their job, their favorite hobbies, or whether they have children. However, don’t subject the other person to an interrogation. After a couple of questions, share something about yourself.
As you talk, pay close attention to the other person’s verbal and non-verbal cues. For example, if they are tapping their foot and occasionally glancing toward the door, it may be time to wrap up the conversation. With practice, you’ll learn how to tell whether someone wants to talk to you.
If you have social anxiety, it’s natural to avoid social situations. However, studies find that exposing yourself to social interaction is a powerful way to improve social anxiety. You can practice doing things that you don’t normally do that are slightly frightening but not terrifying.
Here are some examples of things you could try if you want to expand your comfort zone:
- If you usually ignore the cashier, give her a nod.
- If you usually give the cashier a nod, give her a smile.
- If you usually give her a smile, ask how she’s doing.
You’re not doing something super-scary, just something a bit beyond your comfort zone. This approach is less painful than trying to make huge changes. Over time, small changes make a big difference.
Avoidance behaviors are things we do to avoid feeling uncomfortable. If you refuse to go to a social event, this is an obvious avoidance behavior. But some types of avoidance behaviors are less obvious but still stop you from fully engaging with others.
Here are a few examples of subtle avoidance behaviors and how to overcome them:
- Playing with your phone: Turn it off when you arrive at the event, put it in your pocket, and don’t take it out until you leave.
- Only attending social events with someone else and letting them start every conversation: Go to at least 50% of events by yourself, or only go with a friend who will push you to practice your social skills at the event.
- Positioning yourself in a quiet part of the room to avoid people: Challenge yourself to speak to at least 5 people before you leave. Subtle avoidance behaviors stem from fear. As you become more comfortable in social situations, you’ll automatically use them less often.
If you feel as though you’re “on stage” and have to put on a mask when you’re around other people, it’s natural to dislike social occasions. But you don’t have to force yourself to be energetic, witty, or funny. You can just be casual and friendly. Take the initiative, be friendly, and talk to people.
Don’t try to impress anyone. Trying to impress others usually takes a lot of energy and, ironically, tends to make us less likable. Not trying to perform will make you come off as less needy and more attractive.
Put yourself in situations where you can meet more like-minded people. It’s easier to start a conversation with someone who shares your interests. Think about what you like doing. How can you turn that interest into a social hobby?
For example, if you like history, are there any history meetups you can join? For more inspiration, see our list of social hobbies. Meeting new people and socializing in new environments is key to growing a social life.
If you want to get to know people, try to meet them at least once per week. That way, you’ll have enough time to form bonds. This means that classes and recurring events are preferable to one-off meetups.
Here’s how many hours you need to spend with someone to become friends:
- Casual friend: 50 hours of time spent together.
- Friend: 90 hours of time spent together.
- Good friend: 200 hours of time spent together.
One study found that we can accelerate this process by sharing information about ourselves and inquiring about others. In one experiment, two complete strangers felt like close friends after just 45 minutes by gradually asking each other increasingly personal questions.
While you don’t want to be this intense in real life, you can make it a habit to share a little about yourself and ask sincere questions. This will help you make friends faster.
If you want to meet new people, try tapping into the social networks of people you already know. For example, you could invite friends to bring their friends along to an event or meetup. You could say something like, “You mentioned that your friend Jamie is into archery, too. Do you think he’d like to come along to our next meetup? It’d be great to meet him.”
Social people are proactive. They know that relationships need maintenance, so they take the initiative by reaching out to people, staying in touch, and making time to hang out with their friends.
Here are a few ways you can take the initiative:
- Follow up with new people quickly. If you’ve swapped contact details with someone, reach out to them within a couple of days. Send them a message that references a shared interest or experience, and make it clear you’d like to get together again. For example, you could say, “Hey, it was great to meet someone else who loves sculpture! Would you be interested in checking out that new gallery in town sometime?”
- Suggest in-person meetups. Social media and phone calls are great for keeping in touch, but spending time together with people face to face builds meaningful relationships. Don’t wait for other people to invite you to places; take a risk and ask them to hang out.
- If it’s been a while since you last heard from someone, send them a message. Dare to text someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time. They may feel too self-conscious to reach out and be waiting to hear from you.
10. Visualize yourself as a social person
Visualization can help you feel less socially anxious and make you better at socializing. You can experiment with going into the role of the “social you” every once in a while. Even though this might just be a character at first, you can grow into this role over time so that it becomes a natural part of who you are.
You already know how a socially skilled person acts. Most of us have already formed a picture from movies and from observing others. For example, you probably know that socially skilled people are relaxed and positive. They keep confident eye contact, smile, follow social norms, and build rapport.
If you can combine friendliness and confidence, you’ll probably find it easier to attract friends. Studies with children have found a positive correlation between friendliness and social status, and animal research has shown that anxious behavior in animals is related to low social status.
In this context, “relaxed” means speaking calmly with an even voice while using natural body language, and “friendly” means “sincere.” Try to ask genuine questions, show appreciation, have a relaxed and friendly facial expression, and give genuine compliments. These welcoming, high-status behaviors make people feel that you like them.
If you get invited by someone to an event but decline, that person will feel less motivated to invite you again in the future. Say yes to at least two-thirds of the events you get invited to. Even if the events aren’t particularly exciting or interesting, saying yes more often will help you become a more social person.
Sometimes, low self-esteem can make us feel like we’re not worthy of going to an event. We might think, “They probably invited me out of pity or to be polite.” This may or may not be the case. Either way, you should take every opportunity to improve your social skills.
Here are some common reasons why people might not ask you to meet up, and what to do if you never get invited:
- You’ve declined too many invitations in the past: Tell your friends that you’ve decided to socialize more, and even though you have declined invitations in the past, ask them to let you know when new events are coming up.
- You aren’t close enough to people for them to feel that it’s natural to invite you: Perhaps you don’t like small talk or sharing anything about yourself and only form superficial relationships with people. The advice in this guide will help you socialize more and form closer relationships.
- For some reason, people hesitate when they think about inviting you: If you never get invited to social events, perhaps some feel like you won’t fit in. Maybe you spend too much time on your phone, perhaps you talk about yourself too much, or maybe you make another kind of social mistake. Again, the advice in this guide should help you.
- You don’t have much in common with your friends: You may benefit from seeking out more like-minded people. For example, if you feel very uncomfortable at a party but at home at a chess club tournament, seek out chess-related events and chess clubs and meet people there.
- Your current situation or lifestyle means you don’t get to meet people, so there’s no one to invite you: If you don’t have people around you, your primary focus should be to make friends.
Is it a good idea to force yourself to socialize even if you don’t feel like it? Yes—at least sometimes.
If you want to become a more social person or build a larger social circle, you’ll benefit from going to an event even if you don’t feel like it.
Ask yourself the following question: “Would going along help me build a social circle and practice my social skills?”
If yes, it’s a good idea to go. There are other times when you shouldn’t go. For example, perhaps there are people there who you know are a bad influence on you, or maybe you know that peer pressure can make you do things that go against your better judgment.
While it’s good to accept invitations as often as you can, you don’t have to stay until the end of an event. The important thing is to practice accepting invitations and showing up. Feel free to leave after a while if you want to.
Ideally, wait until your initial anxiety has started to ebb away. Studies show that repeatedly exposing yourself to something uncomfortable until the anxiety has subsided a bit is very effective for overcoming social anxiety.
Here’s an example: If you go to a party and feel really anxious, that anxiety may subside after half an hour (although it varies from person to person). If you leave after your anxiety has started to subside, you’ve taught yourself a valuable lesson: that you can cope in social situations and that your anxiety might be unpleasant, but it is bearable.
When you know it’s OK to go to parties for 30 minutes without having to impress people, saying yes to invitations can feel much easier, and you’ll get more social exercise.
Pay attention to people who seem likable and who are good at making friends and socializing. Pay attention to what they do—and what they don’t do. This is a powerful way to learn from the best for free.
You can pick someone you know to be your “social skills mentor” without them even knowing. If you become good friends with your role model, you can ask them for tips. For example, if they always seem to know how to keep a conversation going, ask them how they think of things to talk about.
Empathy is the ability to understand how others think and feel. If you increase your empathy, you might enjoy socializing more because you’ll have a better understanding of why people act the way they do.
It’s normal to dislike or avoid people and social situations if you are shy or have social anxiety. Therefore, learning how to cope with these feelings can help you feel at ease in social situations.
If you have social anxiety, mindfulness may help. Research shows that mindful people are less likely to have social anxiety and that therapies involving mindfulness exercises can reduce social anxiety symptoms.
Mindful people are good at remaining present and observing what is going on around them. As a result, they are less likely to worry that others are judging them. To get started with mindfulness, try a guided meditation or a mindfulness app such as Smiling Mind.
Social skills books can be a great resource if you want to learn how to feel more comfortable and confident around other people. Here are a couple to try:
- The Social Skills Guidebook: Manage Shyness, Improve Your Conversations, and Make Friends, Without Giving Up Who You Are by Chris MacLeod.
If you feel nervous around new people and struggle to think of things to say, this book will improve your confidence and teach you the art of making conversation. It also contains practical, comprehensive advice that will show you how to build a social life.
- PeopleSmart: Developing Your Interpersonal Intelligence by Melvin S. Silberman.
Socially successful people are empathetic. As a result, they know how to influence others and assert their needs without being manipulative. This book will help you develop these skills.
19. Recognize that others likely pay little attention to what you do
Feeling self-conscious around others can make it hard to be social. But the truth is that just as you likely don’t spend much time thinking about what a random person is doing, others probably don’t pay much attention to you either. This realization can help alleviate social anxiety and make it easier to be more social.
For example, if you’re at a party and feel awkward about joining a group conversation, remember that others are likely not thinking about you as much as you think they are. They may not even notice you standing there at first. And even if they do, they’re probably more focused on the conversation than on you. By reminding yourself of this, you can feel less self-conscious and more confident in social situations.
It’s normal to feel as though you don’t have anything to say. But with a bit of practice, you can learn how to have better, more interesting conversations. In this section, you’ll learn how to start a good conversation and keep it going.
It can help to memorize a set of questions that you can fire off whenever you’re at a party, dinner, or spending time in almost any other social setting.
Memorize these 4 questions:
- Hi, how are you?
- How do you know the people here?
- Where are you from?
- What do you do?
You can use these questions to start a conversation or to get a conversation back on track if it starts to dry up. When you have a set of questions to fall back on, it’s easier to make small talk, and people will see you as more social. Don’t fire off all four at once; you don’t want to make the other person feel as though you’re interviewing them.
2. Look for mutual interests or shared views
When making small talk with someone, you can usually get a sense of what “type” of person they are. For example, are they nerdy, artsy, intellectual, or a keen sports fan? The next step is to figure out what things you might have in common and steer the conversation in that direction.
For example, let’s say you love history. Sometimes, you might come across people who might also be into history. Perhaps someone might reference a historic event when you’re making small talk. Or you may just have a gut feeling that they share your interest.
After a few minutes, you can usually start making educated guesses about the things a person might like to talk about. You could mention in passing something related to history and see how they react. So if they asked how your weekend was, you might say: “It was good. I finished watching this documentary series about the Vietnam war.” If they react positively, you can start talking about history.
Make it a habit to mention things you are interested in and see what sticks. Always look for mutual interests or shared views. When you find a mutual interest like this, it’s easier to make interesting conversation and actively bond with someone.
3. Talk about things around you
Few things are as intimidating as starting a conversation with a stranger, especially if you are shy or suffer from social anxiety. It helps to focus on the things around you or your shared situation and use them as a starting point for a conversation.
Here are some examples of questions based on your surroundings:
- Do you know how this coffee maker works?
- What was the deadline for this project?
- I really like this sofa. It’s so comfortable!
Focusing on your surroundings can make you feel less self-conscious and, by extension, less nervous. It also makes it easier to come up with things to say.
When we get self-conscious, we tend to start worrying about what we should say and what the other person thinks of us. Our adrenaline starts pumping, and it gets hard to think.
Switch it around. Start thinking about the other person. Who are they? What are they feeling? What are they passionate about? When you are curious, you will naturally come up with great questions to keep the conversation going.
For example, you could ask yourself:
- “I wonder what kind of work she does?”
- “I wonder where he’s from?”
- “That’s a cool shirt. I wonder where he got it?”
Whenever you realize that you’re stuck in your head again, focus on the person you’re talking to. If you don’t talk to someone, focus on your surroundings. You are allowed to feel worried and anxious. Simply remind yourself that it’s OK to feel nervous, and go back to focusing outward.
Cultivating your curiosity and interest in others has an additional positive side-effect: it makes you a better listener. This kind of curiosity is a skill you need to practice and cultivate like any other.
It’s not true that people only want to talk about themselves. They also want to get to know you. For two people to make friends, they have to learn things about each other.
The best types of conversations go back and forth, allowing both parties to enjoy the process of sharing and discovery.
Here’s an example of how a conversation can move between sharing and inquiring:
- You: So how come you moved here?
- Them: Originally, I came here to study, but then I really started liking the place.
- You: Yeah, I like this city too. So you like it more than your old place?
- Them: Yeah. I think it’s just how close it is to nature here. It’s easy to go hiking anywhere.
- You: Right. Where did you hike last time?
- Them: I went to Mountain Ridge last month with a couple of friends.
- You: Nice! I went hiking in Bear Mountain a few months ago. It really helps me relax being out there. It’s funny because when I was in my teens, I never really cared about nature, but now it’s so important to me. Have you always liked nature?
You don’t need to follow a perfect pattern when you share and inquire. Aim to keep the conversation balanced. If you notice that you’ve asked the other person a lot of questions, share something about yourself. If you notice that you’ve been sharing a lot, try to learn something about them.
It’s usually better to say something simple, obvious, or even slightly dull than to stay completely quiet. If you avoid making conversation altogether, other people might think you don’t want to talk to them. Make an effort to speak up and add to the conversation, even if you don’t think you’re saying anything important or clever. It signals that you are friendly.
If you’re an introvert, you may avoid social events or leave because they leave you feeling drained. You might also feel overwhelmed in busy or noisy environments, which can make you feel frazzled and stressed. Fortunately, you can have a great social life as an introvert if you’re willing to adjust your approach and attitude.
Here are some tips to help you have fun and socialize with other people if you are introverted:
Constantly trying to be more outgoing or fun will drain your energy levels. While it’s good to be friendly, make conversation and show an interest in others, don’t try too hard to make someone laugh or impress them.
As you improve your conversation skills, conversations will become more effortless, take less energy, and become more rewarding because you’ll be able to bond with other people more quickly.
When you’re talking to someone, try to be curious. Get interested in who they are, what they think, and how they feel. By refocusing your attention on others, you’ll worry less about yourself, which can save you some mental energy.
It’s OK to take a break when you feel overwhelmed. If you want to learn how to be more social as an introvert, it’s a good idea to respect your limits; otherwise, you may burn out. For example, if you’re at a party, go to the bathroom and breathe for five minutes or take a moment alone outside.
When it comes to extroversion and introversion, one is not better than the other. Both personality types have drawbacks and benefits. Extroverts can benefit from getting in touch with their introverted side, and introverts can benefit from learning how to be more extroverted.
Pushing ourselves beyond our usual behavior patterns helps us thrive in more social situations and gain more enjoyment from life.
Setting specific goals is the most effective way to be more extroverted.
Here are some goals you could set yourself:
- “I’m going to talk to one stranger every day.”
- “If someone starts talking to me, I’m going to not just say yes or no but engage in conversation.”
- “I’m going to smile and nod at 5 people every day.”
- “I’m going to eat lunch with someone new this week.”
So far, we’ve focused on general tips that can improve your confidence and help you to build a better social life. In this section, we’ll look at more specific strategies that will help you to connect with people in various social situations.
If you aren’t sure how to act at a party, it may help to remember that people go to parties to have fun rather than to make friends. So focus on making your fellow guests feel good about themselves instead of starting deep conversations. Try to take an interest in their lives, paying them compliments when it’s appropriate, and stick to light, fun topics where possible.
You probably have something in common with other people there: you both know the person throwing the party. Asking, “How do you know the host/hostess?” can be a natural way to start a conversation.
Your surroundings might also be a good source of inspiration. For example, a comment like “This food is amazing! Have you tried it?” can turn the conversation to cuisine, cookery, and related subjects.
Start by finding some student clubs that align with your interests. You’ll find like-minded students who are probably also keen to make friends. If you find someone you like, suggest getting together between club meetings. Invite them along to something you want to do anyway.
For example, you could say, “I’m going to get some lunch now. Would you like to come with me?”
When someone invites you out, say yes unless it’s literally impossible for you to go. If you have to decline an invitation, offer to reschedule immediately.
If your classes are taught online, you can still make friends in college by becoming an active participant on any discussion boards, forums, and social media groups your professor has set up for their students. If you live close by and it’s safe to do so, suggest meeting up offline.
When you leave college, suddenly you no longer see the same people every day. You may also find yourself in a brand new area where you don’t know anyone. To make new friends after college, try to become involved in community activities that let you spend time with the same people on a regular basis.
Here are some ways to meet people and socialize more often:
- Joining a recreational sports team
- Signing up for a class at your nearest community college
- Joining meetups or hobby groups that fit your interests by looking at eventbrite.com or meetup.com
Get comfortable with the idea of rejection. Take a risk: when you meet a potential new friend, ask them for their number. Tell them that you’ve enjoyed talking to them and would like to see them again soon. Remember that many people are in your position. Even if everyone else looks busy, there’s a good chance they want to expand their social circles.
Start by making regular small talk with your coworkers. Ask them how they are doing, whether they’ve had a busy morning, or whether they have any plans for the weekend. These topics may seem banal, but they are the first step in building rapport and trust. In time, you can move the conversation to more interesting and personal topics, such as their family life or hobbies.
Take every chance to practice being more social at work. Don’t hide away in your office. Eat your lunch in the breakroom, ask a coworker if they’d like to grab a coffee midway through the afternoon, and accept invitations to after-work events.
Try not to make assumptions about your coworkers. Get to know them before you decide whether they could become friends. Some people choose not to make friends at work, preferring instead to draw a firm line between their personal and professional life. Don’t take it personally if someone remains polite but distant.
If you need any accommodations in social situations, take the initiative and ask for them. Practice being assertive about your needs, and be specific.
For example, if you have a hearing impairment, tell people that you need to see their faces when they are talking and that you find it easier to follow a conversation when only one person speaks at a time. Or, if you are a wheelchair user and you have been invited to an event, ask whether the venue is accessible.
Some people will ask you questions about your disability. It’s up to you whether you answer them and how much detail you provide. Whatever your preference, it’s a good idea to prepare a few go-to answers to common questions such as “Why do you use a wheelchair?” or “How did you become deaf?”
If you would like to make friends with people who understand your experience as a person with a disability, look online for relevant groups or meetups. They can be a great source of support and friendship.
If you have ASD/Asperger’s, you may face some extra challenges in social situations. For example, you might find it hard to pick up on subtle cues such as body language and facial expressions. But, with practice, it’s possible to make friends if you have ASD/Aspergers and to enjoy a good social life.
Try reading Improve Your Social Skills by Daniel Wendler. This is a straightforward guide to the most common types of social situations, including dating. The author has Asperger’s, giving him great insight into the social challenges faced by people on the autism spectrum.
Many people with Asperger’s have one or more niche interests. Look on meetup.com for groups of like-minded people. There may also be support and social groups for people on the spectrum in your area.