This isn’t another one of those shallow guides that tell you to “be yourself”, “be more confident”, or “not overthink”.
This is a guide written by an introvert who had big trouble socializing and spent years figuring out how to be really good at it.
I’m writing this specifically for people who blank out in social settings and don’t know what to say, especially around new people.
- How to socialize
- Common worries about socializing
- How to start a one-on-one conversation
- How to approach a group of strangers
- What to do if part of you just wants to avoid people
Being good at socializing with people is really just becoming good at several smaller and more manageable social skills. Here are 13 tips that will help you socialize.
1. Make small talk, but don’t get stuck in it
I used to dread small talk. This was before I understood that it was not as useless as I had thought.
Small talk DOES have a purpose. Two strangers need to warm up and just talk about something while they get used to each other.
The topic isn’t that important, and therefore, doesn’t have to be that interesting. We just have to say something, and it’s actually better if it’s everyday and mundane because then it takes the pressure off to say smart things.
What IS important is to show that you are friendly and approachable. That makes people comfortable around you.
If you want to get to know people, you have to make small talk first. You can’t start off right off the bat with “what’s the purpose of your life?”
You may worry that people will think you’re boring if you make small talk. That only happens if you get stuck in small talk and don’t progress to deeper conversation.
Making a few minutes of mundane small talk is not boring. It’s normal and makes people feel comfortable around you. It signals that you’re friendly.
2. Focus on what’s around you
If you’re in your own head worrying about what to say next or what people might think of you, you won’t be able to feel comfortable with the situation. Instead, focus on the conversation and your surroundings.
- Thoughts start coming up, like, “Is my posture weird?” “They won’t like me.”
- See that as a cue to consciously choose to focus on the surroundings or conversation (Like you focus when a movie captures you)
- When you do, you’ll get less self-conscious, and the more you focus on a conversation, the easier it is to add to it.1
People will see you as interesting if they think talking to you is interesting. Think less about what you can say to sound interesting and more about how you can make the conversation interesting for both of you.
In other words, gravitate toward passions and interests.
Here’s how to do it in practice:
- Ask them what they like the most about their job
- If they don’t seem to like their job, ask them what they like doing when they don’t work.
- If they mention something in passing that seems to be interesting to them, ask more about that. “You mention something about a festival. What festival was that?”
You’ll often get short replies to your first question. That’s normal.
4. Ask follow-up questions
People most often only reply shortly to your first question because they don’t know if you’re just asking to be polite. To show that you want to talk about something, ask a follow-up question, such as:
- What do you do more specifically?
- Wait, how does kite-surfing actually work?
- Do you go to festivals often?
This shows that you’re sincere. People enjoy talking about what they are passionate about as long as they feel that the other person is interested.
5. Share about yourself
I used to make the mistake of ONLY asking questions. That made me come off as an interrogator.
Share bites of information about yourself. It shows that you’re a real person. It’s uncomfortable for strangers to open up about themselves knowing nothing about you.
It’s not true that people ONLY want to talk about themselves. It’s back-and-forth conversations that make people bond.2
Here are some examples of sharing a little bit about yourself.
- In a conversation about work: Yeah, I used to work in restaurants as well, and it was exhausting, but I’m happy I did it.
- In a conversation about surfing: I love the ocean. My grandparents live close to the water in Florida, so I was there often as a child, but I never learned to surf because the waves aren’t good there.
- In a conversation about music: I listen a lot to electronic music. I want to go to this festival in Europe called Sensation.
If you don’t come up with something to relate to, it’s fine. Don’t put pressure on yourself. Just make it a habit to share something every once in a while, so they gradually get to know you better.
Then, after you’ve made your statement, you can ask them a related question, or they might ask you something about what you just said.
6. Have many small interactions
Make small interactions as soon as you have the chance. That will make talking to people less scary over time.
- Say hi to the bus driver
- Ask the cashier how she’s doing
- Ask the waiter what he would recommend
This is called habituation: The more we do something, the less scary it gets.3 If you’re shy, introverted, or have social anxiety, this is extra important as socializing might not come naturally to you.
7. Don’t write people off too soon
I used to assume that people were quite shallow. In reality, it was because I didn’t know how to get past the small talk.
During small talk, everyone seems shallow. It’s only when you’ve asked about someone’s interests that you’ll know if you have something in common and start to have an interesting conversation.
Before writing someone off, you can see it as a little mission to discover what they are interested in.
8. Have an approachable body language
When we get nervous, it’s easy to tense up.4 It makes us break eye contact and tense our facial muscles. People won’t understand that you’re nervous – they might just think that you don’t want to talk.
There are several ways you can look more approachable.
- Practice keeping a little more eye contact than you’re used to (cashier, bus driver, random encounters)
- Smile when you greet people.
- If you tense up, relax the muscles in your face to look calm and approachable. You can try it in the mirror.
You don’t need to smile all the time (that can come off as nervous). Do smile whenever you shake someone’s hand or when someone says something funny.
9. Put yourself in situations where you meet people
If you work somewhere where you meet customers or you do volunteer work, you’ll have a never-ending stream of people to practice on. It matters less if you mess up.
If you get the chance to practice socializing many times per day, you’ll be making progress faster than if you only have occasional interactions.
Here’s a comment I saw on Reddit:
“After working a shitty job where no one really socialized, I took a job in hospitality with people from all over the world, staff accommodation, and in a small town. Now I’m the sociable, outgoing person I thought I could never be.”
10. Use the 20-minute rule to take the pressure off yourself
I used to dread going to parties because I saw myself being tortured there for hours. When I realized that I only had to be there 20 minutes and then leave, it took the pressure off me.
11. Use the hay sack trick to give yourself a break when socializing
I used to feel like I was “on stage” when I socialized. Like if I had to be an entertaining, fun person all the time. It drained my energy.
I learned that I could, at any point, mentally step back and just listen to some ongoing group conversation – like a hay sack, I could just be in the room without in any way having to perform.
After a few minutes of break, I could return to being active.
Combining this with the 20-minute rule above made socializing more enjoyable for me.
12. Practice a few conversation starters
When you’re at an event where you’re supposed to socialize (a party, a company event, a class event), it can be good to stack up on a few get-to-know questions.
Like I talked about earlier in this guide, small talk questions don’t need to be clever. You just need to say something to signal that you’re friendly and up for socializing.
Hi, Nice meeting you! I’m Viktor…
- How do you know people here?
- Where are you from?
- What brings you here/What made you choose to study this subject/work here?
- What do you like most about (what you talked about)?
Remember, small talk is about gravitating toward interests and passions.
13. Signal when you’re about to talk in groups
I often had a hard time making myself heard in social settings and in large groups.
It helps to speak louder. But there are other things you can do to make people pay attention to you.
One trick is to move your arm just before you start talking in a group. It makes people subconsciously move their attention to you. I do it all the time, and it works like magic.
14. Replace negative self-talk about socializing
We who are more self-conscious often worry excessively about sounding dumb or weird.
After studying behavioral science, I learned that this is often a symptom of low self-esteem or social anxiety.
In other words: When it feels like others judge us, it’s really we who judge ourselves.
What’s the best way to stop judging ourselves? To talk to ourselves like we would talk to a good friend.
When you feel judged by people, pay attention to how you talk to yourself. Replace negative self-talk with more supportive phrases.
When you find yourself thinking, “I made a joke, and no one laughed. There’s seriously something wrong with me”
…you can replace that with something like:
“Most people make jokes that no one laughs at. It’s just that I pay more attention to my own jokes. And I can remember several times where people have laughed at my jokes, so there’s probably nothing wrong with me”.
The biggest deal-breaker for me was realizing that beneath the calm surface, people are nervous, anxious, and full of self-doubt.
- 1 in 10 has had social anxiety at some point in life.6
- 5 out of 10 see themselves as shy.7,8
- 5 out of 10 don’t like the way they look.9
The next time you enter a room full of people, remind yourself that beneath the calm surface, people are full of insecurities.
Simply knowing that people are more nervous than they look can help feel more comfortable. Here are some of the most common things people worry about in social settings.
1. Worrying about looking stupid or dumb
Here’s a quote I saw on Reddit:
“I have the tendency to overthink everything, therefore I usually don’t say anything at all in fear that it may come out sounding stupid. I’m jealous of the people who can talk about anything to anyone; I wish I was more like that.”
In reality, people don’t think more about what you say than you think about what they say.
When was the last time you thought, “That person says dumb, weird things all the time.” I can’t remember ever thinking that.
Let’s say that someone really does think that you said something stupid. Isn’t it completely fine that someone at some point thinks you’re a real idiot?
Here’s how to stop worrying about saying dumb things:
- Be aware that people think about what you say as little as you think about what they say
- If someone thinks you’re weird, that’s OK. The goal of life isn’t to make everyone think you’re normal.
2. Feeling a need to be flawless
In a study, scientists saw that people with social anxiety are obsessive about not making mistakes in front of others.10
We believe that we need to be perfect for people to like us and not laugh at us.
Making mistakes actually makes us human and relatable.
Have you ever disliked someone for making a small social mistake? Personally, I only think it makes someone more likable.
Small mistakes can make you likable. Saying the wrong name, forgetting a word, or making a joke that no one laughs at only makes you relatable because everyone’s been through the same thing.
When you wonder if you should make yourself go to a social event, remind yourself of this: The goal isn’t to be flawless. It’s OK to make mistakes.
3. Worrying about being boring
Most people worry that they aren’t interesting enough.
Telling people cool things you’ve done doesn’t necessarily make you interesting. Those who try to come off as interesting by doing that often come off as self-absorbed instead.
Truly interesting people, on the other hand, are those who can hold interesting conversations. In other words, they can talk about topics that interest people.
Here are three simple tips to start a conversation with a stranger.
1. Comment on your surroundings
At dinner, it could be, “That salmon looks really good.” In school, it could be, “Do you know when the next class will start?”
Instead of trying to fake something to say, I just let out my internal thoughts and questions. (Remember, it’s OK if it’s mundane).
2. Ask a slightly personal question
At a party, it could be “How do you know people here?” “What do you do?” or “Where are you from?”
(Here, I make some small talk about the topic we’re on by asking follow-up questions or sharing something about myself)
3. Gravitate toward interests
Ask questions about their interests. “What do you want to do after school?” “How come you wanted to go into politics?”
Read my full guide here on how to start a conversation.
Often, at social events, everyone stands in groups. It can be pretty intimidating.
Remember that even if everyone looks super involved, most people there have just walked up to a random group and feel as out of place as you do.
If you walk up to 2-3 strangers, they usually acknowledge you after 10-20 seconds by looking at you or smiling at you. When they do, smile back, present yourself, and ask a question. I usually prepare a question that fits the situation so that I can say something like:
“Hi, I’m Viktor. How do you know each other?”
Listen in on the conversation (rather than being in your head trying to come up with something to say).
Ask a sincere question about the topic or make a thoughtful addition (rather than trying to break in with your own new topic).
General tips about approaching groups
- Whenever you approach a group conversation, don’t “crash the party,” but listen and make a thoughtful addition.
- It’s not weird to walk up to a group, even if you stand there quietly for a minute as long as you look like you are listening. Pay attention, and you’ll start noticing that people do it all the time.
- If people ignore you first, it’s not because they hate you. It’s because they’re engaged in the conversation. You probably do the same without knowing if you’re really into a conversation.
- It’s easy to tense up and forget to smile. That can make you look hostile. If you tend to frown when you get nervous, consciously reset and relax your facial expression.
I often felt torn between wanting to meet people and also just wanting to be by myself.
- If you spend LOTS of time alone, ease into it. Read at a cafe, sit in the park, etc.
- Socialize based on your interests. Join a group that does something you’re into so that you can meet like-minded people. It’s easier to socialize with people who like to talk about the same things you do.
- Don’t put the pressure on you that you should turn people into friends. Just focus on practicing back-and-forth conversation.