Hey, Extroverts!
August 9, 2013 12:28 PM   Subscribe

This is a question for the extroverts, the popular, those who play well with others and the possessors of good people skills. What do you know about meeting people, making friends and relationships (both platonic and romantic) that others might not?

I've never been an especially outgoing person. So I don't get out much. I don't have many friends. But thanks to years of therapy and some pharmaceuticals, I have a healthy sense of self-esteem and a much more positive outlook on life. I want to get out there and meet people. I think I'm in the best emotional shape I've ever been to accomplish this. Unfortunately, I didn't have great social models as I was growing up. A dysfunctional family. Teen awkwardness. The usual. I didn't pick up many of the life lessons about dealing with people that are typically imparted at this age. But I know that many of you have and I'd like to tap your collective wisdom.

So if you're good with people, what did you learn about people, friendships and relationships growing up that shyer people like me did not? What can I learn from your example? I'll note in closing that I am an introvert and I don't expect to become the life of the party anytime soon. I'm trying to keep the goals realistic here.

Many thanks in advance.
posted by the hot hot side of randy to Human Relations (37 answers total) 176 users marked this as a favorite
Sometimes, when you're walking along in the fall, and there are leaves swirling all around, you stop and look at just one, and realize that it's really a marvel - of beauty, of biology, of circumstance. And to think, there you are, surrounded by delightful little marvels!

People are marvelous, too, and when you stop and look for what is delightful about each of them, you will always find something. This makes meeting people restorative and refreshing - for you and for them.
posted by Ausamor at 12:41 PM on August 9, 2013 [68 favorites]

A good way to start getting to know a new person is if you already have plans to do something fun with a group of friendly people and you invite the new person to join. That is also a good way to weave together a large group of people who all know and like each other.

Most people will be very happy to be invited to something like that even if they can't make it or don't want to do that specific activity that time.

Make sure though that you only do this with groups of people who also like to meet new people, and wouldn't be put off at the idea of someone they didn't know something along.
posted by cairdeas at 12:43 PM on August 9, 2013

Best answer: OK, I'm an extrovert. I've learned that what really matters in meeting and forming relationships with people is to ask them about themselves, listen well to what they tell me, and remember it. And when I say ask, I'd add that it is usually a good idea to listen for what is not said and ask, courteously and respectfully, about that too. For example, if you meet someone at a party, smile and ask them what put it in their path, they may say they've known the host for awhile. I'd then be asking from where, and for how long, and following up on those answers.

I've also learned to be choosy about my relationships. My friends are the people I feel very comfortable talking to and hanging around with, trust, and feel loyal to. I don't spend time nourishing relationships with people who bore me, let me down, or behave in ways I really can't endorse.
posted by bearwife at 12:44 PM on August 9, 2013 [25 favorites]

Best answer: I try the be the friend I want. I'm interested in other people and ask them all sorts of questions, not intrusive stuff, but things that get them to open up and really dive deep into their love of Dr. Who or Sherlock or whatever it is that lights them up.

I'm approachable. I'm always friendly and helpful.

I know that what you cast upon the water comes back threefold. So I'm generous. I'm not worried about giving and receiving equally. If I give more than I get, I have complete faith that it will even out down the road.

I believe in paying it forward.

In my heart I believe that most people are good. If they aren't I don't mope around about it. I just move on.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:45 PM on August 9, 2013 [19 favorites]

Best answer: Embrace the fact that you and everyone you'll ever meet and befriend and date is just utterly imperfect. You will fuck up, your friends will fuck up, your significant other will fuck up. Not everyone will be the best person they can all the time, and while you may understand that about yourself, you need to understand it about others as well. Unless someone is being openly antagonistic, or their personality is making it genuinely hard to be friends with them, cut people a break.

Some friends may never want to hang out until you make that call first. Some are so busy you might not get to see them as much as you want. Some are so weird and awkward you won't be able to hang out with them except one-on-one. These are all okay scenarios, if you're willing to let them be okay. It is way too easy to let good relationships fall to the wayside because you're too concerned with what someone should be like, rather than accepting them on whatever mutual terms you can come to.

Define friendship on your own terms. If you think someone is failing you somehow, try really hard to figure out whether it's what they're doing (or not doing) that's bugging you, or if it's just the idea that they're doing (or not doing) that thing. I have friends who I can lose touch with for months, sometimes years, and then when we get back in touch there's none of that "well why didn't YOU call ME," because we're adults and it happens and finding someone to blame isn't going to make anything better or more fun.

Also, read Five Geek Social Fallacies. It's a really cogent rundown of the sort of stuff that can make making and keeping friends more difficult than it ought to be.
posted by griphus at 12:45 PM on August 9, 2013 [22 favorites]

Best answer: Right on Ausamor! I am just genuinely curious about people, what makes them tick, what makes them happy, how they see the world.

And that superficial connections are connections too. It don't all have to be deep.

My one SUPER socially savvy friend says that his main focus when chatting with someone is to try to make them feel good. Irrespective of what he wants or needs (from them or otherwise), whether they'll be good friends or just 5 minutes on the bus friends, he just wants them to feel good.

It makes a huge difference if you look please to see people. Every single time. Even strangers. It helps them open up.

The other thing is - if they are grumpy towards you, they must be having a bad day, or a bad life. A lot of people take other people's grumpiness personally.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:45 PM on August 9, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I'm one of those hybrid creatures: the outgoing introvert. I socialize well, even as I am usually counting the minutes till I can go home and read in silence.

Smiling, being enthusiastic (not fakey OH MY GOD THIS IS THE GREATEST YOU ARE THE GREATEST, but upbeat), and asking open-ended questions are all helpful. But this should all be done in the spirit of genuine curiosity, with as much attention paid to listening as to speaking; there's a huge difference between someone who's asking questions and they clearly don't care about the answer (e.g., they start talking halfway through your answer; they don't retain any information you've given them; they fire questions rapidly as if it's an interview, etc.) and someone who is genuinely interested in getting to know you.
posted by scody at 12:46 PM on August 9, 2013 [18 favorites]

Best answer: I'm an introvert but I'm also a doc filmmaker and knowing how conduct an interview makes it a lot easier to make friends/smooth over awkwardness on first dates. It's pretty easy: ask questions until you hit something you are genuinely interested in and then talk about it genuinely. People will respond well. Just do it in a chatty manner so they don't feel like they're under examination by a lawyer. And when you hit something that offers you a chance to respond with a brief anecdote/information about yourself, do so. It should be like a tennis match, but you want the ball in their court 65-70% of the time. It sounds creepy to type it out like this, but it works.
posted by nathancaswell at 12:46 PM on August 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and don't keep score. About anything. Ever. If someone is generally unreliable or selfish or a shitty friend somehow otherwise, that's a problem and that's the problem.

But if you always invite someone over for dinner and they never invited you even once? That's only a problem if you decide to make it one. Maybe their apartment smells. Maybe they can't cook. Maybe they just don't like people in their personal space. It's just one example, but it ties into the whole "cut people a break" thing.
posted by griphus at 12:51 PM on August 9, 2013 [12 favorites]

Oh and following up later with a question or comment that shows you've been paying attention goes a LONG WAY.


"Totally! That makes perfect sense, having grown up in New England", etc.
posted by nathancaswell at 12:51 PM on August 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

I have a friend--one of the least-shy people I've ever met--who once said she never met a stranger. She said this so genuinely, not as a stock phrase but as something that is completely true for her, that it stuck with me. Every person she meets is a friend, and the goal of conversation is to figure out why they are friends. What do they have in common? Who do they both know? Do they agree on how amazing last night's rainstorm was, or that this grocery store line is incredibly slow? The goodwill in this approach is infectious. I'm not always good at matching it, but mimicking that is a tool I now have for getting over the awkward bumps of early conversation.
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:58 PM on August 9, 2013 [27 favorites]

Admire people. Literally admire them. When you're standing in line, carefully examine the hair pattern of the stranger in front of you. Hair radiates from a point in the center of the head. Compare what you see to the spiraling majesty of galaxies in space.

People are flawed. You will be happiest if you truly accept this fact. Make it a part of your interactions with other people. Let your loved ones know. Let people in the sandwich line know. Everyone appreciates a deep thinker.

Remember to smile! The world turns on a smile. The smile is 60% of what people remember about you. That means that without an effective smile, you're stuck in the bottom 40%. Practicing your smile will build up muscle memory. Consider training yourself to smile when a bell rings.
posted by Nomyte at 12:59 PM on August 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm not an extrovert and I know a lot of people hate it as management book claptrap/inspiration to Charles Manson, but for me, reading How To Win Friends And Influence People was like the manual everyone was issued at birth that I never got.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:00 PM on August 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

Do not expect every single interaction to go well. When it doesn't, don't obsess over it.

Anticipate only about 50-75% of your communication will be successful. You or your conversational partner will fail either to express or comprehend. Later, on review, if you recognize something came across as HURTFUL and didn't transfer as intended, you can rectify it by following up, but if it only makes you look bad, forget it. Over time, you'll see these earlier in the process.

You are dead and they are dead. Life is that short. If you never meet the same person again, you'll never run out. There are 7 billion folks here besides you. Don't sweat it. Move on.

Folks don't spend much time thinking about you. It's not that hard to give them something good to recall when they do. About as easy as giving them something bad. The former is preferable, not mandatory.

Help out. If you have energy and skills, don't be afraid to spend them lavishly. Money? Not so much, but self? waste it on everyone you can.

Intelligence is conveyed by questions, humor, and self-awareness. It's not conveyed by word count, bragging, suspicion or complaints.

Have fun. One ride, buster, one way, same end for all of us. Cry or laugh. Your choice.

You are plenty pretty, plenty smart, plenty lucky and plenty interesting. Don't think for a moment you aren't. Ignore folks who suggest otherwise.

Be content being alone, even if you are in a group. Have thoughts you can use for refuge, if you need to think while being ignored or overlooked. It's a good use of time if things aren't working out.

All else fails, take a puppy, dog, kitten. I like to find two women on a couch, force myself in between them and propose a threesome. Never works, but it's funny as hell. Other times I simply propose murdering someone's spouse so we can run away together. That's funny, too, and has only worked a few times... this year. I have the personality that can get away with this. Lucky me.

Remember... fun. It's better than other stuff, like getting plastered. Fun.
posted by FauxScot at 1:03 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

2nd'ing nathancaswell. I'm an introvert (albeit not a shy one) but sometimes my job requires me to interview people. The thing that still surprises me every time is most people are totally happy to talk about themselves! A lot! And also to talk about their work, their opinions, other people, the weather, etc. Ask questions, be genuinely interested, and people will just go on and on. In other words you only have to be a tiny little bit outgoing to prompt others to be very outgoing. Weird, to my introverted mind, but true.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:05 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I like to find two women on a couch, force myself in between them and propose a threesome. Never works, but it's funny as hell.

Um. No, it's not.

And I guarantee that you do not pull this off with anywhere near the aplomb you think you do.

OP, please do not imitate this.
posted by jesourie at 1:06 PM on August 9, 2013 [49 favorites]

"... So if you're good with people, what did you learn about people, friendships and relationships growing up that shyer people like me did not? ..."

I learned to recommend a Dale Carnegie personal course, or, at the very least, his book, to people that want to learn social skills involving meeting people, persuading people, and forming productive relationships. I learned that Toastmasters can give people valuable practice in meeting people, and public speaking. I learned that local civic clubs and service organizations like Rotary, Jaycees, and Lions offer opportunities for meeting new people, and participating in worthwhile projects.

As to practical specifics, I learned that in almost every culture, it is important to learn the name and proper form of address of a new acquaintance, and to begin using it immediately. Most people like knowing that you are trying to remember them and their name, and no matter how shy they are, they will generally help you do so in the first 5 minutes after meeting them, by spelling it, by giving you some history of their name if it is unusual, and even by writing it down for you (or giving you a card), if you just show genuine interest.

I learned that the rules for eye contact, shaking hands or other touching, and exchanging personal information, are often very culture specific. In the U.S., eye contact can be very important to establishing personal contact, but in other cultures, direct eye contact is intimidating, if not hostile. So, it helps to have some cultural sensitivity, and some knowledge of local customs, when treading international or cross-cultural waters. As another example, in Japan, age is still a point of interest to new acquaintances, but asking direct questions of a new friend is not so easy; therefore, if you can proffer some statement of your age directly, you'll have satisfied a nearly universal point of social curiosity early on, that might only naturally come up in an American to American relationship, after months or even years.

I learned that enthusiasm translates well across all cultures. If you can express enthusiasm for something early on in a relationship, it creates a positive impression about you in other people, and it tends to draw them out, by making it acceptable for them to express their own enthusiasm.

I learned that because everybody eats and drinks, finding a way to join people in the experience of eating can be a powerful way to expand and cement a new relationship. It probably helps that I have a cast iron stomach, and a large curiosity about foods and drinks, but everywhere I've ever gone, if I can find a way to break bread with other people that is culturally acceptable, I learn more about them and they learn more about me, than would otherwise happen in many hours of conversation.

Finally, I learned that I learn a lot more when I listen, and other people speak, than when I speak, and they listen.
posted by paulsc at 1:08 PM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm an introvert, but only in the sense I require time without social interaction, and often prefer it, however, I'm not shy or socially awkward, but quite self-confident and assertive. It's such a small thing, but smile. When someone looks or even merely glances at you, smile genuinely and openly. I'm rarely, if ever, sitting on a bus stop or on a bus or train...alone for a moment at any event...or pub or club...without striking up a conversation with one or more people simply because I'm perceived warm and approachable by others.
posted by Nibiru at 1:13 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

As an introvert whose people skills have improved a lot (I still had to learn them), the biggest thing I had to get over was the idea that I was bothering people by contacting them or reaching out to them in any way.

I'm not sure exactly why I felt this way, but often I would meet someone I wanted to know better, and think about sending them an email or adding them on Facebook or inviting them to do some activity, but avoid it out of the idea that they would find it irritating or weird or intrusive or needy. It wasn't just with potential friends -- I behaved this way when interacting with coworkers and classmates and professors at school, when I had questions or wanted advice. Running through my head was always, don't bother them. They have better things to do than talk to you.

Almost always, it was just in my head, and underneath it was a fear of the interaction not going well, of rejection. Once I learned to accept the idea that social contact does not equal botherment by default, I could deal with the fear much more directly.

Of course, you need to pay attention when people are giving you "back off" signals, especially in the realm of sex and dating. But ordinary human contact with people you've met through friends or work or wherever? Just go ahead and email them.
posted by beatrice rex at 1:18 PM on August 9, 2013 [26 favorites]

OK, I'm an extrovert. I've learned that what really matters in meeting and forming relationships with people is to ask them about themselves, listen well to what they tell me, and remember it.

I'm more of an outgoing introvert who needs to intersperse occasions of intense socializing with periods of solitude; but like others in this thread, I am comfortable with talking to strangers or engaging friends in conversation when I choose to go out. I frequently find that I find social encounters less taxing when the other person is driving the discussion or doing some or much of the talking. I'm still present and not just passively asking them stock/idle/small talk type prompts, but making the conversation more about Them than Me has less of a drain on my social batteries.

I am not a psychologist, but from my experience, I think a part of being an introvert is that we tend to process thoughts within ourselves more often. We think, we ruminate, we make up our minds and then we express those ideas. So listening to someone allows us to maintain that process. Sit, listen, be silent, and then ask another question based on where your mind is headed. Being the one doing the bulk of the articulation, and sometimes having to do it without adequate pauses for thought or being interrupted by another person cutting into the conversation can be stressful in its own way.

Also, the one piece of advice that my mom gave me when I was pre-teen that I hold on to this day is: "the best compliment you can give a stranger is to remember their name the second time that you meet them."

Seriously, if you meet a person and you like talking to them, make a point of remembering their name. It's even fine if you ask them for their name again before you part ways at the end of your first encounter. In many ways, that's a very sincere expression of "hey, you're awesome. I want to remember you."

And for most people, being deemed worthy of genuine space in another's memory is a real treat.
posted by bl1nk at 1:21 PM on August 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

Smile. Laugh at bad jokes. Act interested while going through your to-do list in your head. Send a text or email with a short "Hey what's up?" respond to whatever comes back. Buy the first round at the bar. Occasionally say "no". Ask about their interests or kids. Unless they're Disney dumb, they are having the same thoughts as you.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:23 PM on August 9, 2013

Also, don't think that you have to be born an extrovert. I was painfully shy and awkward my entire childhood all the way through college, yet now at almost 40, I'm more extroverted than I would ever have imagined possible.

What changed for me is that when I graduated college, I was terribly depressed and had done no career planning at all, so I moved back in with my parents in my suburban hometown where I couldn't drive. I took a crappy part-time job as a cashier at a crappy big box store, and had one hell of a chip on my shoulder about having just graduated magna cum laude and feeling like this was all beneath me.

Yet, once I in the situation, I was forced to interact with the people who came through my checkout line, and I quickly realized that a smile and some small talk went a huge way in making my day more enjoyable. I soon started practicing how to read when people wanted to interact and when they didn't, and it got to the point where I really enjoyed the anticipation of wondering who I would meet next and what kind of interesting things I might find out about them.

Even though I didn't stay at the job long, in some ways it was the most transformative job I ever had, and that cultivating that attitude of curiosity and interest in other people has stayed with me ever since, and served me well.

At least in my case, starting off shy doesn't mean you're stuck shy!
posted by Neely O'Hara at 1:29 PM on August 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

Also: it can be hard to meet new people and get socially confident when your social circle is mostly other introverts.

Maybe you know one of those super-sparkly extroverts. You know, the ones who always seem to be surrounded by people, have no problem joking around with the person ahead of them in the grocery line, are upbeat and cheerful all the time, and people feel good being around?

Make friends with that person. It probably won't be very hard, because they're good at being friendly. Do this even if you have weird resentful feelings about them (maybe you think they're superficial or pushy or whatever). My experience is that they are usually warm, wonderful, and interesting people who can teach you a lot. Through them, you'll also meet lots of other people and get other opportunities to socialize. And often they really appreciate having friends who are reliable, thoughtful, and good listeners.
posted by beatrice rex at 1:34 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a very large introvert who is great with people and very outgoing. It was a long process of letting go of insecurities, faking it until I made it and consistent self analysis to see if my fears of interaction were grounded. They weren't really as it turns out.

Introversion has little to do with being "bad" at social interactions, it's actually just whether or not those interactions energize or drain you. I suppose the correlation here is that introverts are often less practiced and once you're on that road it just seems to get worse and worse until you put a lot of effort into catching up.

But you will! People are fun! Good luck!
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:42 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am an extreme extrovert who happens to be crippled by severe anxiety. It sucks because I desperately want to get out there and meet all of the wonderful people in the big, beautiful, awful world, but I can't. I love everyone everywhere, but I mostly sit at home alone because I am terrified of everything. Que sera, etc.

The most important thing I have learned about interacting with my fellow humans is that everyone has a story.

Every person you are liable to dismiss as having nothing interesting to say is a fascinating, nuanced, amazing, unique creature. Every person's life is significantly more complex than any of the rest of us could ever imagine. Every person has many layers to discover and explore. Be generous with your time -- everyone wants to feel like they matter. If you walk around with awareness of these facts, and your actions bear out their acknowledgement, you will make the world a better place.

You can find at least a bit of common ground with anyone because we all had the strange and impossible luck to be put on Earth together. Weird, huh? (It's really weird!) Try not to stress about the possibility of having an unsuccessful interaction with any one person, because there are seven billion of us out there, each with our own ideas to share, dreams to pursue, and stories to tell.

Ask questions sincerely, speak from your heart, give freely of yourself, keep an open and curious mind, and listen.
posted by divined by radio at 1:53 PM on August 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Don't underestimate the value of small talk. A lot of introverts hate small talk, because they want to talk about something bigger and/or more important than the weather. But you can't really jump into big deep discussions with people. You need to get used to each other first. You need to learn that you can trust each other with little stuff first. So practice small talk with people. Talk about the weather, ask how someone knows the host of the party, ask people if they've seen any interesting movies lately, etc. Be patient. It might feel like you're not building anything with the conversations, and with a lot of people, you won't build anything in particular. But small talk is a way to sort your way through the great masses of people, and figure out who you might like to become better friends with. (Also, I have no idea why this took me so long to figure out, but: small talk doesn't only happen at parties. It happens everywhere: chatting with someone at the bus stop is small talk. Asking a co-worker about their weekend is small talk. I mention this only because it's possible that you think that you're horrible at small talk, because you can't go to a party and just start chatting with people, but that's like advanced-level small talk. You may already be pretty good at normal-level small talk).

Once you've started chatting regularly with someone you see regularly (in a class, at work, etc), and the conversation topics have moved on to more personal things, don't be afraid to invite them to something: coffee, or a cool museum exhibit you've heard of, or a farmer's market, etc. Just like asking someone out on a date, you should make it specific, and not just a general invitation. If they say yes, and you have fun, ask them to something else a couple of weeks later. If they keep saying yes, keep inviting them to things. If they invite you to things, make sure you say yes regularly enough to not discourage them. If they say no, ask them again to something a couple of weeks later. If they say no without expressing disappointment, back off, but keep chatting with them when the opportunity arises, and maybe try again in a couple of months. Repeat this pattern until you've spent enough time with someone to really be friends.

The whole point of this long answer is really: remember that you can't go out into the world and find best friends there, ready-made. You have to make acquaintances first, some of whom then become good acquaintances, some of whom then become friends, and some of whom then become good friends. The whole process takes a while. If you get to a point where you feel like you're going to go nuts, because you have SO MANY acquaintances but no really good friends, don't give up! You're probably right on the cusp of turning some of those acquaintances into friends. Keep trying!
posted by colfax at 2:38 PM on August 9, 2013 [10 favorites]

I guess this speaks more to developing relationships with people I would like to be closer with than initiating new relationships, but one thing that has always worked for me is complimenting people through third parties. If you are talking to the friend of someone you want to get closer to and you can speak highly of that person to their friend, you generate a lot of good energy - the person you told will of course be happy that you said something nice about someone they care about, and will share your words with their friend, who will be happy that you said something nice about them. Then they both like you and you've maybe even got TWO new friends instead of one.

The key for this to work is that you have to be genuine about what you are complimenting, but being mindful about finding great things to say about most people is not difficult.

tl;dr: Pay attention to the good qualities in the people you want to cultivate closer ties with, and be generous about publicly lauding them on those qualities, either directly or through other people.
posted by deliciae at 2:56 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think I've trained myself over the years to be an extrovert. And I do think the distinction, for me, between extroverts and introverts is where they draw their energy from, and not necessarily friendliness or comfort in social situations, as evidenced by the shy/anxious/what-have-you extroverts upthread. So draw that line for yourself, too, because you can make friends as an introvert (I know, I befriend them!)

I think the secret is to practice. Practice on people in line with you at the bank, talk to the cashier at the corner market, ask people about their pins and their kids and their t-shirt. If you can talk to someone on the bus, you can talk to the people you want to befriend.

And remember to smile!
posted by jenlovesponies at 2:58 PM on August 9, 2013

Best answer: I have slowed down someone because my husband is an introvert, but I can still schmooze with the best of them and spent the best part of 3 decades being surrounded by people all the time. Some of this might be repeats of things others have said, but, for me, all 5 of these work together as a unit.

1) Other people's behavior is not about you. (If you fail to make a connection with someone, they may be having a bad day, you may look like a relative they dislike, you might have used a perfectly acceptable word that they have a peculiar distaste for, you might work in the same industry as their crazy ex, etc., etc., etc. Let them go and move on to the next.)

2) Be a detective, but not in a creepy way. (Ask people about themselves, what they like, what motivates them, what they are passionate about. Be curious about the other person. Do not immediately try to interject your own story. If there is a connection - friendship, romantic, professional networking - eventually, they will become curious about you as well. And, if they don't, refer to #1.)

3) Develop a well-rounded knowledge of the world - art, music, history, politics, geography, education, trends, etc. (It is much easier to understand other people if you have some context for what they are talking to you about. Ask questions that demonstrate this basic knowledge.)

4) Know yourself. (I can have a wonderful time talking with almost anyone at a party for 20 minutes, but I am very selective about with whom I chose to pursue more long-term connections. I know what my values are, what my available time is, where I am in my life, and what kinds of bullshit I can't tolerate over the long haul. When I don't choose to pursue a greater connection with someone I've met, it is because of these truths about myself, and not really anything they have done. This is the reverse corollary of #1. My behavior is about me.)

5) Learn about social norms for the contexts in which you are encountering people. (The goal is not necessarily to follow them, but to understand whether or not you are following them. Purposefully following or breaking social norms will often produce different results. Try them both out and see what happens.)

Go forth and enjoy. (And, if you really want to see these principles in action, go watch the movie Harold and Maude. Maude is the ultimate extrovert.)
posted by hworth at 4:06 PM on August 9, 2013 [9 favorites]

I'm a very outgoing person, a definite extrovert. Here's what I can share:

1) I am interested in people. I like their stories. You can't fake that, although you can try to find the things you like about others and focus on those things when you're with them.

2) I ask questions. Then I listen to the answer. I may or may not share a related anecdote about myself. I've found with time that I need not share as much as I thought, but there is a norm of reciprocity where if you only ask questions and don't share yourself, the other person will feel uncomfortable. Maybe I go for about 70% listening, 30% sharing, although of course it varies by context.

3) I look for commonalities. Do you like the person's dress style? Are you interested in the type of work they do? Do they come from a part of the country you'd like to visit? Most people have something compelling about them. Ask about the things you're drawn to, because then your interaction will be authentic and will feel so.

4) Be kind whenever you can. Assume the best whenever you can. Assume everyone is trying their best in a difficult world. Smile. Be nice. These things go an enormous way toward creating good will and also toward helping you feel good even when those around you are prickly.

5) Don't be overly apologetic. If you screw up, say sorry sincerely and specifically. Then move on. Don't make your self doubt be so big as to leave no room for the other person.

6) Despite any strategy, some people will not like you. Some social interactions will fail. I guess I've mostly learned to just accept that, although as an extrovert, my feelings are usually at least a little hurt when someone doesn't like me. But I have learned, when this happens, to move on and focus on other people who do like me.

7) Don't assume you know if people like you or don't like you. Quiet people often read as unfriendly when they are just being quiet. Some people just take time to warm up. Let people do their thing and don't assume what that thing is. I'm learning that I rarely know what someone else's feelings really are.

A final note: With age and some intention, I have incorporated much more introverted type of time into my life. I've found that meditation, quiet hikes by myself, time alone with my book, etc are extremely important to me now, and also help me to be a more present and attentive person in my social dealings. I'd look to the strengths you already possess. If you have the ability to be quiet with others, then you have a skill that most extroverts don't possess, something that will help others open up and feel comfortable. You don't have to change who you are to feel more comfortable with others, and working within your temperament may be more successful than trying to change too much.
posted by latkes at 5:08 PM on August 9, 2013 [10 favorites]

I'm an extrovert and, while I've never really been the life-of-the-party type, I've always made friends easily and do pretty well in most social settings.

When people are rude or snobby or cliquish or whatever, it's really helpful to just assume that they have poor social skills and/or are awkward themselves. This is a good idea partly because it helps you take their behavior less personally, and partly because it's often true. The person who seems aloof is often shy. The person who sticks with their group of friends and seems to sneer at people who aren't as "cool" may just be unsure of how to break away and make friends on their own. You don't have to put up with rude behavior, of course, but you also don't have to take it personally.

Another trick that works especially well for parties or other places where there are a lot of people you don't know - when you're talking to someone new, focus on making them feel comfortable rather than worrying about your own shyness. Lots of people have some level of social anxiety, so it's reasonable to assume that the person you're talking to is just as nervous as you are. So take an interest in them, ask them about themselves, share stuff about yourself.

When you're meeting someone new, try to find the thing you have in common. It can be as small as the fact that you both have dogs or you have a purse similar to hers - or maybe you actually went to the same school or have similar jobs. Don't be afraid to ask questions to help you find those things you have in common.

Be open to being friends with people who are different from you, but don't waste your time trying to cultivate friendships with people you don't have a good time with.

And going back to my first point - you will have awkward experiences, some people won't be as friendly as they could be. That's ok. Remember that no one is universally beloved, and it's ok not to click with someone. It's not personal.
posted by lunasol at 9:58 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I am a "sociable introvert," rather than a true extrovert, and recognizing my own need for quiet downtime as well as social interaction makes a big difference to me. It is important not to try to force yourself into anything, and to respect your own style and needs. You will be more comfortable and you will come across as more genuine to others.

Over the years, I have found that a few things have made a big difference in forming positive relationships:

-remember that, for the most part, the other person WANTS to have a good experience, too. The stranger at the boring cocktail party would really love to have a great chat. The friend of a friend wants to like you. The job interviewer wants to be impressed. Think a little about how you can make the interaction positive for them.

-people have different strengths and weaknesses, and you can appreciate someone for what they have to offer and enjoy their company while knowing that not every situation brings out their best. For example, I have a very fun, compassionate friend who loves to go shopping and do girly things, but gets out of control and overly flirtatious when around groups of guys. She and I go to lunch, yoga, and the spa together, but I don't invite her along when my partner and I go out to dinner with his rugby buddies and their wives. (I am sure she would never cross the line with any of these guys, but her flirting makes everyone uncomfortable, and the one time I did try to introduce her to that group, there was pointless drama.)

-on a really practical note, spend a few minutes looking at the news before you meet a group of new people, and keep an eye out for things that might help you connect with them. For example, I just met a group of scientists at a reception and was able to get into a good conversation by saying something along the lines of "hey, I just saw that University X got a lot of funding for Project Y. How far is that kind of technology away from being part of my life?" The goal is not to impress anyone with your genius but to give them something to talk about.

Finally, while I agree with the idea that generally, you should cut people some slack and not keep score, it is important to recognize that friendship is a two-way street and if there is no mutuality, it is probably not worth your time. In those cases, whether it is someone who doesn't respond to your overtures at a party, or an acquaintance who only calls when they need a lift somewhere, it is okay to walk away.
posted by rpfields at 11:47 PM on August 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm an extrovert but just about all of my friends are introverts. (My friendship style involves a lot of intense personal connections. I like hanging out in groups, but I'm not as successful there as I am otherwise.)

The thing I do, and the thing that makes me the most successful, is pretending that the person I'm talking to is the only person in the world. Everyone else -- including myself -- is irrelevant in the sense that even my story doesn't matter in the context of theirs; it's just them, and everything about them. Not to say that you should become a martyr to your cause or anything like that, and you should talk about yourself, too, but you'll be astonished by how many people are incapable of taking an even passing interest in others. No matter what. Even if it isn't initially interesting to me, I fake it until I make it. Find out what truly moves and drives the person you're speaking to. And act like you want nothing better to know as much about it as they do.

And then, remember what you've heard. The next time you see them, tell them what you remember.

There's a children's sci-fi book by Michael Ende called Momo. It's a beautiful book -- and the amazing takeaway is that Momo (who is definitely not an extrovert by any stretch of the imagination) attracted a huge crowd of people to her, consistently, because of the quality of her listening skills. She listened in a way that no one else could, in a way that was far superior than to mere passive listening.

"The thing that Momo could do better than anyone else was listen. [...] Very few people can really listen, and the way Momo practiced the art of listening was unique.

Momo listened in a way that made slow people suddenly have the cleverest ideas. She didn’t ask or say anything in particular that would bring them to these thoughts. She merely sat and listened with the utmost attention and sympathy, fixing her large, dark eyes on them. And when they finally stumbled upon an idea that they had never even dreamt of before, they felt like it had come from deep within them.

She listened in such a way that anxious and indecisive people suddenly knew what they wanted. Shy people suddenly felt brave and free. Unhappy and depressed people suddenly became joyful. And when someone thought that his life was a meaningless failure, and that he was just one among millions of people who could all be replaced as easily and as quickly as a broken pot, then he would go and explain everything to Momo. Even as he spoke, it would become clear to him, in some mysterious way, that he was fundamentally mistaken, that among all the people in the world there was only one of him, and that he was therefore important in his own particular way.

This was how Momo listened."

I try to be as close to her as I can manage. And it's worked for me.

[also: I endorse what everyone else says, particularly latkes. Some really great advice here. I've bookmarked this thread, I think it'll help me, too.]
posted by orangutan at 8:45 AM on August 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm an extrovert who absolutely adores meeting new people. Small talk is as delicious to me as chocolate cake. I relish the chance to chit chat with someone I don't know or don't know well.

Here's my secret:

When I see someone who I don't know well, I'm instantly curious to know what wonderful thing they've recently done.

Walking down the street, I try to identify whose just given someone their first multiple orgasm.

On line at the grocery store, I wonder which customer has the best singing voice.

Cultivate optimistic curiosity!
posted by waterisfinite at 4:56 PM on August 10, 2013

Best answer: I think it is best to listen to the more sociable introverts. You can't really impersonate or learn from what a true extrovert can do. But here is my answer:

Honestly most people tend to sound a bit boring or banal if you approach them cold. Listening or asking polite questions is not enough, you have to draw out their best conversation and make them get excited. You have to guide them to their best ideas, their funniest moments...essentially the subjects where they want to be heard (but might not even know it). You've got to be willing to interrupt them, tell them they're wrong, flip things around (social boldness), take some real chances to create a memorable discussion that gets the other person fully engaged. And you've got to strike a balance between being threatening (too emphatic, out of control, etc.) and passively mirroring what 90% of people would say next. It's like a snow globe -- you've got to shake it up to make things interesting. Even for an acquaintance, that's a lasting bond that will carry pretty far in your future interactions. It also pays to have a great memory and at a later point be able to recall everything they shared.
posted by 99percentfake at 5:20 PM on August 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I definitely get energized from spending time with other people, so I guess I'd call myself an extrovert, but I do like/need to spend some time alone. Just not a lot, and it needs to be organized so I don't get too lonely. Sometimes I think people cling too tightly to the extrovert/introvert assignments.

I know "introverted" is not the same thing as "shy," but I used to be very shy. A few years ago I wrote this comment about how I broke out of this, and became much more sociable and now find it much easier to make friends. I call it the "30% rule" but it's essentially about practicing being more and more social until it feels more natural. And yes, listen and ask questions.
posted by sweetkid at 6:37 PM on August 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Be humble and ask questions. Learn about people and do your best to just listen to them and let them be themselves, and not “analyze” them or “figure them out” all the time. That may not be something you do anyway, but I do (/did) and it is disruptive to being a healthy social group member.

Don't fear asking the awkward questions you may feel you should already know (this is where being humble comes in, too). Even as adults we may still have an inherent tendency to want to avoid asking “dumb” questions, because growing up our experience is that kids (and later, even adults) may make fun of you for asking something dumb or awkward, but in social groups and settings like a party or whatever, that's not all that common, and often in those settings, if someone does make fun of you, they're just teasing you in a well-meaning manner. It means they think you can handle being made fun of — and this is a good thing. People who don't take themselves seriously all the time have it much easier making social connections, and rarely ever are made to feel awkward.

And lastly, avoid trying to be the smartest person, if that's ever your inclination. While it's nice being the one saying smart things that other people listen to, the person doing all the talking has the least opportunity to learn anything new. You'll gain no new perspectives or ideas that way.
posted by KuraFire at 11:15 AM on August 11, 2013

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