Help me overcome and introverted nature.
November 22, 2007 7:56 PM   Subscribe

Help me overcome and introverted nature.

I am basically introverted. I don't have a hard time talking to people if I have to, or if I really want to. I just often don't really have the desire to overcome my default state of introversion.

It's not that I don't like other people; in fact, I love it when people are friendly with me!! I've just always been more content to sit back and observe others and wait for them to talk to me. But more often than not, this results in missed opportunities. Seems like people just don't notice the quiet girl who sits back and waits for them to talk to her :(

Recently I've been spending time with someone who is very outgoing. He makes friends with all of the wait staff (male or female) whenever we go out. Honestly, this leaves me feeling a little jealous--I would love to meet people too and have friends wherever I go but feel that no one ever talks to me.

I think the issue is that I just don't know how to make the first move. How can I push myself out of my comfort zone?
posted by mintchip to Human Relations (20 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
I'm also an introvert. Always have been. In my last few years of college I made very good friends with an extrovert. We're still great friends today. This is the best thing for you.

My extrovert friend would constantly be his extrovert self. Always talking to people, making friends, and toting me along. He would also put me in every conceivable uncomfortable position, just because he knew I was a little shy. It would be slightly uncomfortable for normal people, but was unbearable for me. I learned a lot from it though. In the end, if you watch how he behaves and interacts, it really is like a tutorial.

All that being said, I'm still an introvert. Just now I know a heck of a lot of ways to approach people and talk to them.
posted by sanka at 8:29 PM on November 22, 2007 [3 favorites]

There is a difference between introversion and social anxiety/shyness. I am a natural introvert but I have learned to fake outgoingness in short bursts. Get a job in retail or in food service. You get to practice with a lot of strangers who will throw all kinds of things at you and you will learn to think on your feet more. What is good about food service and retail is that the interaction is often for only a short duration, so if you feel like your "blew it" with someone, no worries, they will be out of your face and replaced with someone new to practice on in short order. Try it part time-- the pay can suck but then again, you are using it as a training ground. Good luck!
posted by 45moore45 at 8:34 PM on November 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

Start by doing what you already do -- listening to people talk. Then ask them questions. Simple, unintrusive questions about themselves, or what they seem to know the most about. And listen carefully to the answers, because something they say will probably pique your interest, and you'll ask them another question and before you know it, you're having a conversation. If the conversation fizzles out, or ends abruptly, don't be discouraged. The more you do it, the more comfortable you'll feel.

People often say they don't think of me as an introvert, but I really am -- I'm very uncomfortable in situations where I'm meeting folks for the first time. I tend to be quiet and listen a lot to other peoples' conversations. Somewhere along the way, I realized that people really, really like to talk about things, particularly things they're interested in, or that they're experts on either because they know a lot about the subject matter, or because it's their guaranteed area of expertise -- themselves.

Even as an introverted person, it doesn't take much out of you to ask a general question. You'd be amazed at how much easier it is to strike up a conversation once you've communicated to somebody that you're interested in what they have to say. Also, if you're having trouble coming up with inoffensive questions, watch your boyfriend and see how he does it.
posted by lassie at 8:35 PM on November 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry, I assumed the guy you've been hanging out with is your boyfriend, but you didn't actually say that, so my bad.
posted by lassie at 8:36 PM on November 22, 2007

try an open mike night at a comedy club. work up some decent material first. shy people have gone on to fame and fortune this way.
posted by bruce at 9:18 PM on November 22, 2007

Read The Introvert Advantage. I'm a major introvert (INFJ) and that book really helped me understand how to cope with an extroverted world.
posted by Serena at 9:27 PM on November 22, 2007 [4 favorites]

I had some good response to my related question, you might be interested in it.

One thing I've taken away from it is that it just requires pro-active, thoughtful effort on your part. I've also found this question and especially this one - and many of the answers in them - helpful to me in initiating some conversations.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:10 PM on November 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I was with a friend once at an event a few years ago, and I didn't know anyone else, and I wasn't sure how to talk to people, and I was standing there feeling foolish, and my friend turned to the person standing next to him and said, "Hey! What's up?" And conversation commenced! I was amazed! Once you have something to say to open the conversation, it's all downhill from there. Variations on "how did you end up here" are my staple- how did you hear about this event, how do you know the person hosting this party, etc.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:29 PM on November 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I find it helps to be curious about things and people and by asking casual questions a conversation can start, though not always.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:58 AM on November 23, 2007

Someone who chit-chats with wait staff isn't "making friends." He is just filling the air with words. You'd do better talking with individuals who share your interests. How about joining a book group, taking a class, or volunteering? That way you've something in common to talk about.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:13 AM on November 23, 2007

INTJ here. When I met my partner, we went out for a date and I could barely look him in the eye because I was so nervous. Naturally, he thought that I wasn't interested. Years later now, he still remarks about that night when he met me and realized exactly how introverted I was and how it would take a while before I would be "myself" with him. Lucky for me, he stuck around.

The only tactic that I've found to be a good one is to smile. They say dogs can smell fear, but I think people can too. So paste on your biggest grin, learn to pay a heartfelt compliment, and try just being a pleasure to be around. The rest will work itself out, and you'll be stacking the deck in your favor by focusing on being positive.
posted by greekphilosophy at 5:46 AM on November 23, 2007

I too am an introvert, but getting a retail job helped me immensely. The first year was absolute hell, but I learned to make conversation with complete strangers, make eye contact with them, be confident in large groups, etc. It really was the best move I ever made.

Don't feel that when you talk to someone, you have to have all the answers to every question they might ask you. Don't feel that you have to prolong a conversation longer than is comfortable for you. Just standing in a bus queue, asking the person in front of you when the bus is due is a conversation.

Try making eye contact with the person serving you in a shop, and smiling at them (believe me, this very rarely happens). They'll appreciate someone who is polite, and you get to practice talking to strangers. It's a baby step, but it's an important baby step. It's getting you used to making eye contact, and preparing your mind for someone saying "How do you do?".

I'd also ask, do you want to be pushed out of your comfort zone? From my own personal experience, I went through a phase of feeling that I was somehow "defective" because I couldn't make small talk and stuff like that. Then I read The Introvert Advantage, like Serena recommends, and I realised that actually, I was OK as I was.
posted by Solomon at 7:15 AM on November 23, 2007

Another introvert here. Never read The Introvert Advantage, but maybe it's worth a look. Anyway, "faking it" in small bursts is what I rely on when needed. But like other people here, I find that asking questions can really help to get a conversation going, or sharing something self-deprecating or funny about yourself.
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 8:12 AM on November 23, 2007

There isnt really anything in your DNA or anything like that which makes you an introvert, its just a comfortable habit you have developed over a long time.

Being an extrovert is a skill that anyone can develop, you just need to practice it and be committed to doing it consistently even when it makes you feel uncomfortable. You said you love it when people show an interest in you and ask you questions, well guess what, everyone does. I am certain you are an incredibly caring and wonderful person, but sitting in the corner waiting for someone to talk to you often comes across as cold and uninterested even though thats the opposite of your intentions. Just try being more friendly and outgoing, once you get started you will very likely meet with success and it snowballs from there. What your new friend does isnt that complex or difficult, its just showing an interest in people and making an effort to make them feel special anyone can do it and pretty much everyone responds well to it.

Good luck.
posted by BobbyDigital at 9:36 AM on November 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sounds like to want to learn How to Win Friends and Influence People. This timeless book can be read in one sitting.
posted by neuron at 9:41 AM on November 23, 2007

It's introverts all around! The thing is that we will always be introverts, and our fundamental instincts will not change. You

But you can learn to fake it. I also found that working in retail, and in a box office, really helped me get over my fear of talking to unfamiliar people, and even taking the initiative to start the interaction. I also find phone calls intimidating, so having to answer the phone a gazillion times a day helped me with that a little. The work offers a structure, so that you have a topic and a purpose for every interaction. Outside of that kind of structure, challenge yourself to push your comfort boundaries. If you go out, make yourself say one friendly thing to a bartender or another customer or whoever. If you're at a store, start an exchange with an employee or someone browsing near you. In time it'll start to feel more natural.
posted by bassjump at 10:32 AM on November 23, 2007

I thought being an introvert wasn't about having social anxiety but just having a different way of thinking and basically muddling over thoughts.
posted by onepapertiger at 11:29 AM on November 23, 2007

I don't see anything in the question that indicates social anxiety. I was an introvert with social anxiety. I'm now an introvert without social anxiety, but I'm still an introvert.

First of all you've got to stop thinking something is wrong with the way you are. So you want more satisfying friendships. As an introvert, you have certain gifts and advantages that can assist you in this endeavor. So no, you don't have to become an extrovert in order to have more satisfying friendships. I know some people advocate the "fake it" strategy and I have no doubt that it can work, but I'd go more in the other direction. Embrace and value who you are, and the unique gifts you bring to the table.

If you want to know what those gifts and advantages are, you should definitely read "The Introvert Advantage" by Marti Olsen Laney, and "The Gift of Shyness" by Alexander Avila (the latter does recommend the "fake it" strategy, but this after some very inspiring and enlightening chapters on what makes shy people special). Another good book (and shorter than the others) is "The Happy Introvert" by Elizabeth Wagele.

A few examples of introvert advantages when it comes to my own friendships:

-- Depth, not breadth. I don't know if you really want a full contact list in your cell phone, or if you want maybe 3-5 deep friendships. Introverts are often excellent listeners, excellent observers and can see the big picture that others may miss. These are assets when it comes to developing deep, close friendships.

-- Intrapersonal skills. You may bemoan your difficulties when it comes to interpersonal skills, but you're probably able to introspect and self-reflect on a high level. This ability to "know thyself" is a huge asset when you want to establish relationships, because you know what you really want. Introverts have a tendency to get deep inside their own heads and have difficulty bringing what they learn/believe/know to their interactions with other people. But because we lead such deeply intuitive lives, we are often capable of great passions that can inspire others to want to be around us. Getting to know myself better has helped me to open myself to others. I am more comfortable and secure in my own skin, and I have less of a desire to hide myself. You hide yourself in the corner, observing. Your observations and realizations could probably enrich the lives of others as much as they've enriched your own life. It is a shame to hide yourself.

I do find that I talk a lot more than I used to, and I sometimes worry that I'm talking too much, but people seem to want to hear more, and be around me. If I want more friendships I can have them (I'm a loner in addition to being an introvert, and so I don't actually want any more than I have which is like 1, but that's beside the point). People want to be around me, and now that I'm excited about life, I want to be around people.
posted by Danila at 1:47 PM on November 23, 2007 [4 favorites]

I like Rule #9 in Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships: "Fitting In" is Often Tied to Looking and Sounding Like You Fit In.

The title of the rule is not useful, but inside there's a handful of solid pages on the importance of small talk. I used to hate small talk, but that chapter had me convinced. Talking about things that are easy for strangers to align together on, such as the weather, the traffic, major current political events, is an important skill to have. People are relieved when other people bring up small talk because it gives an opportunity to kill the otherwise awkward silence.

For me, I've learned to get really good at making small quips. Whenever I'm around strangers I want to talk to, I visually hunt for material that I can turn into a small joke. Everybody likes to laugh, and it opens everything up.
posted by philosophistry at 8:04 AM on November 24, 2007

Drinking seems to help me.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 6:57 PM on November 24, 2007

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