“Hello my name is Michelle and I suffer from social anxiety,” is what I will say when I hold my first Anxiety Anonymous meeting
This is an ambitious plan, as I would be hard-pressed to get people to actually show up. Bad joke, I'm sorry.
But everyone, regardless of how extroverted they believe themselves to be, experiences a certain level of social anxiety. This is especially true when meeting someone new and trying to make a good first impression.
In social anxiety's truest form, we find people who can't fathom the idea of leaving their home. On the other end, there are lucky outliers with inhibitions so low they're able to approach anyone without hesitation. Think of those brave souls who wear colored smocks and solicit donations for charities in the subway.
The rest of us fall somewhere in between.
Over the years I've taken careful mental note of what works socially and what doesn't. Whether you're trying to chat up a cute blonde or schmooze at a professional networking event, there are general principles you should try and follow.
I can't promise you a phone number or that job, but I can guarantee this will help to successfully project the illusion that you're a socially-adjusted individual. If I can do it, so can you.
1. Disarm them with a compliment.
Nothing butters someone up more than a genuine compliment. However, giving and receiving compliments is not as straightforward as one would assume. Compliments fall into two categories — things the person actively chose and things they were born with.
The former makes for the more powerful compliment.
When you compliment someone's choice of shoes, haircut or music selection, you are acknowledging a calculated choice they made. Whereas when you compliment someone's eye color or smile, it's nice, but we didn't choose those things. Complimenting someone's deliberate choice is more flattering.
This is also a golden opportunity for discovering common ground.
2. Be a journalist.
Watch any well-known journalist or news reporter conduct an interview. Do they ever start talking to the subject about the weather, or asking yes or no questions? Absolutely not. Not only would they instantly lose their credibility, they would bore their subject and audience to death.
Now, I realize that in the party context, a bit of small talk is necessary to break the ice. But it should take up 10 percent of the conversation at most.
After that, you should only be asking “why” questions. "Why" questions elicit longer, more thought-provoking answers. Common points of interests are more likely to surface quickly when asking open-ended questions.
These are the foundation of authentic connections and will make leaving the warmth and comfort of your couch for an evening of socializing actually worth it.
3. Do the dance.
No, not a literal dance, the conversational dance. A good conversation is like a tennis game. Fine, ignore the cliche of that analogy and hear me out.
The passing of information back and forth is the core of successful exchange.
Don't kill it by hogging all the conversation time. I used to ramble on about myself out of nervousness. When I did this, I never thought to look up and check in on the listener's level of attentiveness.
If I took a small second to look up, I would have seen a tilted head and a pair of glazed eyes that had lost focus a long time ago.
Stop, breathe and listen. The good news is people love talking about themselves. When I realized that, it took all the pressure off. You're welcome.
4. Don't pop the bubble.
Everyone has an invisible shield surrounding them at all times. For some people, that personal space is so wide you can barely get close and for others, it's practically non-existent. (Looking at you, close talkers.)
Test the boundaries of that invisible bubble. Be wary because this baseline distance varies widely from culture to culture. As you begin talking to a person, remain at a respectable and appropriate distance.
As you get cozier in conversation, make small gestures like a touch of the arm or a full turn of the body toward the person. Based on how someone reacts, you can immediately sense how big or small their bubble is. From there, you can swoop in closer or be cautious and stay put.
You'll know if you popped the bubble because body language will instantly shift from open and relaxed to tight and guarded. Slow and steady wins the race.
5. Eye contact FTW.
The wrong kind of eye contact can take you from master seducer to big-time creep in just a few short seconds. Hold that gaze half a heart beat too long and the receiver will raise their guard and recoil to their safe zone in seconds.
I used to cringe at the idea of continued eye contact. Forcing it felt profoundly unpleasant and borderline threatening. But I quickly realized that it's an essential ingredient to proper socializing and more importantly, not being perceived as a total weirdo.
Nothing conveys confidence quite like a firm level of eye contact. Without it, you're just that person staring awkwardly into their drink while mumbling at your shoes. Try not to be that guy.
We can't all be the life of the party, but we can at least enjoy the party. If all else fails, just widen your eyes, enthusiastically nod your head and smile -- because everybody at the party feels the exact same way you do.