Ah, the comfort zone. That magic place that keeps us safe, sound and free of danger. No unexpected mishaps or drama, no spontaneous fun. Wait, what?
Are we born with natural social skills or are they a product of our environment?
It’s a question that’s always baffled me, because it seems many people are blessed with the ability to speak in front of hundreds or even thousands of people without hesitation while others cower in a corner even thinking about their turn to update during their staff meeting.
I say seems because that’s an unfair generalization I’m making—people who spend their lives as entertainers, motivational speakers or even CEOs probably have a natural inclination toward the attention a large crowd provides.
But they’ve also practiced. A lot.
Practice, Practice, Practice
I’m a natural introvert in the body of a public relations professional. For anyone familiar with PR, it’s a seeming contradiction that someone who could often choose a good book over a bar would end up with a career that daily puts me in front of many different people whether on the phone or in person. But I did. And it took some practice, but I’ve grown comfortable with expressing myself and my thoughts to strangers when needed.
I’ve even become—dare I say—outgoing in certain situations. My girlfriends have watched (slightly baffled) with increasing frequency as I grow confidence to walk up to a cute guy at a bar and start a conversation. Or when I ask the adorable guy reading the news on his iPad what’s going on in the world, or even occasionally when I inquire what the cute guy on the elevator is doing this weekend.
Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes other people are also introverts. But I never walk away wondering what could have been or asking if I missed a chance at something. Because I know I didn’t. I’ve eliminated the what-if’s. Not only does it give me a wonderful peace of mind, but I’ve also met some great people simply because I was willing to say hello.
Why it’s Important
Here’s why it’s important to step out of the proverbial box when it comes to your normal social routines: because you’re never going to meet new people if you don’t. Cultivating new relationships is sometimes difficult for me, but I dig my heels into the ground and do it instead of running away. Because we learn so much from the new people we acquire in our lives—whether a new friend or a new partner alike—they add value to our days.
Becoming outgoing is a little bit of a process, so start small and work your way up. Change small things in a daily routine to be more inviting toward new people. Think about the morning elevator ride—I’ll go ahead and make the bold but true statement that this is one of the biggest factors in determining whether a person has a good or bad day, next to maybe their morning commute. Common etiquette often tells us that it’s polite to keep to ourselves and stare blankly ahead at the doors, praying they’ll open soon. Change that, though.
Smile at the guy who gets on the elevator after you, or tell the lady on the third floor you hope she has a good day. You’re creating positive energy by doing so, and that’s pretty powerful. That guy might have an impossibly tough week ahead of him, and the woman on the third floor might have had a rough morning. Your comments might be the only nice things they hear all day.
More than that—though it’s a great feat to improve someone’s day—another few things just happened, as well. That positive energy you created is going to make your day better, and it’s also going to create confidence. Confidence is a core building block to social skills.
Now, take lunch with your coworkers. We often discount lunch as an important social activity, but it provides a necessary mental break as well as an opportunity to get to know a few new people. It’s easy to justify sitting at a desk for another hour—there is always another task that needs to be crossed off the list, a bill that needs to be paid or a news article that needs to be read. Don’t do that.
Go grab lunch, even if it just means moving your leftovers to the lunch room. Maybe you’ll find the woman in accounting is a fellow yogi or the marketing manager spends his time volunteering on the weekends. Maybe you’ll make a new friend. Maybe you’ll have better working relationships. Maybe the guy down the hall has a great friend he wants to introduce you to. Additionally, you’ve also just transformed a perception of yourself—you’ve moved from standoffish to personable, and that goes a long way with other people. You’ve also changed your own mental perception of yourself.
Expand the Practice
Then, once you’ve grown a bit more comfortable in your own skin, expand on it. Let’s take another daily situation. You’re walking into the grocery store, stocking up on your weekly must-haves and there’s a cute girl in the produce section, spending a minute or two looking at the summer squash. Maybe you just learned a delightful new way to prepare it—or maybe you’re not familiar with the item at all. Each is a potential opportunity to start a conversation.
Share your recipe. Ask what her favorite recipe is. It doesn’t matter much what you say, just as long as you say something. Maybe she responds positively and you have a 20 minute conversation over summer squash that leads to coffee next week. Or maybe you don’t. But at least you tried, and can walk away knowing you did everything to make a situation exactly what you wanted it to be.
Say hi to the cute guy at the coffee shop. Start a conversation with the girl at the yoga studio. Because truthfully, you never know what’s going to happen until you say something. That person could be your future soulmate.
[image: via Sharon Mollerus on flickr]