I wanted to share a secret with you today.
I’ve spent so much of my life feeling like the kid on the outside, with my face pressed against the window, trying to figure out what made everybody else connect and why I didn’t have it.
I was so jealous of all the people I met who were so effortlessly charming. Who could talk to anyone anywhere, make them laugh, share about themselves, and walk away with a new friend.
I wanted so badly to be able to do the same.
But I was the kind of person kept my head down and avoided the sales people in the stores, and who rehearsed my drink order while I was in line at the cafe so I wouldn’t have to answer any unexpected questions on the spot.
I was terrified of having even passing, transactional conversations with people, no matter how badly I wanted connection.
I was so lucky to have a very close friend at the time to look up to. She’s the most warm, extroverted person I’ve ever met, even to this day.
She talked to everyone she met as if they were an old friend, shared what was going on in her life, and was intensely interested in what they had to say in return. She dove past formalities and safe conversation to be as real as possible.
And most of the time, her openness was rewarded.
And when it wasn’t, she never took it personally. There were always so many other people to meet.
So I started copying the way she would talk to shop owners, waiters, and sales people. My first step was to try and NOT freeze in terror when they asked me a question, but to just listen and try and be present, then answer.
And from there, I practiced breaking the ice on being friendly in a few different ways:
- Even when I wasn’t ready to have a full on conversation with someone, I tried to smile fully, keep eye contact, and speak warmly, no matter how brief the exchange was.
- I went out of my way to spot where the person working in the store was, make eye contact, and say “Hi! How are you?” as I walked in. I walked confidently and with direction, mostly to avoid having to keep up a longer conversation that I just wasn’t ready for.
- I asked for recommendations from the waiter or barista whenever I went to a restaurant or cafe. It was still an interaction but they would have to do most of the talking.
- I’d ask the people at the cafe what kind of non-dairy milks (or types of coffee or ice cream flavours or literally anything else) they had, even though I already knew the answer. Because it wasn’t new information, it was okay if I was too stressed to process what they said!
- I took acting and improv classes (this was while I was working as an actor so I had other reasons for it, but still found it helpful!). They helped me learn how to pay attention to the other person rather than myself.
- I internally assigned myself the role of host at parties and events. I realized that as long as I had something to do, it felt much easier to interact with people. My focus was on them and how they were doing, not on how awkward I was feeling.
It took me years of this kind of practice to start to relax and open up around people I didn’t know.
And I wanted to share that with you so that you know how I felt when a friend recently told me, “You’re naturally SUCH a friendly person. You don’t have to work at it at all!”