How to not be weird

Hello WSO,

To be frank, I am a pretty weird guy, I was homeschooled and did not have a lot of social interactions during middle school or high school. For a while, I was actually very scared to talk to new people. Starting college helped me a lot with socializing, but my social skills are still absolutely terrible. I cannot seem to have a natural conversation with bankers during networking calls and there are often long, awkward pauses that I do not know how to handle. I seriously cringe during those moments. Currently, I am trying to improve my social skills through practice, and just taking as many calls as I can to get better at socializing and conversating. What other ways can I improve my social skills so I can succeed in forming new connections and translating those connections into referrals down the line?

Most Helpful

Force yourself to do more networking calls I guess. Eventually you will get better. If you want to be cynical than schedule like 50 calls with people in jobs you give zero shits and let them deal with the cringe.

DM me. I have a condition that used to seriously inhibit my ability to hold a conversation and I just had a superday where the MD said it was one of the best conversations with a prospect in years and he gave me the offer.s

It’s funny, being a former non-normal conversationalist who’s developed social skills, in my experience, can actually make you a fascinating person. You skip the usual small talk and get straight to things that interest people. Sure, you won’t gel with everyone but when you do they are better conversations than any seasoned extrovert could have

Practice is important. The more conversations you have, the better you'll get. I second the advice above to talk to people in careers you give 0 shits about. You won't be nervous, so use it as a testing ground.

A key mindset is to just ignore those awkward moments instead of cringing at them. The more you worry about something, the more likely it is that it will happen. Think less about the social dynamics of the conversation and more about the substance of it. Think about why you aren't nervous when talking to your friends. You don't care about how you sound to them, but you care about what they have to say. For calls, be genuinely interested in learning more about the person's career, ask the right questions, listen attentively, and it'll all flow smoothly.

The moment one of those awkward pauses happens, just say something like "one moment I just wanted to write that down" and keep pushing forward with your next question. People tend to reciprocate your behavior. If you get nervous and awkward, they'll feel that way too. If you treat the conversation like its normal, they'll feel normal too. It's all in your control.

Two different realms.

For business calls / networking: always have a prepared agenda or talking points. Make your points and pause for questions - "I'll pause here for questions". Then move to the next topic. Ask your prepared questions, listen, and then respond with an agreeable tone and an example of why you agree. For networking in particular, have questions regarding the industry, the business the person works for, and any cultural/personal questions to try and relate. 

For social settings: keep it light and ask questions. Anyone can be charismatic despite their personality if they ask good questions and listen. Follow the FORD method asking people you meet about family, occupation, recreation, and dreams. Listen, remember, and ask follow-up questions. The more questions and the better follow-up questions you ask the more it makes people feel important. And if you make people feel important the more likely they are going to like being around you.       

Practice makes perfect. I was horrendously weird through high school. Trials and tribulations my friend. Friends lost and gained, and lots and lots of awkward silence from failed jokes. Being able to know when you were wrong and correcting yourself. 

Everything starts with you going out of your comfort zone.

I had the same affliction.  Still do, actually - but I network "for fun" to work out the kinks.  Try reading books on sales techniques - Zig Ziglar's "The Secrets of Closing the Sale" really changed my perspective on common interactions.  Also, you'll have to practice projecting confidence. I define confidence as just being secure in an outcome, whatever it is.  Once you adopt a "just another day" sort of attitude for each new interaction it becomes easier.  

I wouldn't limit myself to online comments, instead, I'll take a serious self-improvement path on improving your lack of social skills considering that it doesn't only impact your professional life but also your relationships, friendships, interactions in different circumstances, etc. for all your life. Also, I'm a big believer that success is 90% social skills and only 10% technical knowledge, so for the moment, start by reading those:

1. How to Win Friends and Influence People

2. Crucial Conversations

3. Conversationally Speaking

4. How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks

5. The Charisma Myth

Implement everything you read, otherwise, you'll forget it and the longer it passes the less motivation (hype) you'll have to implement it. Once you finish those, I'm pretty sure you can Google other book recommendations on this topic. Good luck.

Agree with some ofthe above with 1 vital difference. please, implement. i.e. join a sports team, join a university / young professional club, go out don't drink but hit up 10 to 20 girls instead! Books are great man, they'll teach you something but 95% of getting better socially is done by guess what, actually being a social human being. I went out a lot - sober and worked on this area intensely. If you just work on this and try a little you'll be better off than most. You do not need to better than 100% of the people at this, just 10 % better than average will do. also, man, people are quite awkward when they are sober and in new environments, you are so much thinking about yourself you are not even reading the other person might be just as anxious as you are. Of what exactly. a little bit a of fucking silence? Its ok. 

I have ASD (truly been diagnosed) and have done a LOT of practice and specifically worked sales roles in undergrad to make it better. I still speak pretty formally naturally, but am much better than when I was younger

“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” - Nassim Taleb

I was just as you describe. Was social as a kid and had my quiet phase from 8-12th grade, tried hard to break out of it in undergrad.

It is painful and awkward, but you need to get on top of it, because I feel like you get cemented in your ways by your mid 20s. I started by breaking my habits that allowed me to avoid people (always looking down with headphones in, etc). Got more comfortable talking with my siblings, started talking more about interesting personal stuff with close friends, started small talk with people in the right environments (waiters, cashiers, etc). My last year of school I made more friends than I had in all of college combined by forcing myself to talk in clubs, class, etc. Networking calls got better as I did 20,30,50,100 of them and now I'm pretty confident going in to them. I work out more, I watch how I dress and how I smell, take more pride in who I am. It's a general approach to life that has improved my relationships, career, and overall fulfillment, etc. Take it one step at a time and keep doing better every week. Baby steps. 

This. I was also awkward asf in high school. Just force yourself into those uncomfortable situations, and after a while they become easy. Also find ways to root out any insecurities you may have if possible. For me, it was my physical form. I didn't like the way I looked and it really took away from my confidence. So I got in the weight room, cleaned up my diet, started using facewash/moisturizer, etc. Nowadays I feel unstoppable. 

Something super helpful for me personally was to take notice of how people who interacted with others in the way I wanted to did it. By mimicking others' behaviors until you find you own personal conversation style, which will likely be a mix of others, you can learn a lot about how people interact. None of the tips and tricks helped me in the way that just listening to how others spoke did. But the tips here also seem better than those I had at the time.

Go outside more, force yourself to talk to others and into social situations. It may be awkward for both of you but it gets better, go to networking events have a drink. Also may help for you to become more confident too, go to the gym everyday, become stronger and with that comes confidence which can fix other issues. You'll have clear thoughts, be confident in the way you speak, and with practice will do better. Put yourself out there, go to group meetings, talk to people, try to keep the conversation going when you both stop talking, learn about people.

Not as “weird” of a person, but im a pretty introverted guy so i agree with the awkward pauses.

i agree with more reps = improvement, but only count the reps where you try to break out of your comfort zone. Doing 100s of “awkward” calls isnt going to make you better. Youre not gonna improve on any skills in life if you dont force yourself to be in uncomfortable situations because youve never done it before. Try “acting” more sociable, try bringing up hobbies instead of just asking about work, try leading the convo instead of letting it be a q&a, etc.. you get my point.

also, you could just try talking to yourself, pretending like you are doing a networking call, and practice what you will say in certain scenarios so things dont get awkward. When you arent born with a certain skill, you need to practice it and theres no other way around + as you get more comfortable it will just be like your second nature and no need to practice it or even think about it anymore

Hi! I was the exact same way - scheduling networking calls helped my social skills so much and I could even transfer everything to make my personal life much easier. First 6 calls were terrible, but after 30 I was a pro ;) 

Good luck!

Practice, taking small risks, reflection, repeat.

I have found that the most challenging part about improving your social skills as an adult is finding environments (that offer opportunities for consistent engagement ie. practice) where the social cost of embarrassment is low. A low risk environment means you will be likely to continue showing up and putting in the work.

If you want to tackle this in a focused way as your post implies, pushing yourself in professional networking environments may be part of phase two...highly recommend either toastmasters or improv classes to get started and lay down some confidence (see points below). After you build up your confidence in a low risk environment take the next step. Take that new confidence to multiple IN PERSON networking events each month with a lot of people and "gameify it" push yourself to collect 25 business cards in an hour or something. You'll then be learning in an unstructured environment, reflect, repeat.

Don't kid yourself social skills are a SKILL, like any skill they take practice, failure, and incremental improvement to hone.

Toastmaster is a national network of clubs that facilitates a structured environment to improve your speaking skills. It's a supportive environment where everyone shows up to focus on improving their speech, presence, and impromptu speaking skills. It has its own curriculum that you can choose to follow as you progress from simple to more complex public speaking presentations or you can simply show up and observe and participate in the group exercises such as table topics. Most clubs meet weekly.

Also I think there is a BIG benefit to attending improv classes. An improv class forces you to deal with uncomfortable social situations where nothing is scripted and conversations go in ways you don't expect. For me attending improv was kinda like doing compound movements at the gym, it forced many different social skills to get engaged and work through the awkwardness of the coordinated "movement" to build the social muscle, I then showed up for the next class and put in the time to continue building the muscle. It required pushing myself socially in new ways and it also reformatted my brain to be more open to where conversations go. The more you practice engaging in conversations that you perceive to be uncomfortable/awkward the more comfortable you get. I can promise you that after you attend an improv class where the conversations ARE uncomfortable/awkward/fumbling around etc. any normal spontaneous conversation will feel much easier. Outside of building this muscle in an improv environment the only exposure people typically get with these types of situations (if they don't avoid them) is happenstance. Stranger asks you a question on the bus, in the bar, in the grocery store etc.

All the stuff above helps. Couple points I'd add:

1. Try to mimic the person you think has the best conversation skills/attitude. Or the one you want to be the most liked. It's like stand up comedy, at first everyone is just copying someone else until they find their own voice. 

2. It takes reps, and you're probably not be good at it at first. Mainly because, in the beginning you revert back to being quiet. Then you go through a phase of awkward conversation until you get good at it. In the mean time, try to make conversation with anyone and everyone, people in the elevator, getting coffee, people in your neighborhood/building. 

3. Also, a lot of people think "good social skills" is being able to talk a lot, but its also means being a good listener. People love to talk about themselves, keep asking someone questions until you hit on something they want to talk about then you just sit and listen. Does wonders. 

I used to be shy but learning how to ask good questions and make occasional witty remarks helped a ton. It shows people you are interested in them and are fun to talk to. Had to force myself to do it at first but now it comes naturally.

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