4 Steps Towards Becoming More Social

When was the last time you gabbed away at a party or asked an acquaintance to lunch? If it's been a while, it may be time to start putting more effort into happy hour. A study published in the Journal of Research in Personality found that being extroverted in your youth can make you happier as you age.

Having a great social life boils down to a set of simple changes in mindset and behavior, this article will get you started at being able to talk to people whenever you want to. But first…

Take Risks. Unless you're a natural socialite (and even if you are), it can be scary to talk to new people. But in order to break through your own social limitations, you have to take risks. That means deliberately putting yourself in situations that you know make you uncomfortable. There is no magic potion (well, besides alcohol) that will make you comfortable without going through a gauntlet of situations that make you face and overcome your fear of social situations. You gotta go through it.  

Start small. You don't have to start with a stand up comedy routine, just make conversation with the guy at Starbucks. Smile at someone while you're pumping gas. These little things will give you confidence and make larger social situations more accessible.

Focus on them The best way to start a conversation with people is to start with what they’re focused on. Most of the time, you’ll find people concerned about what’s going on in their life, and that’s where to start. Forget what you’re worried about, stop thinking about yourself and focus on them. This means that you’re going to show interest in them, ask questions, and find the unique things about the other person.

You can do this by saying things like, “Interesting, tell me more!” or ask the question “Why?” When someone tells you about a certain industry they’re in, a class they’re taking, or a hobby, ask, “why?” That will get the conversation to be a little more intimate and interesting.

Chat At Work. No, we're not talking about instant messaging. Find the spot at work where people tend to congregate and jump into the water-cooler chitchat, recommends Wood. Set a goal that you'll go to the break room, bench or wherever it may be on Tuesdays for five minutes. (Shooting for Tuesday rather than Monday will keep you from agonizing over the weekend.) Start small and each Tuesday do something to be more social and friendly with your co-workers. If there's someone that you've found some common ground with, ask them if they want to grab lunch with you.

Become a Better, Active Listener

In today’s high-tech, high-speed, high-stress world, communication is more important than ever, yet we seem to devote less and less time to really listening to one another. Active listening helps build relationships, solve problems, ensure understanding, resolve conflicts, and improve accuracy at home and work.

Use these 6 steps to improve your listening skills:

Maintain eye contact. Listening first begins with attentive focus on the speaker. Do your conversational partners the courtesy of turning to face them. Put aside papers, books, the phone and other distractions. Look at them, even if they don’t look at you. Shyness, uncertainty, shame, guilt, or other emotions, along with cultural taboos, can inhibit eye contact in some people under some circumstances.

Visualize. If you're finding it particularly difficult to concentrate on what someone is saying, try repeating their words mentally as they say them – this will reinforce their message and help you stay focused.

Show that you’re listening. Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention such as nod occasionally, smile and use other facial expressions.

Resist the urge to interrupt. It can be tempting to finish someone's sentence to show you comprehend their message, but it can come off as rude. Listening builds trust. If you interrupt someone--even with good intentions--it denies the speaker the opportunity to fully express her feelings or opinions. To ensure that you won't interrupt, always pause for a few seconds before responding.

Respond, don't react. Rather than listening with the intent of speaking, listen with absolutely zero intention other than discovery. Don't react to what you hear, but respond to it at a later time such as to ask clarifying questions.

Ask thoughtful questions. I’ve found that the best listeners make a regular practice of asking thoughtful questions. When you reach a pause in conversation, ask a question that clarifies a previous point or helps to dig deeper into the topic of conversation. For instance, instead of asking, “So did you do what I suggested?” say: “Tell me what you decided to do.” Instead of “Are you upset?” ask: “How do you feel about this?”