“Communication works for those who work at it” – John Powell
As an introvert that once in a while exhibits extroverted tendencies I’ve had my fair share of struggles with communication and I’m sure I am not the only one. Be it the tendency to prefer e-mail and texting to the telephone or a complete distaste for small talk, there are a multitude obstacles to mastering the art of communication. Add into the equation the disconnect between many extroverts who think the quiet introvert in the corner is either uninterested or afraid of interacting with others and the scene is ripe for misunderstandings. While it would be sweet if we could all pull a Matrix and just upload the necessary skills needed to become communications masters directly into our minds, alas our war with the robots still hasn’t progressed to that stage. In the meantime, here are a couple of ways the introverts of the world can overcome the awkwardness that comes with human interaction.
Stay informed. Does this mean we should know everything about everything? No. Once again, we are not living in the Matrix. It does mean paying attention to current events, the weather, sports, or whatever else interests you. By having a good handle on some of the relevant topics of the day, you have instant conversation material. While this will not immediately make you a social ninja, it will give you a well of topics to draw from in the event you end up in a conversation with someone you don’t know. Once you have that it’s just a matter of finding something that peeks the other persons interest..like the viability of economic policy that comes from Sim City.
Focus on the conversation. The worst thing you can do when drawn into a social situation or phone conversation is to let your mind wander (Unless of course you are being physically tortured, in which case you have bigger problems). The most important thing when talking to someone is showing a genuine interest in what they have to say, which is pretty difficult if your mind is currently focused on why we don’t have hoverboards yet. By putting all of your energy into listening to the other person you not only show interest, but will be able to learn enough to determine whether its worth continuing the conversation. In either case, the person you’re talking to will appreciate your attention.
Relax. Nervous energy is contagious. The worst thing you can do when attempting to engage someone, is to outwardly exhibit any butterflies you may be experiencing. I realize this is easier said than done, but at least appearing relaxed will go along away in ensuring the other person is receptive to what you have to say. An important thing to remember is most people have a certain level of discomfort interacting with people they do not know well. Remembering this fact should make it easier to approach the situation. If you happen to be talking to the proverbial social butterfly, they’ll probably do most of the work, which should make it even easier to maintain a cool persona. Whatever the situation, keeping things in perspective should make things run smoother.
Practice. Practice. Practice. Now this does not mean have warm-up conversations with yourself. Besides being perceived as a bit crazy, it probably won’t help you relate to others. It does, however, mean stepping out of your “comfort zone”. The more we force ourselves to have conversations with people we are not familiar with and embark on other communication nightmares (e.g. phonebanking) the easier it becomes. Obviously this is going to be difficult at first. Most likely you will have dozens of awkward conversations where you utter something about the tricky nature of double negatives and slink away in disgrace. Eventually however, you will overcome the awkwardness and become the communications Jedi we all strive to be.