If only I were like him…
Hardly a day went by in which I didn’t imagine being one of my extroverted acquaintances. They could walk into a room and everyone would eagerly await their humor. The whole mood brightened when they began talking. They could ask out almost any girl, and they would agree without a second thought. They never lacked a friend, since people were attracted to them wherever they went.
I just sat there thinking, like always. My analytical meditations stayed in my head while my mouth and vocal chords just tightened. I didn’t understand my introversion, so I wanted to be someone else.
I wanted to be someone else so badly that I tried many things that only extroverts would willingly agree to do. I entered a talent show in high school. Just me. In front of the whole school, I spoke, played guitar, jumped hurdles, sang, and answered questions. It was mostly a disaster. Probably the most impressive thing I did was the swimsuit competition. Being in the middle of track season, my biceps were not too shabby.
Was that a good solution to change who I was? No. It did make me more comfortable in front of crowds, but it didn’t magically make me an extrovert. Actually, it was much more difficult to talk to one girl than the whole school. If only I had realized that I didn’t need to adjust my personality, I might have been able to change what I truly wanted to change: my shy habits in personal conversations.
Everyone Was Talking Naturally, Except Me
A few years later, surprise! I was still introverted. One night during college at Penn State, I went to a big get-together with a group of friends and acquaintances. I enjoyed the mile walk under the stars to get to the house, but once I got inside, my hatred for parties only worsened.
Everyone was talking naturally and flowing freely in conversation. Small groups of intriguing exchanges were forming all around me. I wandered between them, hoping to get drawn into the current of connection. After fifteen minutes, the best I got was people moving to the side to allow me not to lurk over their shoulders.
I left that party after less time than it took for me to get there. I walked home, frustrated again that I was not an extrovert. I spent a few hours playing solitaire on my computer, listening to “I am a Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel on repeat, soaking in the fitting lyrics about my lack of social interaction.
Finally, I Was Ready to Flirt
After another few years, and acceptance of my introversion, I was finally ready to flirt. I didn’t know it until it happened, but when it did, it was magical. After years of avoiding girls, lapsing into awkward silence, and making a fool of myself, I was totally surprised at my competency when talking to this one special girl: my future wife.
I met her at a large social gathering, and I knew that my chances with her were small. She came up to me and a few of my friends and introduced herself to the group. She was stunning. At that point, I realized I had to get to know her better, but how? Every time I talked to girls one on one, I failed. If she got the wrong first impression, I was finished. Everyone knows how important first impressions are.
As the night moved along, I kept approaching her and asking her more about herself. I did what I thought was impossible. My questions, comments, and stories naturally kept coming. There was never an awkward moment nor silence. I was flirting!
The ABC Method of Conversation
Everything I learned leading up to that flirting experience I now call the ABC method of conversation. I didn’t have to be extroverted, but there are certain qualities that almost guarantee good conversation:
- Attention. Being introverted, my mind often goes into hyperdrive, especially when talking to someone attractive. One trick I learned from The Charisma Myth is to bring back your attention on the other person by focusing on a physical sensation, like wiggling your toes. It sounds silly, but it gets you out of your head.
- Benevolence. It is essential to actually care about who you are talking to. But even more than that, the other person needs to know that you care. I know it can be hard, but emotion must be expressed in your responses to what they say. Maybe even just a, “Wow, tell me more about that.”
- Competence. Demonstrate that you are good at something. If you never talk about your skills and good qualities, they won’t know them. Don’t brag, but make sure you show them that you aren’t still staying at your parents house playing video games in the basement all day. (Unless you are, of course.) It doesn’t even have to be a major accomplishment. For example, it could be something as simple as telling others that you recently finished an interesting book or that you started a vegetable garden. Anything you care about can lead to great conversation!
My Introversion Led Me to Talk Even More
Once I accepted the fact that I was introverted and stopped dreaming of being someone else, I was able to focus on getting to know other people. It was not my introversion that was selfish, it was my constant focus on pretending to be extroverted that made me selfish. And people who are focused on themselves usually fail socially.
Now, I love my introversion. Because I hate boring small talk, I have strategies to get past it and go deeper in my friendships. If you are interested in the specifics, you can get a free guide to becoming a better conversationalist at my website, brighthabit.com.
My introversion leads me to enjoy the moments I have with my wife and kids even more. I’m able to share my love of reading with my son. The other day he asked me to read a book about David and Goliath three times in a row. Some of the best nights with my wife are the ones when we sit together and read our own books. She’s an avid Harry Potter fan!
Becoming extroverted was not the answer to my shyness. I just had to accept that I am introverted so I could enjoy other people. In the end, my introversion led me to talk even more.
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