Once I was making oatmeal in the microwave in my dorm and two of my other flatmates came in…
I never cooked food in that kitchen again.
I’m an introvert and people scare the hell out of me.
For the rest of the year I made instant soup using hot water that came out of the tap in my room.
It’s hard for me to meet people, but I’ve been working at it for a long time and I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
Extroverts and introverts, of different minds
Most people aren’t all introverts or extroverts, instead they probably share some characteristics of both.
The brain of an extrovert is wired feel reward and pleasure from engaging in social activities. Their nervous system signals the brain to free up extra attentional resources to be available when around other people. They are more motivated by social stimuli. Those same resources are not made available in the introverts brain. Extroverts also respond more to positive stimuli, whereas introverts respond more to negative stimuli.
Research says that extroverts rely on blood flow traveling a short pathway where it is transmitted to the areas of the brain where external sensory processing occurs. Extroverts require a good amount of the neurotransmitter dopamine to feel rewarded. Activation in this part of the brain is said to be the extroverts drive for sensory and emotional stimulation from the outside world.
For introverts, the blood flow is focused on the areas of the brain necessary for the following: memory recall, self-talk, making future plans, or problem solving. The introvert pathway is much longer and more complex and requires the use of a different neurotransmitter known as acetylcholine.
Individuals who are introverted are able to take in much more information regarding what is happening around them. They also expend a considerable amount of mental energy analyzing that information. People who score highly on the introversion scale are acutely aware of any changes to their surroundings. This is why social events are so taxing.
Extroverts: Obtain energy from social situations
Introverts: Obtain energy from being alone
Whether you’re more extroverted or introverted, the tips below can help you gain more confidence when meeting new people.
There are plenty of opportunities to meet people outside of networking events. Finding locations where you already feel at ease can help to make talking to complete strangers a little easier.
The effect your environment has on you is substantial. Your environment can improve your mood, participation, and even influence your willingness to act (or not) with others around you. Feeling comfortable in your surroundings also increases confidence and lowers stress. When you experience environmental stress, however, you also experience personal stress. Which can make the idea of talking to others seem downright impossible.
How can you make an uncomfortable or stressful environment seem less so?
Try to bring some of your routines from home with you. I have a habit of checking my phone when I’m uncomfortable—as I’m sure many of us do.
If I were to leave my phone at home, that would be an added stressor on me, and one that would make me feel even less comfortable. Instead, I will look at my phone when I feel my anxiety levels getting too high. It’s always easy for me to tell when that’s happening because I begin to sweat profusely from my right armpit.
The habit of checking my phone eases the mental burden (if only for a little bit). This is thanks to the basal ganglia aka the habit center.
The basal ganglia is what allows you to perform tasks without “thinking” about them, it’s that autopilot feeling. Routines serve a purpose. They free up mental space and make room for other cognitive tasks and thoughts—like talking to people.
If there is one major thing that keeps me from speaking my mind it is my fear of looking stupid. I hardly believe I am alone in this feeling. This fear is what is known as evaluation apprehension. Preparing yourself for an event or social situation can help ease this fear.
- Give yourself enough time: If you’ve ever been rushed to a job interview, or come in late to an event, you know it is a pretty awful feeling. It completely throws you off your game—not to mention the increase in blood pressure and heart rate. By giving yourself the time you need to get ready, you help to reduce your stress level.
- Plan some conversations: Okay, this might sound like a little much, but having some planned out questions or quips to fall back on, it does seriously help. Consider where you are going, what the event is and who will be there. Planning is something introverts are really good at, so play to your strengths.
- Give yourself permission to say no: In the past I have created a fake sense of obligation to say yes to every event regardless of my intention to go our not. This leaves me in a terrible position. I either go and have a miserable time because I did not want to go in the first place—or I back out at the last minute, in which case my trustworthiness is questioned. Maya Townsend from Inc.com puts it this way:
Focus on being trustworthy. Keep your word. Follow up on your commitments. Give reliable, accurate information, and, if you can’t, say so. Don’t try to be something you aren’t.
The purpose of all of this, is about being as genuine to yourself as you can be. Do that, and the rest will come easily, or at least easier.
Get out there
You know that feeling you get when you have something really good to say, and you just know that people would like it if you said it, but then you don’t say it? This happens to me more times than I can bear to count.
There’s an actual warmth that rushes through my body when I have a joke I really want to tell, but then abandon at the last second. I think about the joke for years and ‘what might have been.’
Those on the introverted side of the scale do receive emotional benefits when they occasionally act extroverted. It is actually good for introverts to engage in momentary extroversion. So why don’t either groups take on the traits of one another more often? Because we assume that the social costs will be too high—that people will think less of us, or judge us.
Being in large groups also induces what is known as “social loafing.” That’s when we exert less effort in larger groups than we would alone. We do this for a variety of reasons:
- We cannot judge how our contributions will be received (so we do not make any to avoid negative judgements.)
- We assume others will do the work for us.
- The more meaningless we feel a task is, the less effort we are willing to put into it.
This is less about trust and more about group cohesion. Having ties to a group increases your sense of obligation to participate. Finding the connection you have to a group or identifying what it means to you, can help reduce your desire to rely on others and speak up for yourself.
So, I may never be the most comfortable person in the room, that’s okay with me. What I want is to be able to stop passing up opportunities to meet new people, to build new relationships because I was too afraid.