I was having a drink with a friend I haven't seen in years when he confided that he's having trouble making friends in a new city. He had moved there to be close to his partner, which meant that his social circle was limited to his partner's social circle. This posed a problem for my friend whenever he had relationship issues, as he did not have nearby friends of his own. His main roadblock, he insisted, was his introversion. I can certainly relate to that as I am an introvert myself. However, I recognize the value of having a strong social support network, which inherently requires some extroversion to build. I faced the same issue when I moved to New Zealand alone and had to make a concerted effort to fake extroversion. I decided to share some of my techniques with this friend and it inspired me to write this post.
A couple of clarifications up-front. Introversion and extroversion exist on two extremes of a scale, as a Fast Company article on this topic cleverly summarizes. The same article also gives a comprehensive definition of introversion beyond the stereotypical “introverts are shy”. It is dangerous to pigeon-hole ourselves into one of two boxes, because they simply do not exist. Hence we all have some degree of introversion or extroversion we can exploit.
Secondly, this means there's no “faking it”, as such. We should always strive to be the most authentic versions of ourselves, and pretending to be someone else just gets exhausting. Authenticity is also required because friendship is a two-way street, and it's easier to be a friend to others if they can trust the quality of friendship you are providing. In short, these techniques may help introverts amplify whatever minor extroversion qualities they already have.
Making friendships is like making fire. We need kindling to create that initial flame, then add logs to create a strong fire, and renew the logs occasionally to keep the fire going.
Meeting New People
This initial step is always the hardest for introverts. Because true friendships are built through frequent interaction and shared experiences, I recommend two pathways to meet people:
- Work or school place
- Hobby or interest social groups
Making friends in school is a no-brainer, but many introverts seem to categorize the office as a different social playground when in fact the usual cliques and hierarchy are present. Although our colleagues are of varied ages and backgrounds, we still share interactions and experiences, two important pieces of kindling. Instead of merely keeping a professional distance, I will look for suitable conversation openings. The ‘fire starters’ I tend to use as an opening include:
- Water cooler chat around a topic I know something about, e.g. TV shows, travel destinations I'm passionate for, or the weather (yes, really).
- Genuine compliments about someone's new look, haircut, or clothes.
Another great pathway is to join social groups as there is the added benefit of already having a mutual interest. In this regards I have to heavily recommend Meetup.com as it revolves around real-life meetups as opposed to interacting behind computer screens. I have joined many Meetups in Auckland mainly for the learning opportunities. I have since realized they are also great for meeting new people outside my normal circles. I don't need to look for conversation fire starters as they are there by design, regardless if it's a C# meetup, dog walking meetup, or pasta making meetup.
Once the kindling has been lit, we need to start building a fire by placing larger and larger logs. This will happen naturally via continuous interactions, but a key component of these interactions is having conversations. I find this part to be the most mentally draining as an introvert, so I have come up with an arsenal of tools to get me by.
- Mentally prepare a list of questions before the interaction: This is highly effective for very small groups of 2 to 4 people and especially if it's someone I have met before. I treat them as convenient questions to restart a conversation if we hit a lull, rather than a list of interview questions I must go through.
- Conversation lulls are OK too: The best friendships are where silence isn't awkward. Daytime talk shows are the porn equivalent of creating unrealistic expectations of how conversations flow. It's completely normal to hit the end of a conversation thread with no where to go but start a new one. On the other hand, hitting too many conversation lulls can be a sign that I have nothing in common with this person.
- In a similar vein, I always keep the perspective that good conversations need good speakers and good listeners. I am happy to take a backseat and let other parties speak, instead of worrying about what to say next. I take that opportunity to analyse their words and build a rich profile of the individual in my head. I find that aids the next conversation we have especially if I can recall a particular anecdote.
- Recognise the audience: I tailor my conversations to the relative introversion or extroversion of the group. I prefer to have more personal sessions with my fellow introverts as that is the most comfortable setting for the both of us. On the flipside, I tend to bring in another extrovert when talking to one, as they can feed off each other's energy and I don't have to work as hard to keep the conversation flowing.
This is usually the easiest step. Once a fire is going, one just needs to place fresh logs once in a while to keep it burning. Sure, there may be rain that threatens to wash out the fire, but that's a different topic. Some friendships are more resilient than others - another friend of mine calls it a ‘cactus friendship’ as it doesn't need much watering to survive. I constantly try to build and sustain such friendships by making sure I make time for them, even in time-poor situations like my current holiday in my birth country of Malaysia.
Faking Extroversion - Summary
- It is necessary to use our extroversion skills to nurture friendships.
- The best places to make new friends is at the place we spend most of our waking hours and at social meetups.
- There are some easy conversation starters and techniques to keep conversations flowing. But, don't be afraid of lulls either.
- Friendships need to be maintained. Spending that time together is nourishing, even if it may feel tiring in the short term.
- Be the most authentic version of yourself and you will attract the right kind of friends. That makes the whole exercise easier.