How I Turned Around My Social Skills by Making Small Changes
These tiny mindset changes helped me reinvent my personality.
Growing up, as a teenager, I was never one who thought much of social skills. I was a topper at school and basically focused on my studies, hung out with a fixed, rather small group of friends, and minded my own business.
I never had a girlfriend in high school or most part of college, because I was convinced that it wasn’t the age to be dating and having relationships, and that could all come later in life. However, that focus on studies and ridicule for most things extracurricular started to take its toll on my social skills.
By the time I was in the final year of my undergrad, I realized I wasn’t the most natural and fluent in social situations.
I wasn’t completely socially awkward but in most scenarios, I definitely was socially reluctant.
I didn’t see the need or desire to make conversation or mingle a lot with people around me.
I was absolutely comfortable, chatty, and naturally conversant when with my close group of friends and family but that significantly changed when I was with strangers or mere acquaintances, or with people who weren’t as like-minded. Right after my undergrad in computer engineering, I got into one of the top B-schools in India for my MBA.
MBA is one degree that is all about networking and enhancing your personality, as much as it is about academics. That’s when I knew I needed to change myself from this socially reluctant, borderline socially awkward self to a more sociable person.
What was in my favor was that I was going to be among a set of absolutely new people, in a totally new environment, and so my history of being a studious, not-so-social guy didn’t need to come with me.
And to my own surprise, I managed to be one of the most social and well-liked guys at B-school throughout my two years. Eight years into my career in finance today, that change still holds me in very good stead.
Here are the small mindset changes I made to make that transition without needing a lot of time or fundamental change in my personality.
I Decided to Keep an Open Mind.
For the most part, I would go into everything with a perception in my head of what I should expect and how I should deal with it.
So typical me would have gone into the MBA experience thinking it was a place where everyone is super competitive and I’d never make any true friends. The only things that would matter were grades and the pursuit of a high-paying job, and it would be “each one for themselves.” All I would need to do is take focus on my classes and come out with top-of-the-class grades and no friends.
Yet, I did none of that. I went into the residential campus life with an open mind. Right from day 1, I met some of the most amazing people from all parts of India, and from varied backgrounds and experiences. Some fresh out of undergrad, others with 10 years of professional experience. Some from the northern part of India, and some from the south. Some single, some married, and some even with kids.
Contrary to the rest of my educational life, I came out of my MBA with middle-of-the-class grades, a much-relaxed mindset about life, yet the interpersonal and people skills that landed me a top job and gave me some of the best friends I’ve ever made.
Sometimes, going into an unknown experience and situation with an open mind is all the preparation you need. The rest takes care of itself.
I Started Seeing Everyone As Just Another Person.
A lot of our apprehensions stem from the fact that we associate a certain image with every person that we meet, and start interacting with that image.
These are more commonly known as stereotypes.
When I would meet someone who was a guitarist in the college band, I’d assume he was a bit of a player and would only be interested in chilling, drinking, and partying. If I met the girl who always aced the advanced economics class, I’d expect a nerd (forgetting that topper used to be me only a couple of years back) and think she’d have no interests beyond studying.
In a work setting, when I would meet a very senior head of the company, I’d build an aura around him of extreme professionalism, an air of arrogance, and a disdain for juniors.
Yet, the reality is that these are just false stereotypes we create for ourselves. Everyone is simply just another human like the rest of us.
I’d learn that the guitarist was actually an introvert in life outside his music band, and quite like me on many accounts. The economics topper also enjoyed the same movies as I did and actually loved sports! The super boss at the firm also had an 8-year-old son who’d make him run around the house just like my 2-year-old son does with me.
There’s almost always a common thread or more that binds most people if you look beyond the pre-conceived stereotypes.
When you break down those stereotypes and perceptions, you’re much more easily able to relate to almost everyone on some level and build an instant rapport.
I Focused More on Listening Than Speaking.
For the longest time growing up, being the topper throughout high school, I’d consider myself a bit of a know-it-all. This meant that my attitude to everything was “I know” and it allowed little room for listening.
I gave others little chance to express a view or an opinion or present a different aspect to anything because in my mind my view was the absolute truth.
Being among a group of people as smart, or in many cases smarter than me, and almost always more experienced than me, made me a lot more humble.
I learned to listen and absorb what others had to say. To my surprise, there was so much for me to learn not just about life but also about other people by simply listening. If you actually start listening to people, you learn so much about them, which then not just enhances the connection, but also gives you something to talk about.
You don’t always need to lead a conversation. More often than not, it is OK to let others lead and all you need to do is just listen and chip in when needed. It indeed is a liberating experience to let others express and just be a listener.
Most people hate brash talkers — but everyone loves a good listener.
I Stopped Worrying About Making a Fool of Myself.
One thing that often holds us back from saying something or participating in a new challenge or asking a question that's on our mind is the fear of making a mockery of ourselves.
“What if this is too basic a question?”
“What if I try something new and fail miserably at it?”
We’re constantly worried about what others think of us that we forget to just let go and be who we really are.
This is one thing I taught myself to be comfortable with — there’s nothing wrong with being wrong.
It is also OK to be laughed at sometimes or make a fool of yourself.
It is only in our heads that such incidents are a big deal and last forever — but for everyone else, they've been forgotten the very next moment.
And so, I would be the first one to ask the silliest of questions if I had one. Often I wasn’t the only one with the doubt, but I was the only one to ask. I would be the first to take up a new challenge and push myself out of my comfort zone even if it meant the risk of ending up looking like a fool.
Some of the most memorable moments I’ve had have come from experiences that I wouldn’t have seen myself taking on 10 years ago. In fact the more you allow yourself to be vulnerable, the more people are drawn towards you.
“You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
― Roy T. Bennett
While most of these may seem like little or even obvious things, these were extremely helpful in transforming my personality. I went from being a self-sufficient, couldn’t-care-less-about-socializing type of person, to someone who not only adapted quite naturally in most scenarios but also truly enjoyed being around people and ended up being quite good in most personal and professional social settings.
“Once your mindset changes, everything on the outside will change along with it.”
― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free