If you had met me in the beginning of the last year I could have told you this about my social life:
Once a week I visit my family, I go to a yoga course and I have a regular long phone call with good friend. I also see my friends from school (they moved when they finished) when they visit their families – that’s every few months. Also every few weeks or months I see my sisters and their family.
That would be my social life back then. As I mentioned my friends from school had moved to other cities and I hadn’t really made any new friends. Of course I had some online friendships and one of them had become a deeper phone friendship but basically, that was my social life. I lived alone, so there was no one else hanging around in my apartment either.
One effect of my shut down social life was that I had to make extreme efforts in order to get ahead in my music career. Basically I had to reach out to people I didn’t know (and who didn’t know me) and convince them that they would do something for me (e.g. let me play at their venues). Doing that certainly brought some valuable lessons and helped me build some courage but it’s not something I want and wanted to spend my day with. I’d rather spend my day making art.
If you ask me today about my social life it’s become something entirely else: I meet 10 – 15 new people every month, I go out to social events about 2-3 times a week (and more often when I want), it’s become normal that I’m recognized by people I don’t know at public places, I have a few work projects (on- and offline) where I work together with other people, also: for almost all gigs I have (in all my working areas) and most projects (un-paid and paid!) I’m involved in I didn’t need to do a thing to get them! I just keep getting asked whether I want to participate at live shows, theater plays, and movies and other projects. I actually do spend my day making art now and just need to keep an eye on my inbox in order to get new projects.
Scenario 2 didn’t just happen magically. I had to make some adjustments in the way I approached my life and social life. I had to learn how to meet people and build positive long lasting relationships or in short: I had to learn how to become good at networking. Now if you’re interested in building a bigger and better social network around yourself, keep on reading:
At first you have to be so interested in human contact that you actually want to go to places and meet them. If you believe that most people are assholes, it might be hard to find a reason to leave your home and make contact with them.
I like to think of all people as potential friends. Some experts will go even further and tell you to think of being already best friend with all people. I have seen this work out great for some people! But even if you’re not there yet, seeing a potential friend in everyone is a good way to become interested in people.
Then you have to be so interested in people that you want to listen to them. A lot of people when trying to become better networkers broadcast their personality and message into the world and try to be recognized by as many people as possible without giving a crap about them actually. This is not how “building relationships” works.
Don’t only be interested in what you can get out of them, look at what you can give to them! Don’t abuse your potential friends as therapists or as a audience for your stories. Find out what you have in common and listen to them (really listen) at least as much as you talk. Never talk in order to talk – talk to connect.
If you’re not used to meeting a lot of people it might be hard to imagine what you could say to them or ask them. It’s not that difficult, though. The most obvious thing is to look at the situation you’re in and ask them something about that. When you’re both at the same public place you obviously have something in common. It’s maybe a cliché but I often ask people about whether they usually come here or not or how often they’ve already attended this particular event. If they’re new to the place or event I ask them where they usually go or what they usually do.
I also often ask people what they do for a living (or what they study). Then I ask them whether they’re happy with it or not. This usually tells a lot about people. If they’re not happy with it, you can ask them why and what they would rather do. And if they are happy with it, it’s a great opportunity to ask them questions you always wanted to know about their profession or you can ask about other work details, too (where is their company, how long have they been doing this, how many people work there, why did they choose this kind of career…). This way you will learn something about the world and about the person you talk with. If they’re not excited about their work, you can still ask them about what they do in their spare time and what they like.
These are of course just examples. I ask people about their work because I’m interested in it. So if you’re not interested in it, don’t ask about it. Try to find something about the other person you’re interested in and ask them about that. Always give them the chance to let them tell you a bit of themselves and give them enough time so they can tell you what they find especially important to express.
While you’re talking you will see that you’re more the expert at some topics while the other person has more expertise in other areas. This is a great chance to learn from each other and connect on a deeper way. Everybody likes to be seen as an expert – so if you feel like the expertise of your new acquaintance could be interesting or helpful for you, let him or her talk about that.
For example your new friend tells you that he is a hobby rock climber. If you find that interesting but have never done it, this could be a great way to learn more about that. Tell him that you’re interested in rock climbing! Maybe there’s even a chance you can go with him rock climbing some day.
This is another reason why I like asking people about their work – their work should usually be something they have some kind of expertise in.
On the other side, if you feel like the other person is interested in your area of expertise (especially if he has told you so), give him a chance to learn from you. If he’s interested in the music you compose, invite him to see your home studio, if he’s new in your town and is interested in learning more about it, tell him about a few good places to go to and offer to go with him.
This is especially important if you talk with people you just met. If you send out a judging (maybe even critical) vibe instead of an open-minded one, there’s a good chance people won’t dare open up to you. I know from myself that it’s much harder for me to open up to someone if I feel like they are on the edge of judging me. We all don’t want to be judged. We want to be accepted. Give your potential friend the gift of acceptance.
Don’t judge them because their favorite movie happens to be the worst movie you’ve ever seen. Don’t judge them because they think war is the way to impose peace and freedom on the world. Don’t even judge them because they judge you.
Another area where you have to be open-minded if you want to be a good networker is in the area of how and where you spend your social time. If you always hang around at the same places in the same group of people, you probably won’t open up a lot of new social circles for you.
Make it a habit to try out new places and ideally go with your new friends. Maybe they even bring some more friends so you can meet them. Even if you’re not sure whether you will like their suggestions, if you want to change rather say yes once to often than saying no all the time. Allow yourself to make new experiences. Without your willingness to do this you will not be able to change your social life in a major way.
You might need to get out of your comfort zone for this one, but a great way to meet people is to get out there alone. It’s much easier to contact other people if you’re not absorbed in some clique. Instead look for a new group of people. I usually go alone to open stage or karaoke events where I participate at the show and where there are enough people that it’s interesting but not so much that I don’t have an overview.
Open stage and karaoke is a good place for me of course because I’m a musician but you can also meet new people easily (especially when you’re alone) at (sport/book/chess/…) clubs, regular group meet-ups (like a regular vegetarian meet-up), courses and workshops (e.g. yoga/French/meditation/gardening/cooking/…). Of course you can generally meet people everywhere but these are good place because you will have something in common to talk about.
Sometimes we don’t perceive a potential friend right in front of us. As a musician I often go to clubs. People who are often not perceived as persons there are the people that actually work there. Don’t think you can’t talk to somebody only because they’re working. I talk often to the technicians because they have some time before and especially after the show. Also before I start my shows I try to get to know the waiters if they have some time (they usually do).
Don’t prevent them from working but don’t ignore them just because it’s their workplace either. Maybe you have been ignoring a few people at your workplace, too?
Meeting someone once and then disappearing out of each others lives again is something that happens all the time. If you want to enjoy a big social network though you have to make sure you can maintain the contacts you made. Make sure you give out your contact details or better get the other person’s contact info. Normally I just ask the person whether they’re on Facebook or have a website (and if not I let them give me their email-adresses) and add them when I’m home (or add their website to my favorites so I find them later).
What you do next depends on how you wish your relationship to continue. Should you stay acquaintances, is there potential for a deeper friendship, could you work together in the future, is this a potential romantic partner? Now that you got contact details and a good real world impression of the person it’s up to you to decide what you’re going to pursue. If you think that there’s some potential (whether that’s work, friendship or romantic potential) in this relationship, make sure you at least say hello to them once in a while so you still stay actively connected even if you don’t have the time to meet them at the moment. The best way to strengthen connections is to meet each other in the real world, of course.
What I told you so far might help you to meet new people and build relationships actively. But in the cases I described you still have to go out to the relationships. You still have to do most of the work.
Now what if I tell you that you can learn to let the relationships come to you?
You don’t have to approach everybody yourself – you can let other people approach you.
If you sit in the dark corner of the club, with black clothes, wearing shades I guess you won’t be approached a lot. Go to places where people can see you and where they can easily come to you to introduce themselves. Make eye contact and make sure you send out an open-minded, people-friendly vibe.
BTW, online you can heighten your approachability by making it for other people easy to identify and contact you (if you’ve got a website, make sure you’ve got a contact form there).
Alright, you’re easily approachable. Now, why would anybody make contact with you? The answer is: Because you are an interesting (and very lovable) human being! But first you have to give the world a chance to recognize that. You simply do that by expressing yourself in an authentic way.
Being authentic actually means being who you are. If you don’t have a clue (yet) who you are, this will be difficult – but this is also just something you can learn. Basically just go with what feels right to you (= talk, dress, eat, behave in a way that feels fundamentally right).
The problem with being authentic is that it can be scary. You might be used to hide yourself and your personality – most of us are used to that. But if you want to connect with other people, hiding won’t work anymore. If you don’t let them see who you are they won’t find you interesting enough to approach you.
The more you dare to be yourself the better people can connect with you. I for example love to walk around barefoot. Guess what, I get a lot of comments for that from people I don’t know.
It’s also easy to get in touch with people when I’ve just performed a show. They tell me that they liked the show, that I’m a great singer or they want to know where to find my music on the internet.
In both cases, I just express myself publicly and the people go to me automatically.
Expressing yourself in a social valuable way will especially help you to build connections. Whether you share value online or offline, make sure that it’s possible to get in touch with you. A lot of bloggers enjoy great social abundance online: They’re sharing valuable content and therefore they’re attracting people like crazy.
In my home town I get recognized relatively often now because I of my live music shows and my theater plays. It’s great to expand your social circle so passively because it makes it easier to be found by the right kind of people.
It will take some time till you transform your social life completely. But if you invest a few hours every week into expanding your social life you can already be at a totally different place in 2-3 months. After adapting your attitude towards people all you need to do is to take action.
“But I’m An Introvert!”
Well, me too. But don’t confuse being an introvert with being shy or being scared of people. If you’re not used to be socially outgoing, it WILL take some courage to meet new people. It certainly took some courage for me. But it’s all a matter of practice. If you meet new people on a regular basis it will become a regular experience for you and won’t take a lot of courage anymore.
No matter, if you’re an introvert or extrovert (I’m both), a big social circle is something very enjoyable. That doesn’t mean you have to be around people 24/7. I love and need my alone time a lot! Still, people are a great resource to have in your life. I would not want to miss them anymore!