Ah, the Kardashians. Muhammad Ali. Steve Jobs. All admittedly different, but all successful socialites in their own right. But what about you? What if you're not an extrovert or your interpersonal skills raise eyebrows? If your goals require connecting but you still find people to be somewhat of a grand mystery of life, take heart. You don't have to wait until you're drenched in social savviness to make a move toward your objectives.
1. Make small gestures toward others.
For example, randomly bring in a box of donuts for your team to share at work. These types of actions don't require you to engage in a lot of small talk or go through the panic of facing an entire group (you can work up to that), but they deliver the message that you're thinking about others and help you seem more inviting. What's more, a study from the University of British Columbia found that random acts of kindness actually decrease social anxiety. The researchers theorize that the decrease stems from the fact that, if you're focused on others, you can't spend as much time worrying about what others think of you. You stay more grounded in the reality of what's around you.
2. Up your digital presence.
Many people are awkward in social situations because the immediacy of being face to face with someone makes the fear of rejection more pressing. Email, chat and other platforms such as Facebook let you engage with others without having to worry so much about elements like body language or turn taking. You can take more time to think about what to say without coming across as distracted or rude, as well. The idea isn't to avoid one-on-one, but rather to use the Internet to build a sense of initial rapport that then can help you transition into more direct interactions. The only caveats? Be very careful to present yourself honestly online rather than setting up the persona you imagine others want, and don't share private information such as your address or credit card numbers.
3. Find a social buddy.
A social buddy is a good friend or acquaintance who can serve as a bridge for you at parties or other events. Their "job" is to introduce you to others and give you cues, such as asking a question to draw you into a conversation. They can give you a heads up on areas such as dress or jargon, too.
Part of being a socialite is being seen out and about. Volunteering can get you a seat at many different types of community events, but you're not necessarily forced into roles that require social skills to be front and center right away. For instance, if your group is holding a fundraiser, maybe start out by being the person serving at the buffet table rather than the person tapped to talk to the press. As you grow more comfortable in your volunteer role, shadow someone whose job requires more social finesse. When you're ready, go solo in that job. Rinse and repeat!
5. Ask others to spend time with you individually.
Many people who feel like they have poor social skills actually do understand social norms. It's just that, when they get into a group, they get too distracted by everything going on to do a good job responding to cues as expected. If this is the case for you, invite just one person to do something with you. Go to a nice restaurant, hit a club, whatever. The point is to get into a social setting where you have exposure but your attention isn't going to be so divided. Once you feel like you can handle the one-on-one dates, add another friend, then another and so on.
Even though some people might have more natural social intelligence than others, social skills aren't static. You can build them up and work for exposure simultaneously. With some patience and a little support from others, you'll be the go-to person in no time.