The quiet guy
By JAY WINDER
Don’t listen to people who are telling you: “Don’t worry, being quiet is good! You’re great how you are right now!”
That doesn’t help you. You’ve identified something you don’t like about yourself, and you’re actively trying to change it, and that’s great. Kudos to you.
In work and in general life, the ability to choose to be more outspoken, extroverted, and personable is 100% upside. There are no downsides. You know how to be quiet. It’s time to learn how to be more outgoing.
I’ve been through this change myself. I used to be far more unsure of my opinion, and I used to be a lot more reserved.
The good news is this: it’s a positive feedback loop. The more confident you become, the more outgoing you get. The more outgoing you become, the more positive social feedback you get, and the more confident you become.
This means it’s hard at the beginning. Don’t worry, keep at it.
What you can do
Here’s some homework for you this weekend: Go out and do something you’ve never done before. Some kind of sport or activity. Meet a bunch of new people there. It’ll be awkward, but push through it.
Use sentences like: “Sorry if I’m a bit quiet – it’s a bad habit. I’m really happy to be here meeting everyone! How do you all know each other? What do you guys do?”
Then on Monday, when people ask “What did you do on the weekend?”, you’ll have a great and unique story to share, and it’ll be interesting, because people at your office might not expect you to share that kind of story. Then basically rinse and repeat!
Try to get into new and unique situations, generate adventures, and you’ll have lots of stories to share.
The art of telling a story is an entirely different issue, but the best way to get better at it, like anything, is regular practice.
Once you get really good at it, you can make even the mundane into quite an interesting anecdote.
However, it’s slow going in the start (I know, I’ve been there), but keep at it – even if it takes weeks or months (and it will).
Chatting can be fun
Another tip: Learn to love small talk. Technology people and developers often misunderstand the purpose of small talk, and become very frustrated because it’s a very low bandwidth way to exchange information.
Instead, look at small talk as a fun and low stakes way to practise and improve your social skills. Try sharing exactly what you’re thinking at the time. Bonus points if it’s positive, and if you can include emotion.
Small talk examples
“Wow… the new coffee machine is so much better than the old one! Are you a coffee fan?”
“The best thing about this kind of weather, is that I get to do *Activity A* more. Have you ever tried that?”
“You seem like you’re in a good mood today. Has something good happened to you recently?”
Certain people are reading these and thinking: “That’s kind of a stupid thing to say.”
They’re wrong. This kind of small talk is not about what you’re saying, and all about finding ways to connect with your fellow human beings.
Remember, you have just as much right to share stories, comment on things, and start conversations with people as anyone else in the office or your social circle. But it takes time for you to learn and internalise this, so take small, regular steps.
As part of this process, you’re going to say things and tell stories that might be awkward, or might not hit. Doesn’t matter. Rinse and repeat.
The less you care about your social missteps, the less other people care. Over time, you’ll have no choice but to get better, and tell more interesting stories, and become more chatty.
Before you even notice, your reputation as the quiet guy will be a thing of the past.
Best of luck!