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Strengthening Your Sociability Ability

People who are highly sociable are:

  • socially venturesome and self-assured

  • comfortable meeting new people and engaging them in conversation

  • able to form and maintain relationships easily

One example: In day-to-day transactions, you're perfectly at ease trading jokes with the clerks at your bank or grocery store. At a work-related conference or trade show, you feel comfortable mingling with people at the receptions and during dinners. If you start a new job, you readily get to know people, find someone to have lunch with, and chat easily with new colleagues when there's a break.

Even more important, perhaps you find it easy to create, cultivate, and maintain broad networks of colleagues with whom you share close, enduring relationships of mutual support. This ability to maintain "people networks" counts among the most critical skills in today's business world.

How can you strengthen your sociability? The key is to practice as frequently as possible. These ideas can help:

  • Read a book on the subject. Potential useful titles include Dale Carnegie's classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People. It describes simple and effective conversational techniques that can help ease the process of meeting new people. It may read as a little corny — it was written in the 1930s — but the advice is solid. There's a reason this book has sold tens of millions of copies! Additional titles of interest include How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends by Don Gabor and Overcoming Shyness by M. Blaine Smith.

  • Take an online learning course on social skills. Examples include the "Practical Emotional Intelligence Skills" module offered through Vision2Learn. Your company may have purchased a site license for such e-learning programs. Or, you may be able to buy a CD containing modules of interest as well as participate in them online or download them from the developer. Some developers charge a fee for participation in the courses they offer; others offer modules for free.

  • Consult an expert. Find someone who you view as particularly sociable. Ask this person how he or she has strengthened this ability.

  • Attend a workshop or course on social skills. Your company may offer such learning opportunities or may be willing to reimburse your tuition if you take such a course through another organization. Local university extension programs, as well as continuing education programs, may offer such workshops and courses.

  • Practice. Whenever you encounter a stranger — whether it's a store clerk, a classmate across the aisle in a course you've just started, or a colleague you haven't yet met at a new job — practice giving the person a warm, friendly smile, saying hello, and asking how they're doing. You don't have to become that person's new best friend, but a few simple signs of interest and warmth will break the ice. And that's the first step in feeling more comfortable. At work, take every opportunity to chat informally for a moment with colleagues — in the hallway, by the water cooler, or in the parking lot as you're heading to or from the office. Invite colleagues to have lunch with you, ask their advice on an idea you've been bouncing around, or talk about some news you've just heard.In the office, casually let colleagues know what your outside interests or hobbies are. For example, if you mention that you like to go white-water rafting, collect antique quilts, plays drums in a rock band, or ride in benefit bicycling tours, you'll likely generate some interest among other like-minded people at the office. And it works the other way, too: For instance, if you hear a colleague mentioning that his book-discussion group is looking for new members, and you like reading, consider trying it out.

  • Push yourself. The next time you go to a holiday or business party that you're dreading because you won't know anyone there, make a pact with yourself to converse with just five strangers during the evening. No matter how uncomfortable this exercise might feel, force yourself to approach one person at a time, introduce yourself with a warm handshake and smile, then ask one simple question — such as "So, how do you know Mary [the hostess]?" or "What do you do at [your company]?" But don't just leave it at that: good conversations go both ways. After the other person has responded, offer your own brief comments on the topic at hand. After a few additional exchanges, gracefully end the conversation by saying something like, "Well, I think I'll try some of those hors d'oeuvres over there. It was nice to meet you! I hope we run into each other again sometime." Then, move on and introduce yourself to the next person.
  • Plan ahead. Before going into a social situation, think of a few things to talk with people about, so you don't have to worry about hitting a "dead spot" in the conversation. Make them either sure-fire interesting topics (a trip to somewhere exotic and beautiful that you just returned from) or topics that everyone will know about. Five points of conversation about your local football team won't do you any good if you're talking to someone who's not interested.
  • Get professional advice. If you have always been extremely shy, consider getting some counseling and/or joining a "shy people's" counseling/support group. You can use that group to practice role-playing social conversation and skills. With enough practice, the basic skills of sociability will begin to feel more comfortable to you. And, you'll start developing your own style of making friends and maintaining those connections.

If sociability is one of your weaknesses, take heart. You may never become the effortless "schmoozer" that some people seem to have born as. But you don't need to become a talk-show host in order to improve your chances of career success (and you probably don't want to!). Most important, just a little improvement in this ability will get you a lot of positive response, making it that much easier to exercise your sociability next time around.