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Get Out More: 6 Ways to Be More Social

Get Out More: 6 Ways to Be More Social

6 Ways to Be More Social

    Whether you’re a web worker, an overworked corporate employee, or just a homey sort, you’ve probably heard the refrain: “Get out more!”

    Yes, you could take a walk, take to drinking alone in a seedy bar, or drive around looking at billboards, but it’s likely that just physically getting out of the house isn’t all you need. No, those people who care about you are telling you to go out and meet some people, to be a little bit more social.

    Being social is good for you, of course. As social animals, our emotional and even physical health depends on social interaction. Our social relationships can help us deal with depression, stress, and plain old loneliness. Having a strong social network can help you find jobs or clients (some 70% of jobs are found through personal contacts, usually friends of friends).

    But some of us have a hard time figuring out how to be more social. Maybe you’re introverted and are pretty comfortable in your own company, most of the time. Maybe your job keeps you away from people – you work at home, or your work ties you to a PC screen all day, or whatever – and you just don’t have a lot of ties to other people to get started with. Maybe you just moved to a new city and don’t know the social landscape very well. Maybe you’re just too busy to get out much.

    Here are six ways to get started, ways to put yourself into a space where social ties are made. You’ll have to take the next steps, of course: showing up regularly (when appropriate), approaching people, speaking out, and so on, but if you put yourself into a situation where such social interaction is expected and normal, you might well find that the rest just follows.

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    1. Join a club.

    No duh, right? Yet American civic participation has dropped sharply over the last few decades, and other countries’ rates aren’t that far ahead.

    There is a club for almost every possible passion, from anthropology to zoology. Like to dress up in animal costumes and flirt with other similarly costumed folks? There’s a club for you. Enjoy collecting Japanese war memorabilia? There’s a club for you. Into gardening, feminism, or farming history? There’s a club.. well, you get the picture.

    The question is, is there a club for you near where you live? Check out your local alternative weekly’s “events” listing; many of the ongoing events will be club meetings. Check your library district’s website, too. And your local Parks and Recreation department might have listings for clubs. Or Google national associations related to your interests and see if they have a local chapter.

    If all else fails, and you’re feeling entrepreneurial, start your own club. Contact your local library, place of worship, or community center and see what you have to do to reserve a space (they’re usually free for community groups), put up a free website, call your local alternative weekly’s events desk and see about getting listed, and you’re off.

    2. Attend a Meetup.

    If a club sounds a little too… well, “clubby” for your tastes, maybe you’d be happier at a meetup. Meetups are semi-informal gatherings of like-minded people, often at a bar or restaurant, who get together to just chat and get to know each other.

    Meetup.com is the place to go to find meetups in your area. You can search by topic or by distance from your zipcode; I recommend the latter, since you might find groups devoted to topics that you wouldn’t have thought to search for. If you’re in a reasonably large metropolitan center, you should find dozens of local meetups on all manner of topics, from blogging to politics to knitting.

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    The typical meetup group meets once a month, either at a fixed location or by polling members to decide on an appropriate venue each month. You might be asked to pay a couple of dollars to help defray the organizer’s costs – Meetup.com charges a few dollars a month for listing and administering the group.

    3. Take a class.

    Whether you choose a traditional, semester-length class at a community college or university, a short-term workshop series through your local adult extension, or a one- or two-day seminar through an organization like Learning Annex, taking a class is a great way to meet people – while learning something new at the same time.

    Unless you’re under 22, my advice is to take evening classes or adult extension classes; these courses are most likely to include a large number of adults taking classes for their own professional development or personal improvement. While younger students can be incredible people, you may find that you have very little in common with them, and that they really don’t understand the kinds of pressures you face as a working adult and possibly parent. (And they can’t get into bars, which cuts out an excellent site for post-class camaraderie!)

    4. Teach a class.

    Nothing is more social than sharing your own hard-earned knowledge with people who can benefit from it most. Community colleges, adult extensions, and local government organizations (such as Parks and Recreation) are always on the lookout for people to teach either full-blown courses or shorter workshops. Pick up a copy of your local college’s catalog, or check out your city government’s class offerings online, to get an idea of what kind of courses they tend to offer and what you might be able to add to their line-up.

    The pay is often not very good, but that’s not the point. Think of it as something you do a night a week, where you meet interesting people and help them to advance their lives and careers. Or think of it as a chance to build up your professional presence: while you shouldn’t promote yourself in class, it can’t hurt to have a couple dozen people or so who know you’re a web designer or writer or marketing expert or business consultant or whatever – they have friends! And it looks pretty good on your resume.

    Most of all, though, you’ll be in the company of interesting adults once or twice a week, and while you want to be careful about too much fraternizing if you’re giving grades, the in-class interaction can be very satisfying. And if you’re not giving grades, there’s no reason at all not to take your students up on that offer of a beer or a cup of coffee after class – and you will be invited.

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    5. Look up local bloggers or twitterers.

    Since you already spend a good chunk of your online time reading blogs or tweeting, why not add a few local bloggers and twitterers to your feeds?

    There are a number of services to find blogs by location, some based on the blogger’s profile, others on geo-tagging information added to their feeds. I like these:

    • Feedmap.net: Enter a zip code or city name and hit search. This is a pretty new service, so listings seem a little thin, but it also seems better geared to non-US locations than some of the others.
    • Outside.in: Outside.in aggregates local news and blogs into a pretty user-friendly interface. When I visited, it auto-detected my location (useful, if a little scary!). You can create a profile page that will help other local bloggers find you, too.
    • PlaceBlogger: A search engine for blogs specifically about certain places. I had better luck searching by city than by zip code; there doesn’t seem t obe a way to search by “distance from” your zip code, just within it.

    If you’re on Twitter, you can use Summize’s advanced search function to find Twitterers “Near this place” (look at the “Places” box) . You’ll get the latest tweets from everyone near your chosen location; follow some and see what develops.

    Of course, reading local blogs and tweets doesn’t get you out of the house, but you may well start building relationships with people who are close enough that you can get together of off-line fun and mayhem.

    6. Go to conferences.

    Some people hate conferences. I don’t get that – where else do you get to interact with dozens or hundreds of people who are all interested in the same things you are?

    Seek out local conferences, take a stack of business cards, and go spend a day in the expo hall (which is usually free or pretty cheap). Hand your card out to all and sundry, and collect theirs as well. When you get home, send them each an email, or give them a call, just saying how nice it was to meet them.

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    But that’s getting ahead of ourselves, isn’t it? At the conference itself, make a point of asking vendors what their product does. Don’t waste their time if their product is totally useless to you or your company, but don’t feel like you’re intruding, either, if there’s any possible connection. Learn as much as you can – you never know what you might learn that you can use later. And that’s what the vendors are there for.

    Try approaching a few of your fellow conference-goers, too. They’re all there to network with people in their industry, so go ahead.

    Get out there!

    The hardest part of being more social is usually just getting out the front door of your house. Once you’re in the right context, unless you’re painfully shy, interacting with people will be a given. Push yourself a little to introduce yourself, speak up when necessary, and generally make yourself known – we rarely end up making the fools of ourselves that we’re so afraid of.

    There are other ways to be social, of course, but I’ve tried to focus on the most productive of them. Binge drinking, gambling, going to the movies or to exotic dance clubs – these might get you out of the house, but they’re highly unlikely to form the basis of lasting social relationships. What tips do others have for people looking to improve their social life and not sure where to start?

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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