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3 min read

Social Skills for Solopreneurs to Make Networking Less Scary

Social Skills for Solopreneurs to Make Networking Less Scary

This will be my most vulnerable post to date, and it may keep that position forever. But here goes.

Social skills are the secret sauce of effective networking. For many of you, this is not a problem. But some of you may be struggling with this, and if so, keep reading. Your challenges may be different, but you might benefit from my thought process. Plus, Tip #3 may be helpful to even the most socially skilled.

Once upon a time, I was a poster child for social ineptitude. My journey from there to here, well, it's been a rollercoaster. I do not claim to be a master of social skills, but I've made some strides. Here's my story about my struggle with social skills, the hurdles I faced, and how I cleared them.


The Beginning of My Being Socially Inept

Picture this: it's the 5th grade, and I've just moved to a new school. Little did I know that my enthusiasm for class participation and good grades at my previous school would make me an outcast here.

My only saving grace was that I was pretty tough, so after a few fights, no one tried to beat me up. But I remember realizing that being good in a fight did little to solve my problem. It came to me as something like, “There’s no amount of times you can punch someone to make them like you.” 

The result of this birthed my social phobia—a constant, debilitating fear that nobody liked me. Every laugh I heard, no matter where I was or who was laughing, I was sure was directed at me. It was emotionally exhausting.

Thankfully, after two tough years, I moved to a kinder school, but the damage was done. My social skills, meant to blossom during middle and high school, withered away. To compensate, in 9th grade, I picked up an electric guitar, grew my hair long (hey, it was the '70s), and formed a band. Being in a band gave me a semblance of coolness, until I opened my mouth. Plus, many of the people I met on the rock and roll circuit were not folks I had much in common with. Fortunately/unfortunately, my bandmates were like brothers, and I retreated into those relationships and hid from the rest of the world.

College was next, and as I met more like-minded individuals, I discovered I wasn't alone in my interests and quirks. This eased my sense of isolation enough to lose the debilitating fear. However, I still had a long way to go in terms of social skills. This is when I started observing, learning, and slowly figured out how to manage – and even enjoy – social situations.

So, let’s look at what I was doing wrong and then what I did to fix it. Hopefully, what I learned, or at least my approach, can help you as a solopreneur if you're struggling with any similar issues.


Small Talk

The Issue: I used to believe that small talk was a waste of time. Why chat about the weather when there are deeper, more meaningful topics to dive into?

The Insight: When you meet someone, one of the first things they want to know is that you're not crazy. Engaging in comfortable small talk is a way to signal that you "get it."

The Solution: I learned to start with light, easy topics and gradually delve deeper. Rather than abruptly jump into heavy conversations, I used what I learned about the person to navigate toward more substantial subjects. Asking non-intrusive questions about the other person became a go-to tactic during lulls or awkward moments.


Ending Conversations

The Problem: Wrapping up conversations used to be a major challenge. They dragged on uncomfortably or ended abruptly, leaving both parties feeling awkward.

The Analysis: Granted, sometimes the other party was skilled and would take the reins, but I was always afraid of this problem, which stunted my willingness to put myself out there. I started observing how socially skilled people handled this, and it was so simple I couldn’t believe it.

The Solution: All it took was raising my voice to a slightly higher pitch (about two whole tones for music geeks). This signals to the other person that a change in the conversation is occurring and that you will be wrapping up shortly. Then switching to a “So anyway, it was good to see you” approach does the trick. Simple! And yet, it eluded me for years.


Meeting People at Networking Events

The Issue: Attending networking events where I knew no one remained a daunting task, even after honing my skills. This is a hurdle many face—groups of people chatting, and you're standing alone. How do you initiate a conversation?

The Epiphany: I stumbled upon a solution in a book whose title escapes me. The concept was to take it upon yourself to make others comfortable. Greet people at the door or approach those standing alone, looking uneasy.

The Solution: Introduce yourself and start a conversation. More often than not, they'll appreciate your initiative. Recently, it's gotten trickier with people glued to their mobile devices to feign busy instead of looking uncomfortable, but I take the chance anyway. They'll let me know if they're unavailable.


What To Do

The journey from social ineptitude to becoming a more socially adept individual wasn't easy, but it was worth it. Social skills are like any other skill; they can be learned and improved. So, if you're grappling with social skills challenges when you network, take a lesson from a young Joe Rando and remember that being observant, combined with patience and practice, can produce positive change.

So now it’s time to figure out what’s not working and look for solutions. Just because we're solopreneurs doesn't mean it's a good idea to be alone, both from a business and a mental health perspective.