From straight-up wallflowers to extroverts who get nervous around the in-laws, nearly everyone struggles with shyness in some situations. You might only be nervous among certain groups of people or among strangers, or you may find that any conversation outside your usual social circle is awkward.
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Regardless of which social situations give you trouble, you can conquer your shyness. Ultimately, your fear isn’t of other people, but of yourself; you dread that you’re so boring or annoying that others will secretly despise you even if they’re chatting pleasantly.
By crushing the self-doubts that cripple you, and by practicing conversation just like any other skill, you can learn to glide through conversation like a socialite.
1. Dump Negative Self-Talk
Stop thinking of yourself as “shy” or “socially awkward.” These absolute statements are self-fulfilling prophecies that will make you feel as though there is nothing you can do to change. Instead, try to rephrase the idea in a more positive, changeable way.
“I tend to be shy” shows that you don’t always have to act that way, and “I get nervous in social situations” shows that the problem lies in taming your nerves, not in something inherently wrong with you.
2. Practice Conversation Starters
Come up with a few small-talk conversation starters in advance so you don’t have to fumble for them when the actual event rolls around. While you should obviously avoid hot button topics, you should also make sure to steer away from anything too vague – “How have you been doing?” is a good icebreaker with some people, but others will just say “Fine” and send you back to square one.
Try questions about hobbies, vacations, pets, work, or non-controversial current events. (And, if you’re going to a political rally or religious event, politics and religion end up being pretty safe.)
3. Dress To Impress
When you’re nervous at a social encounter, how much of it is because you’re worried about your appearance? Head off those worries at the pass by checking your looks before you head out the door.
If you know for a fact that your hair looks fine, your outfit isn’t frumpy or messy, and your make-up isn’t running, you won’t need to worry about others looking at you with a critical eye. Whenever you catch yourself worrying that you look terrible, conjure up the image of your reflection in the mirror and remind yourself that you look fine.
4. Be Aware Of Body Language
You probably want to look at the floor and cross your arms. Don’t. Make eye contact, smile, and keep your shoulders square. These are signs of interest and will make people enjoy talking to you. You’ll feel more positive and confident as you radiate positivity and confidence with your body.
5. Ask Questions . . .
Shy people often fear having to carry a conversation single-handedly, worrying that they’ll either stand in stony silence or babble awkwardly for hours. The good news is that conversation is a two-way street, so you don’t have to do it alone. When you’re talking to someone else, ask them questions.
Use the conversation starters you practiced, and when they answer, drill deeper with another question (“You have a schnauzer? I don’t know much about dogs – can you tell me about schnauzers?”). Many people love to talk to an interested audience and will be more than happy to carry the burden of conversation while you smile and ask questions.
6. . . . But Know When To Talk
While some people are happy to talk about themselves, others are just as afraid as you are of babbling or dominating the conversation. If the conversation is stumbling, try to find common ground in something the other person has said to launch into an anecdote of your own. (“That vacation sounds fun. I’ve only been to Chicago once. I really enjoyed X, Y, and Z . . .”).
Your conversational partner might then ask some questions and launch into some anecdotes of their own, and you’ll find yourself having an enjoyable chat.
7. Don’t Be A Mind Reader
When you talk to others, is there a voice in your head saying that they find you boring no matter how nice they’re acting? Shut that voice down. It’s a cognitive distortion and a way your mind convinces you to believe something that isn’t necessarily true. You’re afraid that you’re boring, and so you attribute that feeling to other people.
If you catch yourself thinking that you’re a bore, evaluate the evidence. If the person seems interested in the conversation and isn’t constantly looking away for an escape, you’re projecting your own feelings onto them. Of course, if they do actually seem bored, you can either change the subject or politely excuse yourself.