How I Stopped Being Shy and Learned to Talk to Strangers
One day I went to a party alone, before any of my friends got there. Instead of socializing, I hid in the bathroom to kill time and not talk to people I didn’t know. For a shy person like me, social interaction – especially with strangers – can be excitement and anxiety. But with a little work, I was able to take control of it and learned how to communicate with people.
As a child, I was a timid child who hid behind my back. I learned to speak more as I got older, but at my core I was still a shy child, and the fear of talking to new people persisted into adulthood.
My friends and family probably wouldn’t call me shy. But for me, shyness has always been about trying my best to connect with people I don’t know. I am afraid of a stranger – how they might judge or reject me. Maybe there is nothing wrong with being timid, but when I started to notice how it affects my daily life, I wanted to take control of it.
When shyness goes from uncomfortable to problematic
This is not the only experience that has made me free myself from shyness forever. On the contrary, it was a gradual process. The more problems it caused, the more I learned to overcome them.
For example: at one of my first jobs, I encountered a small accounting problem for a company. The numbers on our client list don’t add up. Instead of bringing this to the attention of my boss and asking what I should do, I decided to figure it out and figure it out myself. I wasn’t afraid of work or mistakes — I was afraid of him (which doesn’t make sense because he was a great, flexible boss). But I was shy, so I said nothing, and a small accounting problem turned into a huge problem that took days to fix. If I had spoken from the beginning, I would have been a little embarrassed. But after things got out of hand, I was overwhelmed.
At the other job, I didn’t talk to anyone. I sat at my desk doing my job and hoping that people would just leave me alone. And they did, for the most part, except when one outgoing colleague accused me of being a bit snobbish. Of course, this came as a shock to me – I did not think that I was better than others, they scared me. I asked why she thinks so, and she replied, “Never talk to us.” At this point, my shyness was giving my colleagues the wrong impression of me. I did not like it.
How I gradually got rid of my shyness
Even now, my shy side sometimes creeps in and wreaks havoc. Sometimes I freeze when asked questions. I force myself to speak, but I’m so scared that I sometimes blurt out stupid answers. I go to parties and am absolutely afraid to talk to new people because I don’t know how to keep the conversation going. The good news is that as you practice a few skills, these stops happen less and less often. Here are some tips and tricks that have helped the most.
Being shy doesn’t have to be who I am
I’m an introvert at heart, but that doesn’t mean I need to be shy. They are completely different, and knowing that shyness is a habit to break was a great first step in realizing that I can develop social skills. I may not be a party member, but with a little effort I can start and maintain conversations and learn to speak for myself. I had a bad habit of crunching my knuckles. I was not like that; that was what i did. If I could get rid of this habit, I would surely get rid of shyness.
It’s not all about me
Shy people often overestimate their behavior and reactions. I ended up obsessively pondering everything I said or did, wondering what others thought of me. Did I say something stupid? Did I say something that might sound offensive? I am still doing this. After chatting with new friends, I often think about every little thing that I said after communication. If I said something even a little embarrassing or misunderstood, I would kick myself.
I used to do this all the time, and this made me even more afraid of social interaction. But a close friend of mine told me something that stuck with me: “I don’t mean to sound rude, but you don’t understand how few people probably think of you.” It made me feel like a narcissistic dumbass. But it’s actually a little self-centered to think that people always listen to my every word and behavior. The truth is, they probably don’t care . It was a great relief.
After all, when someone says something embarrassing to me, I don’t beat them for it. I guess I misunderstood them, or they didn’t really mean the way they said it. Or I’m joking. We all say stupid things from time to time, and most people get it. You should definitely think before opening your mouth, but overthinking after the fact can drive you crazy.
Overall, I realized that I might be awkward, but no one thinks about my awkwardness the way I do. This obsession only makes this feeling worse.
Take the challenge, then take small steps
I began to become aware of my shyness as a trigger. When I felt that it was coming, it was my signal to accept the challenge and become social. This helped me to focus my attention on him.
I took small steps to overcome my shyness . In my first job after graduating from college, I worked in an office full of people. I remember coming every morning and immediately hesitating to enter the room. So I set myself a challenge: I vowed to just come and say good morning every day. After a while, it became natural. It wasn’t intimidating anymore, and it made me feel more comfortable with my colleagues. Here are a couple more small steps I took:
- When I had a work question, instead of sending a passive email or telling myself that I would just ask the next time I see this person, I immediately got up and asked them (if they weren’t busy).
- If I bumped into someone in the break room, instead of humbly bypassing them, or worse, going back to my desk and waiting for them to leave, I would force myself to ask, “How are you?” Of course, sometimes they answered, and I froze. But I tried not to think about this step; I only focused on these three words: how are you?
These are just a few, but there are many more possibilities. Force yourself to ask for directions. Compliment someone. After a while, these habits will become second nature.
To sociable people, these problems are likely to seem rather strange. Is it really that hard to say “how are you?” Sometimes yes. It’s a pleasure to be shy.
My shyness increases when others are especially outgoing. Sometimes it feels like you need to hurry up and blurt out whatever you’re trying to say because the people around you talk so much. For a shy person, this can make social interactions even more stressful.
It’s not for everyone, but the lessons of public speaking helped me a lot. In high school, I took debate classes, and in college, I took public speaking classes. In both cases, I learned to use my voice comfortably. This gave me the opportunity to practice speaking in a situation where others are forced to listen. You have the respite and the time it takes to speak. I can still be interrupted in the real world, but at least I’m a little more confident in my speech.
Find out why you are shy
Researchers at Indiana University Southeast also suggest asking why you’re shy . People can be shy for a variety of reasons, they say:
For example, do you become shy when meeting new people, hanging out at a social event, or talking to someone who is attracted to you? Try to understand whether your shyness is cognitive (for example, excessive self-awareness or self-deprecating statements), affectively (for example, overwhelming feelings of anxiety) or behavioral (for example, not being able to speak to others in public gatherings).
When you better understand your shyness, you can find the best way to overcome it.
Learn the art of small talk
Even though everyone hates small talk, it is a necessary part of social interaction. For shy people, it can also be very helpful to get used to such interactions – for example, practice in practice. In The Fine Art of Small Talk, author Debra Fine provides some helpful tips. In meetings, I like to use her Occasion-Place Rule . If you’re at an event and don’t know how to start or maintain a conversation with a stranger, occasion and place can help you come up with a beginning. Fine writes:
The venue and event offer a wide range of free information. At the wedding: I was the bride’s roommate in college. How do you know this couple? At a seminar or convention, simply ask, ” What brings you to this event?” – a simple and unobtrusive way to start a conversation.
This may sound obvious, but when you’re intimidated at a party, remembering this rule can be a reason. She also suggests asking open-ended questions to strike up a conversation. For example, if I really wanted to talk to a colleague in the break room, instead of asking “How are you?” Which would be more of a joke than anything else, I might say, “What were you doing this weekend? “
We also covered FORD’s small talk technique . Everything is very simple. Think of a few questions from the following categories: family, occupation, vacation, and dreams. Keep these questions handy to start a lengthy conversation with the people you meet.
With a little practice, I got over my shyness, but not completely. I still recoil many times from the expectation of interaction. I agreed that I would probably always be a little shy about some things. But then again, maybe we all are. And that’s okay. This is a gradual process. Like most habits, it doesn’t go away overnight.
While I’m still learning how to deal with it, these skills and awareness have made it much easier to get out of my shell, as comfortable as it is on the inside.
This story was originally published on 3/19/15 and was updated on 10/22/19 to provide more complete and up-to-date information.