How to Stop Being Shy and Awkward When You Meet People
Are you like most people who have quite a fun and interesting vibe when you are alone but struggle when you step out there? You find yourself thinking I don’t always have something interesting to say, or worrying about if people will like you. Or maybe you worry about saying the wrong thing or something that will offend someone. You think you are not interesting enough for others to want to hear you out. Or that you don’t know how to have conversations with people. Or you feel anxiety. These are thoughts that run in the minds of shy people every time they think of meeting people.
I have been there and know exactly how that can feel. But we are not here to stew over the struggles but to find solutions to this limiting behavior. Yes, shyness is just a behavior, and it is learned. That means it can be unlearned.
Reasons why you are shy
- Living too much in your head. Shy people live in their heads overthinking everything and this often leads to paralysis.
- Environment, culture and family: Some people grew up in a culture that encouraged being reserved, quiet, unopinionated in the name of humility and shunned being outspoken and expressive.
- Hyper isolation, too little social exposure: We are living more and more isolated lives. Is it any surprise that when you step out to meet other people you feel like you don’t belong?
- Spotlight effect: The spotlight effect is the perception that everyone is looking at you and judging you. Because shy people have a hyper focus on themselves and judge themselves too much, they think that other people are focused on them as much. Not true. Other people are most often also worrying about themselves.
- Unpleasant past experiences: Some people are shy today because they had an unpleasant experience in the past when they put themselves outthere. They might have experienced rejection, embarrassment, criticism, negative judgement and then they retracted.
Solutions: How to Be the Fun Person You are in Private in Public
- Stop the hyper focus on yourself and focus on the environment and on the other person. When you are somewhere, be there. Don’t be in your head. Focus on the environment and on other people. For instance, if you walk into a dinner party, start commenting on what you like about the place. I love the lighting in this place. I think the decor is amazing have you seen the flowers. This is a great way to start a conversation with the person next to you and the sooner you do it the easier and the better. When awkwardness has already set in it is hard to break. So, drop it as you walk in or are taking your seat. Hesitation is not your friend here. Pro tip: Talk to the other person as if they are a longtime friend you already knew, and they will become such in a second.
- Be curious about the other person. Ask questions. Particularly ask unusual questions. Rule of thumb: Choose questions that lead to narration and storytelling rather than one-word answers. Instead of: How are you or how was your day? Ask: What’s the most interesting thing that happened to you today? What do you like about the city?
- Don’t answer questions with one word or one phrase either especially at the beginning of the conversation. Try to answer with narration and storytelling. Perhaps you can decide that no matter the question. I will at least answer in 3 sentences. How are you? I was having just a horrible day today. But that changed when a stumbled on some song on YouTube and it completely changed my mood. It’s like the lyrics were for me.
- Pro tip: Try to get conversations towards areas of shared passions and interests. Why? It’s hard to be bored when passion is involved. Passion is energizing and contagious. Even if you simply just start talking about your own passion, you will realize others start talking about theirs as well. The great poem says when you let your light shine, you give others permission to do the same.
- Stop self-censoring. Shy people have a tendency of analyzing their thoughts mentally but not saying anything about what they are thinking because they think no one is interested in that, or that might offend somebody, or they might take it the wrong way etc. When you censor yourself too much you’ll get to a place where there’s nothing you can talk about. If you are interested in something, feel free to talk about it. What matters is the approach. Most people will rather have something to defend or stand up for than be bored.
- Create good social goals. Set yourself up for success. Step out there. You can only learn to swim by swimming in a pool. So put yourself in the environment that allows you to unlearn shyness and learn self-expression and being comfortable with people. Practice being outspoken by engaging with people in real time as possible. So, phone calls over text and voice notes. Even if it is a one to two minute's call. Join communities of people with similar interests. Take some responsibilities. You can turn your discomfort zone your comfort zone by visiting it frequently. Instead of going to places alone, or with other people who are shy, try to tag along people who are comfortable with people. Watch, emulate, repeat.
- Stop labelling yourself a shy person. Perspective matters. Why not say I’m just a good listener instead of I never have something to talk about? And if you are the listener type then keeping good questions you can ask is good wisdom. Don’t only just dress up and make up and consider yourself ready to go out. Think in advance and pick a few questions that you can ask that will get someone you sit by talking. Also be ready to answer the same questions because they can ask it back to you: and you or what about you?
- Finally, you are going to fail sometimes when you try. Be like a baby, when a baby takes their first steps and fall, we don’t think this is horrible they shouldn’t try that again. No! We cheer and celebrate the step and encourage them to do it again knowing fully well they will fall again. If you can treat this the same way, you are going to walk and run with time. You are the only one who has been stopping yourself and the only one who can continue to stop yourself. What’s it gonna be?