Marjorie is an introverted INFP who is surrounded by extroverts. Heck, I even married one!
Ever get anxious just thinking about going up to a stranger and making small talk? Communicating comes so easy to some people that it’s sometimes frustrating to wonder why it doesn’t come as naturally for others. I used to be so shy and balked at the idea of having any attention on me for fear of being asked to talk. I just felt like I had nothing interesting to say! I didn’t know how to talk to anyone without losing my nerve after exchanging stock introductions.
Well, here’s something to make you feel better if you are shy: it’s absolutely normal. You are not alone and it’s not necessarily bad. But here’s the kicker: shyness is a learned response. You were not born shy, you learned how to be, and you can unlearn it too.
8 Ways to Overcome Shyness
Are you ready to work on your shyness? Here are 8 practical tips and skills you can develop to help you talk to anyone:
1. Practice how to introduce yourself.
Have a couple of versions ready so you have a different one depending on the circumstances. Have one for a date, for a work meeting, and another one for casual meetups with your friend’s friends. Do this in front of the mirror a couple of times, then ask a trusted friend or family member to listen to you and give you encouragement. Even the best comedians test their material with a pilot group before taking their routine onstage.
2. Check the headlines of the day.
Remember light, interesting stories like technology, pop culture, or recent discoveries. Knowing what is going on aside from the weather will give you fodder for interesting conversations. It is not important to recite what you read in the article, just pick a few things that you’d like to get other peoples’ opinions on.
Be sincere about knowing what they think about the topic or how it makes them feel because they will likely be sincere to you when it’s your turn to tell them how you feel about the topic too. The objective is not to be right but to talk about our similarities and differences of opinions. Practice this every day on people at work, at the pub, or with friends and see how it becomes easier every time.
3. Make people talk about themselves.
Let’s say you’re just testing the waters for now and your confidence is at about 60%. One way to get things going in a conversation without the pressure of actually saying much is to keep asking people about themselves. Fun fact: People like talking about themselves!
I was at a town fair in France and didn’t know the language enough to carry a conversation but I did know how to ask questions and picked up a few expressions of disbelief, agreement, and disappointment. I went to the crepes stall and a simple “how’s it going” to the owner turned into an hour of her unloading the story of her life. It sounded quite concerning and I genuinely felt bad for her even though I couldn’t understand everything she was saying. Just handing out the cues of disbelief, agreement and disappointment at the right moments seemed to do the job. She appreciated my empathy and gave me a hot chocolate by the time the DJ packed his stuff to go home. I’m not saying hit up the concession stands for free food and drinks though! But be conscious that everyone has a story to tell and needs someone to say it to. Even you.
4. Have some questions ready.
Have at least three that you can use on anybody at a gathering. These could be questions related to what is happening at the moment. Here are some possible questions you could ask at a wedding:
- How do you know the bride and groom?
- What do you think of the food/DJ?
- What’s your line of work?
You could find more icebreaker questions online with simple search. These are great conversation starters to get the ball rolling at a cocktail party:
- Favorite drink
- Favorite TV series
- Mountain or beach
But don’t stop at asking questions, give your own answers and elaborate on the why. Give them some anecdotes about how you discovered your favorite drink. This could tailspin to other lively topics and just enjoy the exchange.
5. Practice active listening.
Don’t waste the introduction you worked on and the momentum you started building with your questions. Listen carefully to what the other person is saying and build up on their ideas instead of thinking of the next question to ask. You are trying to build connections, not interrogating a witness.
6. Keep the conversation rolling.
How do you show you’re into someone’s story and transition into your own experiences or feelings? Here are some handy reaction phrases to keep the ball rolling:
- Oh, I see. This reminds me of the time when I ______.
- I love _____ (actor or singer) too! Have you seen/heard ______? I was blown away by ______.
- I can’t believe you did that! I would have _____.
7. Be ready with a joke.
Sometimes the conversation will taper off and there’s nothing much to say about the topic anymore. Yeah, it’s awkward, but everyone goes through it so it’s not just you. This is when a well-practiced joke comes in handy. Just start with “Hey, did you hear about the…?” and when they say no, tell your joke. Then excuse yourself and talk to another group or go get a well-deserved drink.
If you are not confident about your storytelling abilities yet, retelling the jokes of good comedians will never get old and you could also find lots of funny one-liners online.
8. Most importantly, relax.
If you’re stressed about making a good impression you might come off as a try-hard. Let your interactions flow naturally and you’ll see small-talk becoming more easy to do. It’s really a skill that just takes practice, and the more you do it the better you get at it. And if it’s any consolation, some people around you are probably also nervous about talking to others too.
Why Are We Shy?
Past experiences where we were made to feel uncomfortably naïve could be one of the reasons we don’t want to take the chance and talk to others. We just don’t want to feel like an idiot. However, you could also think of the person who was humiliated as a completely different person because that was you in the past. Our bodies shed and regenerate new cells every day so literally, you are not who you were yesterday. Think about that when you get up in the morning. Give yourself license to have new adventures, or go about your day but in a better and more confident way. You have the advantage of learning from your past and the ability to be better today.
Some people grow up shy just because they were “taught to be shy”. They were given cues growing up that it’s a desirable trait until it eventually becomes part of their identity. You’ve probably noticed how most kids are naturally very talkative. They have non-stop questions and are full of opinions – until they are not. Rules of civility are great, but sometimes when taught in the wrong context they can have a crippling effect. Our ability to connect and talk to people is a learned skill. Like a muscle that loses its strength when unused, our conversation skills deteriorate when underutilized. Being trained to talk in a certain way and only in specific circumstances while still young is understandably hard to unlearn but not impossible if you give yourself time.
© 2020 Marjorie Dumont
Marjorie Dumont (author) from France on July 22, 2020:
Thanks for your comment, Maria! It can be a daily struggle and there are days when I just feel like keeping to myself too. But there's so much to learn from other people and that's what keeps me from digging a hole to hide in, haha! Putting yourself at ease wherever you are can help a lot :D
Maria on July 20, 2020:
I like so much the article and I think that would be so helpful for any kind of person shy or not.
Talk to people is not always easy.