Raneem used to be so shy that she wouldn't even talk to her teachers at school, but now she talks to strangers all over the world.
How to Become Less Introverted and Shy
Despite Hollywood tropes and media that might tell you otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with being shy. Some of us–including myself–are introverts, and like to spend time alone. Others are extroverts that don’t have the confidence to live true to themselves, or simply don't know how to let their personality shine.
Regardless of what type of person we are, it is important to know how to communicate with others, whether it’s for networking, presenting your work, or simply being able to make a friend after moving to a new city.
So as not to miss an opportunity that might come your way, here are a five things you can try to help you break out of your shell.
1. Read the Right Books
Though it was never part of my required reading, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie was without a doubt one of the most educational books I read in college. It's a classic in the professional development genre that has tons of helpful tips on how to become a great conversationalist, and goes from how to make small talk to how to do well in a business meeting. Here are the main takeaways from the “Win Friends” section of the book.
- Have an interest in the other person.
- Call them by their name.
- Be a good listener.
- Talk about the other person’s interests.
- Make the other person feel good about themselves.
If Dale Carnegie isn't your cup of tea, or if you want something a little more recent, you could try The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism by Olivia Fox Cabane. It has much of the same ideas as Carnegie's book, and it teaches that developing charisma is less about learning to become like someone else and more about how to best let your own personality come through.
There are tons of self-help books that address how to improve your conversation skills, body language, and approachability. Different authors have different approaches to the matter–ranging from abstract "change your thinking" methods to concrete actions–so read a couple of books and find what works for you.
2. Take an Improv Acting Class
From afar, improv might seem like it's any shy person's nightmare. It's just about getting up on stage and being loud and funny in front of an audience, right?
That couldn’t be further from the truth. Improv acting teaches you many things about how to be a good communicator, from how to give positive reinforcement to how to be a good listener. The point isn’t to talk all the time – in fact, it’s more about listening all the time and be aware of your surroundings and fellow cast mates.
Improv will also teach you how to get comfortable working with and in front of other people. The games and skits you go through will show you lessons that you can take beyond the acting studio, and you'll have a great time as well! Look for an improv troupe at your community theater, or even at your local college or university.
3. Take a Singing Class
Expressing yourself in front of an audience can be deeply personal and nerve wracking, and singing in particular can leave you feeling vulnerable or exposed. This is what we want: even if you never plan on becoming a performer of any kind, singing can help you learn how to project your voice and become a more emotionally open person.
The lesson to be learned here is to be okay with being vulnerable. Genuine friendships and relationships are more likely to develop when you are open and real with other people. If you’re not used to being emotionally available, the concept letting your feelings through can be pretty terrifying. Singing is a good way to introduce you to the feeling of opening up without you actually having to bare all.
Sure, your voice may crack in front of the whole class while singing an opera piece the professor assigned (and you might feel like you’ll die of embarrassment), but over time you’ll soon realize that most people won’t even remember or notice your mistakes at all–mostly because they’re worried about their own.
Check your local community college for group singing classes. These are a safe space that can help you grow more comfortable standing in front of an audience, and provide a great opportunity to meet people with similar interests. Vocal lessons are pricey and don’t give you the benefit (or terror) of performing in front of an audience.
Often we work too hard to preserve an image of being "put together" or want to be seen as "having it all.” We don't realize that it's through the cracks that the light comes in. Let people into your life by sharing your difficulties.
— Dr. Sue Varma, Psychiatrist
4. Join a Meetup
If singing or acting isn't your thing, then get together with a group of people who do share the same interests as you. Even if your hobbies are more solitary, such as hiking or reading, there is probably a group of people in your area who get together every so often. This makes socializing a little easier, because you already have something in common to talk about.
Meetup is a great app and website that allows you to find people to meet up with around a singular activity. You can also try searching for a Facebook group related to that interest and try arranging a face-to-face meeting with people in your area through there.
5. Get Lost – On Purpose
If you have the means, try traveling alone somewhere! Solo travel is all about stepping out of your comfort zone, discovering yourself, and yes--talking to strangers! When you stay in a hostel with a bunch of other travelers, you will be in a room of people all in the same boat, trying to make new friends with whom you can share your journey.
As with everything else, practice makes perfect. Travel is the perfect situation in which to practice your social skills, because the stakes are low–if you ask someone the wrong question, or otherwise flub a conversation, it doesn’t matter: You probably won't see these people ever again.
Even if you can’t make the trip to a new city or country, or if staying in a hostel just isn't your thing, you can always try meeting travelers that come to you. Couchsurfing is a great resource to meet up with travelers from all around the world in your area.
Why Am I Shy?
With all these tips, it’s important to know what is causing your shyness. Do you have low self-esteem and are afraid people won’t like you? Are you scared to talk to people or do you simply not want to? Do you worry a lot about what others think about you? And, most importantly, why do you want to be less shy?
Knowing the answers to these questions will help you pinpoint exactly what it is you should work on; for example, if your problem is a fear of embarrassment, maybe taking an improv class should be the first thing you try. If you're afraid of getting out of your comfort zone, push yourself to do whatever scares you the most.
The suggestions above are to help you practice socializing in a casual sense. However, you can most definitely apply what you practice to a more formal or business-related setting.
Different Things Work for Different People
I had always been a shy person, but I had never really noticed how much it affected me until I got to college. When it came time to speak to professors during office hours and ask for letters of recommendation for jobs and internships, I was too afraid to. That's when I decided to seek ways to get past my inhibitions.
I tried all of the things mentioned above. I took a singing and improv classes, joined Model UN, and started reading all I could about self-improvement. The changes didn't happen overnight, and I can't pinpoint one single action that lead me to improve my social skills; rather, I slowly developed habits over time that helped me be more confident and, honestly, more interested in speaking to other people.Though I still enjoy my time alone, these things have helped me make friends all over the world and build meaningful connections in both my personal and business relationships.
However, your situation might be completely different from mine. Try a couple of these things out and see what works for you. At worst, you'll make a new friend.
Jennifer from Mill Valley on June 13, 2018: