Conquering Social Situations
1. Get informed.
If you’re attending an event next week, it’s a good idea to prepare yourself with a couple hot topics. Is the government shutting down again? A hot TV show finale? An international event? Read up. That way when the topic comes up in conversation, you’ll be able to chip in.
- You’re not looking to impress here with your thorough and in-depth knowledge. You’re simply looking to join in. Others aren’t looking to be judged or be handed opinions, so keep it light and friendly. A simple, “Man, I wouldn’t want to be in Boehner’s shoes” can keep the conversation from hitting a standstill.
2. Think of conversations in stages.
Social interaction can be simplified, to a point. When you get down the basic steps and internalize them, you’ll be ready to go about conversations on autopilot, which is a lot less stressful. Think about all conversations in four stages:
- Stage one is a simple opening line. Its small talk at its finest.
- Stage two are the introductions. Self-explanatory.
- Stage three is finding some common ground, some topic you can both talk about.
- Stage four is closing, one party informing the other of their departure, and summing up, and possibly exchanging information. “Well, it was great talking to you — I never thought about Walt that way. Here’s my card — let’s chat again soon!”
Remember that awesome project you completed? That mountain you hiked up? That illness you overcame? If you can do all those things, this conversation will be a piece of cake. A random comment about something you two share will start it off — “This dang bus is always late,” or “Just gotta have faith that the coffee is coming!” or “Did you see Mr. Slycon’s tie today? Ho. Ly. Cow.” They’ll take it from there.
- Add a detail to basic statements. If someone asks you where you live, it’s easy for the conversation to stop in a super-awkward, feel-like-you’ve-failed dead halt. Instead of saying “On Jump Street,” say, “On Jump Street, right next to that awesome bakery.” That way, the person has something to comment on, keeping the conversation going. Instead of replying, “Oh, cool.” They’ll say, “Oh my god, have you tried their chocolate croissants?!”
4. Warm up.
If you’re at a party, you can have the same exact conversation over and over and over. Hit up one or two people at a time and practice the same social pleasantries and platitudes until you’ve got it and are practically nauseated. Then move back to the people you really enjoyed talking to. You can zero in on a real conversation then.
- Start off quickly, each conversation only lasting a few minutes. This will take the pressure off you and probably make you less nervous — when the end is 120 seconds away, it’s not that scary. Then you can focus your time and energy on those you’d like to be friends with. Really, it makes the most sense for your time and resources!
Convey an open, friendly attitude with your body language. Make sure to keep your arms uncrossed, your head up, and your hands not preoccupied. No one will talk to you if you’re buried in a game of Candy Crush. They’re just being polite!
- Think of the people you would want to approach. What do their bodies and faces say? Now think of the people you wouldn’t want to approach. How you’re sitting right now — where does it fall on the spectrum?
6. Smile and make eye contact.
A simple smile in the direction of a stranger may brighten your day, and it will brighten theirs too! Smiling is a friendly way to acknowledge others, and it makes a pretty good lead-in to start a conversation with anyone, stranger or friend. You’re showing you’re harmless, friendly, and wanting to engage.
- Humans are social creatures. A simple look at prisoners in solitary confinement will prove that. All of us are seeking interaction and reaffirmation. You’re not imposing on their day — you’re making it more vibrant and, well, better.
7. Think about your body.
When you’re in a group of people (or even just one person), you’ll probably get caught up in some shy thoughts. That’s normal at the beginning. If you find yourself getting anxious, ask yourself these questions:
- Am I breathing? If you can slow your breath, your body will automatically relax.
- Am I relaxed? Move your body to a more comfortable position if not.
- Am I open? You may be taking cues from your own positioning. Opening up may change how others view you as part of the group.
It’s not enough to think “I’m gonna go out there and not be shy!” That isn’t really a tangible goal — that’s similar to saying, “I want to be awesome.” How do you do that? You need action-oriented goals, like talking to a stranger or initiating conversation with a cute boy or girl you know. (We’ll cover these actions in the next section).
- Focus on small, daily accomplishments, then gradually become more daring. Even asking a stranger the time can be a daunting task. Don’t write off these small chances as no big deal — they’re huge! You can work up to talking in front of huge crowds in a bit. Slow down!
2. Find what’s comfortable for you.
Straight up, moshing at a rave or drinking all night long at a club may not be for you — that has nothing to do with shyness. If you’d rather be trimming your grandmother’s toenails, listen to that. Don’t try to conquer your shyness in environments you straight up can’t stand. It won’t stick.
- You don’t have to be doing what everybody else is doing. And if you do, you’re not going to stick with it and you’re not going to find people who you like and are similar to you. Why waste your time?! If the bar scene isn’t for you, that’s totally fine. Practice your social skills in coffee houses, at small gatherings, or at work. They’re more applicable to your life.
3. Practice placing yourself in not-so-comfortable situations.
Alright, so we don’t want you in places where you are hiding in the corner pinching yourself to numb the social pain, but you do need to put yourself in environments where you’re just a step or two out of your element. How else will you grow?
- Start at the top of your list, remember? It could be making small talk with the CVS girl, stopping a person at the bus stop for the time, or chit chatting it up with the guy who has the cubicle next to yours. Most people are crap at initiating (have you figured out why that is yet? They’re just like you), but the opportunities for conversation are there.
It is often easier to talk with strangers, at least briefly. After all, you may never see them again, so who cares what they think about you? That guy down the street, walking to the bus. Try to make eye contact with him and smile. It’s literally 3 seconds of your time!
- The more you do this, the more you find that people are receptive and friendly. Once in a while you’ll get the occasional freak who’s paranoid and wonders why you’re smiling at him — consider him just fun to mess with. What’s more, smiling makes people wonder why you’re smiling — now you’re getting in their heads instead of the other way around!
Talk to somebody you would not normally think about having a conversation with. Try to find people who share one or more of your interests and make plans to talk to them. At some point or another, you’ll find yourself in front of a group. Chime in with even the most basic of statements (or in support of someone else’s). Get involved. It’s the only way to grow.
- This will get easier with time. Remember how driving or riding a bike was hard at first? It’s the same with social interactions; you just haven’t had a lot of practice. After a while, you’ll be all “been there, done that.” Nothing will phase you. Huzzah.
6. Record your successes and keep going.
In that notebook you have your social triggers listed, write down your successes. Seeing the progress you’ve made is great motivation to keep going. In a few weeks, you’ll be amazed at the control you’re taking over this, convincing you all the more that this thing is doable. Awesome.
- There is no timeline for this. For some people, it won’t happen until a light bulb clicks on and all of a sudden they get it. For others, it’s a slow path that takes 6 months. However long it takes is however long it takes. Trust in yourself. You’ll get there.
- “Fake it till you make it” – is a good motto. Keep pretending to be confident and after a while you will find that you really are. Remember though that pushing yourself too hard into situations you don’t feel comfortable will just reinforce the problem. Shyness and social anxiety is a behaviorally learned trait and you’ll need to ease into things at a semi-comfortable rate.
- Volunteer or join a club or social group! Join a club you are interested in and you’ll meet other people with common interests. This is a great way to make friends.
- Just know that almost everyone is shy to some extent. The difference is the degree of shyness. You can boost your confidence through practicing conversation skills and having new topics to discuss.
- Give yourself lots of time to talk. Speaking slowly gives you more time to think about what to say, as well as often adding weight to your words.
- Make a list of things you love about yourself and post it on your wall. It may strike up some confidence before leaving the door.
- Overcome stage fright by imagining you are someone else, such as a favorite celebrity you admire. Picture yourself as that person until you feel comfortable onstage.
- Remember that shyness is an emotion, not a permanent personality trait. You have the power to change your feelings of shyness through desire and actions.
- Fear and excitement share the same chemistry, adrenaline. If you focus on the positive aspects of the event, speech, activity, etc. and think of your tension as anticipation, you can flip your fears over into a thrill that makes you enjoy being outgoing. Many outgoing, eloquent people go into public situations with as much tension as you do but they interpret it as excitement and share it with others. Stage fright can vanish into a stellar performance when you make that switch in what you think the feeling is.
- Say ” yes” to more things. At first it will be difficult. Start with small things, like saying hi to a classmate or something; the thing is that when you accept to do thing you don’t often do, you can get so many cool moments. Plus, you’ll feel better about yourself because you were brave enough to do it.
- There’s nothing wrong with being shy, but there’s nothing wrong with being outgoing either!
- If you were known for being shy among family members and friends, watch out for the harmless teasing. Some may be uncomfortable with you existing outside the category they’ve put you in, in their own minds. Ignore them. They mean well, but don’t let them scare you back into your shell!
- Sometimes shyness is a phase — many people grow more confident and outgoing with age. Don’t go about trying to change yourself unless it truly makes you unhappy; you may grow out of it with time.
- Often times it’s only in your mind, you don’t need to be shy, take a deep breath. Hold your head up.
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