Strengthening your Conversational Skills
John R. Ballew, M.S., L.P.C.
Introducing ourselves and speaking to people we don’t already know is difficult for shy folks. They’ve learned to fear rejection as a way of managing their anxiety. They are overwhelmed by a sense of awkwardness and don’t know what to do. That anxiety can be so paralyzing that these men and women avoid trying anything new or speaking to people they don’t already know. Their fear of rejection makes their world smaller.
Rejection isn’t fatal, no matter how uncomfortable it might seem at the time. The problem is often what therapists call “catastrophic thinking” – a belief that it would be unbearably awful if rejection occurred. But is being turned down for a job or a date really lethal? Of course not. The consequences are far worse if you choose to take yourself out of the social game because you’re terrified of being turned down.
If you’re afraid of rejection – and most people are – why not practice getting really good at it? Realize that each rejection means that you’re succeeding in extending yourself and doing something challenging. Each time you experience it you’re actually getting closer to your goal of expanding your circle of friends, of getting that job that you want, of meeting your goals and succeeding in life. Tolerating a little rejection is a small price to pay for getting more of what you want in your life.
If you’re not doing well at meeting people in your current routine, try changing things. Too many people rely on the usual standbys – bars and the gym – for meeting people. If they are anxious about striking up a conversation, they may not venture beyond the world of online dating. Try joining a club or organization, where you’ll find more things in common that can be conversation starters. Or get a cute dog and head to the park on a sunny afternoon.
When there’s an opening (you walk up to someone, or there’s a lull in the conversation near where you are, etc.) take a deep breath, introduce yourself, make eye contact, smile and shake hands. Repeating the person’s name back to them can help you remember it, especially if you’re slowing down and paying attention.
Shy people often start worrying about whether they will “do it right” when they are speaking with someone, rather than simply paying attention and being in the moment. One powerful way to move past your social anxiety is to keep focusing on stuff other than yourself. Concentrate when someone answers you. Remember what they say so you can ask a question about it later. Let yourself find the other person interesting, which will make you more interesting to them. (If you have trouble thinking on your feet, think of some possible questions to ask ahead of time.)
When you’re speaking, notice the pronouns you use. Self-conscious people often use the word “I” a lot, and that can stop or block conversation. Smiling and conveying interest in the other person (“So what did you think of…?”) keeps the conversation going and makes you seem less self-centered.
Offer an opinion if you want to deepen the conversation, or ask the other person for their opinion. Remember to really listen to the other person. Focusing helps to lessen the anxiety and the distraction of self-consciousness in social situations. It helps keep the conversation going and makes a good impression.
Do you enjoy the person’s company and feel that interest coming back at you? Great. Consider suggesting meeting some other time for coffee or lunch. Offer your phone number; if you get the other person’s, use it. If he doesn’t offer his phone number, don’t despair. You’re doing what you need to do to meet the kind of people you want to meet. Evidently this just wasn’t the one. In training yourself to be more outgoing, you’re going to get what you want.
All this gets much easier with practice. Being successful in doing what you set out to do will make you more comfortable. You’ll find that socializing becomes easier and your shyness and anxiety will no longer run your life.
John R. Ballew, M.S. is a Licensed Professional Counselor based out of Atlanta , Georgia. His clients are busy professionals, people of varied ethnic and racial backgrounds, LGBT men and women and clients from age 18 to 70 or more.
You can learn more about John and his practice at http://bodymindsoul.org/