3 Steps to Bust Through Shyness and Start a Conversation
I used to be shy. I was nervous about going out to meet-ups, parties or networking events because I would have to talk to people. That may seem odd for someone passionate about public speaking, but that was my situation. I believed I would have to think of something to say and it would have to be interesting and clever. Consequently, if I did go to a gathering of people with whom I was less familiar, I hid out in the corner or at the bar with all the other people who didn’t want to talk to anyone.
At one such gathering, I was hanging out in the corner when a very nice man approached and asked me why I was so quiet in person when I seemed so outgoing in front of people. I told him I was shy, and he said that was bulls**t. I said, “No, really. I can’t seem to think of smart things to say when I meet new people and I don’t know what to tell them about myself.” At this, he chuckled. Then he said something I have never forgotten. He said, “No one really cares about you. They want to talk about themselves.”And you know, it didn’t even occur to me to ask about him, which was how I knew he was right! Since then, I’ve learned that when you flip the expectations and become curious about others, the nerves go away with the added bonus that people think you are someone they want to get to know, too. This is the power of empathetic listening.
If you are shy and want to build your network or meet new people or just speak to the other shy person in the cubicle next to you, here are three steps to conversing with strangers:
- Start a conversation with a friendly greeting, a comment on the weather, an observation on traffic, or even an off-the-wall remark about the food at the party Conversing takes practice, so step up and say “hi.”
- Ask questions about the other person, but don’t grill them like an FBI agent. When you find something interesting about them, focus on it so the conversation is more in-depth and interesting. Be genuinely curious but not obnoxious. And stay away from questions that only require yes or no answers.
- Find places where their story reminds you of your own and explore that together but resist the urge to get caught up in your own remarkable story! Remember, when you have to do the talking, the pressure’s on to be clever and articulate. When the other person is in the hot seat, you can relax!
For more on having better conversations, please see our post, How to Speak When You’re Put on the Spot