In elementary school I tended to fall into the class clown category, but as I got older, I don’t know what happened, but I became extremely shy and by high school I was completely introverted. There’s nothing wrong with being shy, if that is how you truly want to be. I, however, didn’t want to be shy. I felt awkward – like I forgot how to have a conversation with someone new. When I was about 18, I got a job at a notable store that had a very strict policy about interacting with people. I had to engage the customer in a conversation within 30 seconds of them entering the store. I was in a world of trouble but I had no choice! I needed that job. Thankfully, they gave me some tips that helped me break out of the shyness and I LEARNED to not be shy anymore. Practice makes perfect and years later sometimes I have to make myself stop from talking to people because it’s not the time or place. I’d like to share some of the tips that helped me break out of my shell.
- Let’s start with the obvious. The unspoken language. Be open with your body: eyes up, smile, don’t slouch, keep your arms uncrossed and your frame pointed to your audience. If you want to be friendly you must act friendly. Your body language speaks before your mouth ever opens. Not many people are going to feel comfortable talking to a sour puss that’s slouching with their head down in the corner.
- Ask questions, preferably open-ended ones. Open-ended questions (ones that require an answer other than yes or no) not only break the ice but they also require the other person to do some talking so that you can get enough information to follow up with more questions or play off what they are saying. There’s questions for every situation – it depends on where you are and what you’re doing. The question I’d ask most was, “Have you been in our store before?” Now at my dental office I ask, “What else is on the agenda for today?”
- Give compliments. People love to be complimented and a lot of times they’ll return the favor …bonus! You can compliment their hair, their smile, their clothes, or toenail color, whatever. I find it very rare to come across someone that I don’t honestly like SOMETHING about them. And in those rare cases I give an honest comment – “Those are interesting shoes.” Usually if you give a compliment they will let their guard down and start talking.
- Tell a story. After you break the ice you can usually get a wedge in for a related story or tid-bit. I had a friend who would just walk up out of nowhere and start telling a story… “I was at work the other day and this guy came busting in…” It sounds like a weird thing to do but it has always led to the best and funniest conversations because his story would remind me of a story and we’d go back and forth. My husband actually talks like this most of the time in large groups. If it’s quiet, he’ll start telling a funny story and it will snowball a quiet room into a madhouse with everyone wanting to chime in with their funny little piece.
- Joke around. Sometimes people are a little guarded when meeting someone new. However, if you can joke around (in a very light-hearted innocent way; stay away from insults, negativity, and hot topics) it makes you seem less threatening and more approachable.
- Don’t be discouraged. Some people aren’t going to want to talk with you. Don’t take it personally. Some people may be terribly shy and have difficulty joining you in conversation. Other people may be having a really bad day or something weighing heavy on their mind. Don’t let one bad attempt throw you off. Nobody learns to ride a bike on the first go around. It is a process and, as I stated earlier, practice makes perfect.
- Dive in. If you still feel like you need some extra help try really pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and take a local drama class. Put yourself in social situations with strangers so you can start practicing and learning. Sometimes the best way to learn to swim is to get thrown right into the water. If a drama class is too intimidating, try a local class or group that you’re interested in. Many churches have life groups/small groups, or bible studies you can join. Most high schools offer a variety of art, self-improvement, and educational classes for adults after hours. These days with social media there are lots of local Facebook groups where you can find opportunities for Mommy & Me playgroups, or book clubs.
Behavior can be learned and unlearned. If you’re shy and struggle in social situations I hope you can incorporate some of these tips into your lifestyle. We were designed to be social creatures. Again, if you enjoy being a quiet person that’s absolutely fine. But if you’re uncomfortable in social situations and wish you could be more participatory then these tips will certainly help you do just that. Best of luck my little butterflies, go spread your wings!