When you are shy, one of the most nerve-wracking experiences is having to meet new people, whatever the situation. Whether it is getting to know people at a new job, hobnobbing at a social affair, or meeting a new potential love interest, sometimes the strain of keeping the conversation going is enough to make you want to drill a hole in your skull just to relieve the torturous pressure. To make it worse, there is always that one person in the room who seems completely at ease talking to anyone about anything. Don’t you just hate them?
The main difference between you and the ‘loud’ person or the social butterfly in the room is that you simply have different ways of dealing with the stressful situation of meeting new people. While you tend to clam up in the presence of new people, others tend to talk incessantly, but both reactions come from the same nervousness.
Instead of hating them, observe them for a bit. They are probably laughing quite a bit and asking people a lot of questions – especially the women. They are probably holding eye contact and standing with an open posture (shoulders back, square to the person they are talking to, arms anything but crossed), or a more intimate posture (leaning in when they talk and perhaps touching the person they are addressing on the arm or back), depending on the dynamics of the room and the relationship.
Being a quiet person who is at ease with silence is a rarity in this era of information saturation, and for many, it is refreshing. But if you feel as though your shyness is holding you back and you simply want to feel more at ease in social situations, there is nothing wrong with trying a few strategies to help pull you out of the corner.
There are many reasons that people feel anxious when they are in a situation where they have to meet and interact with new people. For one, they feel like they are not going to know what to talk about and the conversation will devolve into an excruciating series of painful silences.
First of all, everyone feels like this. Some people are simply more afraid of the silences than others, and regard their social skills as basic survival skills. Those are the talkers. One of the beautiful things about large gatherings is that if a conversation is going stale, there is a whole room full of people that you can move on to (no, really, this is a positive thing). At events such as these, it is enough to go up to a circle and introduce yourself with a firm handshake. If you are met with awkward silence, chances are that those in the circle are just as shy as you are. Do not assume that they are standing there awkwardly because your fly is undone or you said something inappropriate.
Another reason that people get shy is that fear that they are too dull and will bore anyone else to tears. Well, not everyone is a story-teller. Some are natural bullshitters and others have to work on their timing a bit. Those people who seem to naturally have the gift of the gab most likely grew up in a lively house or neighborhood that enabled them to hone their wit. The thing to remember about meeting new people, however, is that to be memorable you don’t have to say very much at all.
The secret to being remembered as someone who is interesting is to act interested. For every modest man who fears he is dull, there are 250 people who are convinced that their life is much more interesting than it, in fact, is. From a 5 year-old chatterbox, to an 85 year-old grandparent, and everything in between, once you get people talking about their lives, chances are that they can, and might, go on for hours. Starting points, as cheesy as they sound, can be very general: What do you do? Have you always lived in the city? Have you met [introduce a friend or another person in the circle if appropriate]? What is your connection to [the event]? Chances are that if the person you are talking to runs out of information about themselves, they will flip the questions back to you at the very least.
The worst roadblock when you are trying to draw conversation out of someone is the one-word answers. Sometimes it is like pulling teeth just getting people to reveal a little bit about themselves. As a shy person, you might understand what these short answers are stemming from. If you run across another shy person, and you don’t feel comfortable sharing a silence, remember that you can excuse yourself at anytime in order to mingle.
If you are dealing with a one-on-one dating situation for instance, it is more difficult to hide inside the conversations of others. The same rules apply, however. As a bonus, you can be a little more informal and personal if you are on a date. If you can get your date talking about themselves with a few general questions (Where did you grow up? Do you have siblings?), it should be easy to get them on a roll. Just be prepared to answer the same questions (with more than one-word answers!) if they are thrown back your way.
Because dates can sometimes come off feeling like interviews, try not to interrogate your date. Allow questions to flow naturally from what your date is saying instead of stiffly listing off ten preconceived and unrelated questions. The key to doing this is actually listening and taking an interest in their lives, instead of barely listening to what they are saying for fear that your next question will escape your memory. When a thread of conversation frays, try asking a surprising question (if you are talking about family, ask what her earliest childhood memory is), one that makes them think.
At the end of the date, or social function, by focusing on other people, you will come off as someone who is interested in other peoples’ lives instead of being consumed with your own (you don’t know how refreshing that is!). As an added compliment, your naturally shy demeanor will probably come off as quite sweet. There is nothing wrong with being shy, but don’t let it get in the way of opportunities by allowing yourself to be perceived as innocuous, or worse, not being noticed!