I started out kind of shy. I always felt incredibly nervous in a situation with people I didn’t know. The thought of introducing myself was enough to make me run away in petrified fright. I am super outgoing once I meet someone but the idea of breaking the ice has always scared me silly.
At some point I realized that this was stupid. I guess I talked to enough people to realize that we all feel intimidated by meeting others for the first time. I also was “the new person” enough times to know that there are very few things as wonderful as being in a new place or sitting by a stranger and having someone reach out a hand of friendship*. At some point I decided I just need to put the scaredness behind me and say hello to strangers.
Everyone feels shy sometimes. Nearly all of us feel slightly bashful about initiating a conversation or meeting somebody new. I was surprised to find out that even my mother–the most outgoing person ever born on Planet Earth–feels shy sometimes. Here’s what I have to say about shyness: get over it. All shyness will ever do is hold you back in life.
I’m sure some of you will swear that this isn’t the case, but I really feel like being shy is just another facet of being scared. Whether it’s being scared of rejection, or being scared of making a fool of yourself or being scared of simply trying something new, it all boils down to getting over yourself. You aren’t the prettiest or the funniest or the smartest. So what? You’re still an interesting person and your views on things are just as good as the views as the person sitting next to you. So stop being a quiet little mouse.
I know, I know. It’s easier to just tell yourself that people won’t like you or you don’t know what to say. Here’s the secret: people don’t really rememeber what you say, especially if you’re in a crowd or busy place. Think about the last time you met someone. Do you remember the exact conversation you had with them? No? I can’t remember either. I pretty much just remember that the last person I met was interesting to talk to and that she had just moved here from out of state. That’s it. So don’t overanalyze what you say when you meet someone, just say something. Don’t try to hard to be funny or interesting. Trying too hard is a recipe for disaster. Being a good listener is the ticket.
So what do you say? How do you start? It’s just like jumping into a swimming pool. It’s best just to do it; the more you think about it, the more freaked out you’ll get. Here’s a scenario that works pretty much anywhere that you might be sitting next to a stranger. This could be at a concert, at church, at a meeting, at a college lecture. This is what you do: turn to the person and say, “Hi, I’m [insert your name]” Hold your hand out to shake if it’s appropriate (not so much in High School English). Then pay them a compliment of some sort (this is for women, I don’t know that this works the same way for men. Probably men might be a little weirded out if you tell them they have nice hair). Here are some examples:
I love your sweater.
That purse is so adorable.
Your eyes are the prettiest shade of gold.
That necklace is really cool.
Don’t go overboard and don’t start talking about yourself and how you hate your purse but your sister bought it for you so you have to use it anyway. Or how you have blue eyes just like your grandmother. It’s our natural nervous reaction to talk about ourselves. Fight it. Please, please fight it.
Next, ask them something about themselves and how it relates to the place where you are.
Have you been to a concert here before?
How do you think this class is going so far?
Do you come to blog conferences a lot?
WARNING: if you are meeting someone new at a place you’ve been going to forever, it can be a little tricky asking them if they’re new. It can seem really terrible if they’ve been going to the same church/yoga class/book club for three months and you just barely noticed them . It can really sting when someone asks you if you’re new and you aren’t. So try not to ask, “are you new here?” They may be, but if they aren’t it’s going to seem really awkward. If you honestly haven’t noticed, try a phrase like, “I don’t think we’ve officially met” This is especially good when you’ve seen the person around but you’ve both been too shy to make introductions.
After the person has answered this question, I find that admitting how nervous you were about the situation creates instant camaraderie and let’s them know that you are honest and they can relax around you. When people feel like they can be themselves around you then you will both feel a lot less shy.
“I was so nervous walking in here. Everyone seems like they know what they’re doing”
“I’ve never been to this club and I was so nervous about where to park”
“I always feel so awkward sitting next to a total stranger”
“I was so nervous that I might not be smart enough to come to this book club.”
The awesome thing is that when you admit something that you were nervous or scared about, the other person will agree or show some sort of empathy. Always. This is just the American way to communicate. If you don’t live in America, you can try this but I have no idea if it works. If you are shy in the U.S., though, give this a try. Admitting you were scared is a fantastic ice-breaker.
After this you should be able to come up with some things to say. Remember, though, to ask questions of the other person. Don’t just talk about yourself. It’s tacky and boring to the other person. If you suddenly find a lull in conversation, ask them about themselves: where they grew up, if they have kids/siblings, what they studied in college. I’m sure you can come up with something.
I still get butterflies when I have to introduce myself to a complete stranger. Due to my job at church, though, I pretty much have to. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a funk or if they don’t look like someone who might not be my type. I’ve come to realize that we all want to feel like we belong. It’s your job as a decent human to put that shyness away and try to be friendly. Seriously, being shy is lame. I’m speaking as a sometimes-shy person. Really, the title of this post shouldn’t be “how to not feel shy”. Because I don’t really know how to to just not feel shy. I still feel shy all the time. Really I want you to learn how to get over it and be friendly even when it’s scary and you’re not in the mood. So what if you don’t want to? You’re a grown-up, do it anyway!
If it helps you can repeat this saying that I made up for my chronically bashful children:
Be the first one to say “hi”,
Even if you’re feeling shy.
*To this day I will always remember and be grateful to Suzie Cavolloro who stood next to me in the lunch line at my new school in 11th grade. She introduced herself, asked if I wanted to sit next to her in the lunchroom (YES!!! There is no event as horribly intimidating as the first time you walk into the lunchroom at a new school), and even invited me to a party she was planning that weekend. Your kindness has stayed with me all these years, Suzie!