How to participate in group conversations when you dislike attention

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This is the third part of my email series on group conversations.

Here are the previous parts:

Part 1: How to be part of the group without saying anything smart or funny
Part 2: How to be part of a conversation when you just don’t feel like it

Yesterday I had an eye-opening coaching session with a client.

He told me how he zoned out in conversations. I’ve met with him before, and nothing had given him great results.

Finally, after an hour of coaching, we finally arrived at the core of the problem:

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The real reason he zoned out in group conversations was that he, deep down, didn’t want to be put in the spotlight.

It’s like when the teacher asked a question in class and you didn’t know the answer, so you pretended to be deep into your book.

So as a new task, we agreed that the next step for him would be to practice formulating his thoughts and responses in his head, rather than trying to avoid it all together by escaping the conversation mentally. That way he could start participating more in conversations.

These tricks we play on ourselves aren’t obvious. It took hours for me and my client to get to the core.

In psychology, this phenomenon is well-known. It’s called an avoidance behavior: It’s a subtle thing we do, often subconsciously, to avoid our fears.

It could be…

The only way to deal with this is to consciously meet and face the fear of participating in a conversation.

No! I’m not going to have a few glasses before I go to the party. I’m going to deal with my nervousness.

(Read more here about how to deal with nervosity.)

When it comes to zoning out to not be in the spotlight, the way to face our fear is to…

  1. Be aware that it’s happening (I’m zoning out to avoid the spotlight)
  2. Face your fear in small steps (Do something that gives you slightly more of the spotlight than usual)
  3. Gradually face your fear (Practice sharing thoughts and opinions in your head during the group conversation)
  4. Engage in the conversation despite it being scary (Act with fear)

Can you come up with some of your own avoidance behaviors?

Writing down the ways our brain avoids fear is powerful to become confident and improve socially. When we finally face our fears like this, that’s when they start to dissolve.

To start chipping away at your avoidance behaviors, leave a comment and let me know about something you do to avoid your fears.

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David Morin is the founder of SocialPro. He's been writing about social skills since 2012. Follow on Twitter or read more.

Go to Comments (3)

3 thoughts on “How to participate in group conversations when you dislike attention”

  1. Hi David, it took me a long time to realise that whenever I was on courses at work, everyone would go out for a coffee in the coffee break and I would stay in the classroom on my own because I didn’t want a coffee…I finally realised that by doing so, I was avoiding socialising with the others on the course. The best example of this was when I did a Spanish conversation class – of course I wanted to practice my Spanish but I mainly joined to meet people. But again I did this same thing. The reality was that I didn’t have to actually have a coffee if I went with the group, the point was to mix with them. But it was like that didn’t click somehow. In those days, I don’t think I realised that it was my fear of socialising that was keeping me safe by convincing me there was no point to join them. It is only since I have worked on myself and followed your courses that I can now see what the problem was. Now, I always go along in the breaks on such courses, but that’s helped by the fact that I no longer have that fear of socialising. I am only now sorry for the missed opportunities and the fact I did not realise I was sabotaging myself.

  2. I believe my boyfriend dominates phone calls with nonsensical food shopping monologs as a means of avoiding a real conversation. He also calls me one or two minutes before he arrives at his meeting, destination, etc…and has to end the phone call. There isn’t any verbal or emotional connection…and now I understand that he is avoiding …me.


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