According to the American Psychological Association, shyness is “the tendency to feel awkward, worried, or tense during social encounters.”1
Did you catch those symptoms?
Not only are these feelings that none of us enjoy having, but they’re also behaviors that will seriously limit your ability to have a healthy social life.
Social shyness is something that many of us experience on a regular basis, but it doesn’t have to be.
You can overcome your social shyness, but first, you must determine the reason you’re shy.
[Also, read my guide on jobs suitable for people with social anxiety]
Why are we shy?
Psychological studies throughout the years have revealed that shyness can have many causes.
It’s possible that your shyness is just a result of your temperament 2; maybe you were raised in a more reserved family, or perhaps you inherited the inclination toward shyness from a parent.
However, there are other, more serious, causes of shyness as well.
The American Psychological Association (APA) states that shyness can be an indicator of avoidance, inhibition, or distress, which can be the result of a variety of circumstances including stressful life experiences, stressful home, school, or work environments, or negative family interactions.2
If this is the case, counseling from a professional can help you to uncover the root of your shyness as well as provide personalized strategies for coping. This can be immensely beneficial for both your confidence and your social life.
However, if your shyness is less a serious psychological problem and more a simple fear of interacting with others, the following tips can help you to kick your social shyness to the curb.
Confidence is Key
If you look back at the symptoms of shyness given by APA, each of them is the result of a lack of confidence.
Are you worried or tense when you’re in a social setting? Again, it’s almost certainly out of the fear that doing or saying the wrong thing will make you look stupid and cause people to hate you.
Developing your self-confidence is the most important thing you can do to stop being shy.
Confidently Introduce Yourself
Now that we know shyness is a result of fear that comes from not knowing the right thing to say or do, the obvious first step is to learn what to say or do.
Learning the proper way to introduce yourself can help you to feel much more confident (and as a result, much less shy) in social situations where you are meeting new people.
The first and most important step in making an introduction is to smile.
Your smile is one of the first impressions the other person will have of you. Your smile indicates that you are safe, friendly, and happy to be meeting them. By offering a smile, you will be putting the other person at ease which will make your introduction–and subsequent conversations–go much more smoothly.
While smiling, say hello and state your name–“Hi, I’m Amanda”— and simultaneously offer your hand for a handshake.
If you’re introducing yourself in a work environment, it can be helpful to say what your job is in addition to providing your name. Otherwise, saying “Nice to meet you” after greeting the other person is plenty for a casual introduction.
Confidently Make Conversation
After your introduction (or if you’re with people you already know), the next step is making conversation. For many people, this is where shyness hits the hardest.
People with social shyness tend to let the others in the group carry the bulk of the conversation, which prevents people from getting to know them and limits their ability to make friends.
In one-on-one situations, the shy person’s reticence can create awkward silences and make both parties uncomfortable.
Becoming confident in your conversation-making abilities is crucial to overcome shyness. If you go into every social situation armed with a repertoire of conversation topics and a knowledge of how to use them, you will never be at a loss for what to say in a social situation again.
Although conversation can seem like a complex interaction with many variables and unpredictable outcomes, understanding what a conversation actually is will help you understand that it’s really not complicated at all.
A conversation is simply two or more people who are
- Attempting to discover mutual interests, and then
- Sharing their thoughts and opinions about those mutual interests
That’s it! Those are the only two things you need to do to have a successful conversation. You simply use different questions and make different statements to accomplish them.
Making a statement related to the situation you’re currently in is a great way to determine if you share an opinion with someone. Usually they will respond by saying whether they agree or disagree, and if the don’t, all you have to do is ask.
Typically this naturally opens up further conversation: Why do they agree? Why do they disagree? What past experiences have they had with this situation? How did those past experiences impact the opinion they’ve just expressed?
If you’re not comfortable making a statement related to the situation, asking for the other person’s opinion of something related to the situation is another natural way to start a conversation; you can ask their opinion about something in the room such as its appearance, the food being served, the music being played, their thoughts on this type of event, or how often they attend events such as the one you’re currently at.
The only other thing you need to confidently make conversation is a willingness to say what you’re thinking (tactfully and within reason, of course). If you’re unwilling to share what you’re thinking, the conversation will remain at opinionless small talk and will quickly die out.
Social shyness is, in most cases, a fear of interacting with others stemming from a lack of confidence in one’s ability to socially interact. Increasing your social confidence by learning exactly what to say and do when you’re in a social situation will help you stop being shy and significantly improve your social life.
How has being shy impacted your social life? Share your stories in the comments!
- American Psychological Association. 2018. Shyness. American Psychological Association.
- American Psychological Association. 2018. Painful shyness in children and adults. American Psychological Association.