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Growing up, I often asked myself “WHY do I feel uncomfortable around new people?”.
I felt awkward around most strangers, and especially if it was someone that I liked.
Later in life, I met truly confident and socially savvy people.
Here’s what I’ve learned about how to feel comfortable around others.
1. If you worry about what might happen, remind yourself of your good experiences
Does this sound familiar?
“People will judge me”
“People will think I’m weird”
“People won’t like me”
It’s your own mind that’s coming up with these thoughts. Just because your mind says something, doesn’t mean that it’s true.
Maybe we had a bad experience years ago that stuck in our mind. It caused us to have an over-cautious view on life.
To stop being uncomfortable around people it helps to know that your mind can be wrong.
I’m sure that if you give it some thought, you can think about several occasions where people liked you, appreciate you and accepted you.
The next time your mind generates scenes about people judging you or disliking you or laughing at you, consciously think of those times.
We’re not trying to paint a fantasy hunky-dory picture. We’re trying to be realistic, and we do that by not letting your mind try to paint a worst-case scenario.
Right now, think about something that makes you uncomfortable. Pause the scenes your mind paints, and consciously paint more realistic scenes. How does that make you feel?
2. Focus on the topic of the conversation to feel less uncomfortable
Whenever I had to start talking to someone, I got nervous and ended up stuck in my own head. I had thoughts like…
“Does he/she think I’m boring?”
“Does he/she dislike what I just said?”
“Did I say something stupid?”
“What should I say when he/she stops talking?”
When you have those thoughts rushing through your head, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to come up with anything to say.
You want to practice forcing your mind over to the topic of the conversation.
Here’s an example
Let’s say that you talk to this person. She tells you “I just came home from a trip to Berlin with some friends so I’m a bit jet-lagged”
What would you respond?
A few years ago, I would have been going full panic:
“Oh, she’s traveling the world with her friends, she’s much cooler than I am. She’ll wonder what I’ve done and then I seem boring in comparison” and on and on.
Instead, FOCUS ON THE TOPIC. What are some questions you can come up with if you focus on what she just told you?
Here’s what I come up with:
“What did she do in Berlin?”
“How was her flight?”
“What does she think about Berlin?”
“How many friends was she there with?”
“Why did they decide to go?”
It’s not about asking all these questions, but you can use ANY of these questions to keep the conversation moving forward.
Whenever you start worrying about what to say, remember this: FOCUS ON THE TOPIC. It’ll make you more comfortable, and help you come up with things to say.
Read more: How to make conversations more interesting.
This gets easier with time. Here’s a video where I let you practice conversation focus:
3. To not run out of things to say, refer back to something you talked about
My friend taught me a powerful trick for always knowing what to say when the conversation runs dry.
He refers back to anything they’ve talked about before.
So when a topic ends like…
“So that’s why I decided to go with the blue tiles instead of the gray ones.”
He refers back to something you talked before, like this:
“Did you get time to study yesterday?”
“How was last weekend?”
“What was it like in Connecticut?”
Refer back to what you’ve talked about earlier in the conversation, or even the last time you met.
Think back to a previous conversation you had with a friend. What’s something you can refer back to the next time you meet?
For example, I was with a friend yesterday who was looking for a new apartment. So, the next time we meet and the conversation runs dry, I could simply ask “By the way, how’s the apartment hunt going?”.
Read more here on how to start a conversation with someone.
4. To put a social mistake into perspective, ask yourself if a confident person would care
In my experience, confident and socially savvy people say as much “weird” things as anyone. It’s just that confident people’s “worry-o-meter” is less sensitive, and they simply don’t worry about it.
If an awkward moment for a nervous person feels like the end of the world, the confident person just doesn’t care.
- Nervous people think that everything they do needs to be perfect.
- Confident people know that we don’t need to be perfect to be liked and accepted.
(In fact, saying the wrong thing from time to time makes us human and more relatable. No one likes Mr. or Ms. Perfect.)
The next time you beat yourself up over something you said, ask yourself this:
“What would a confident person think if they said what I just said? Would it be a big deal for them? If not, it’s probably not a big deal for me either”.
Read more here: How to be more outgoing and How to be more social.
5. Dare to say stupid things to learn that nothing bad happens
In behavioral therapy, people who overthink are instructed to make conversation with their therapist and constantly try to NOT censor themselves. Sometimes they say things that feel like the end of the world to them.
But after hours of conversation where they force themselves to not filter, they finally start feeling more comfortable.
The reason is that their brain slowly “understands” that it’s OKAY to say stupid things every once in a while because nothing bad happens. (Everyone does it, but only anxious people worry about it.)
You can do this in real life conversations:
Practice filtering yourself less, even if it makes you say MORE stupid things at first. That’s an important exercise to understand that the world doesn’t end, and it allows you to express yourself freely.
It’s worth it to say stupid or weird things every once in a while in return for being able to express yourself freely.
Read more: How to socialize with anyone.
6. Remind yourself that people don’t have to like you
If you sometimes feel judged, this tip is for you.
Let’s say that your worst nightmare is true and the people you’re about to meet you will judge you and won’t like you. Do they have t0 like you and approve of you? Would the worst-case scenario even be that bad?
It’s easy to take it for granted that we need others approval. But in reality, we’ll do just fine even if some don’t approve of us.
Realizing this can take some pressure off.
This isn’t about alienating people. It’s simply a countermeasure against our brain’s irrational fear of being judged.
Instead of focusing on not doing something that can make people judge you, remind yourself that it’s OK even if people DO judge you.
Remind yourself that you don’t need anyone’s approval. You can do your own thing.
Here’s the irony: When we stop searching for people’s approval we become more confident and relaxed. That makes us MORE likable.
7. See rejection as something good; a proof that you’ve tried
Most of my life I’ve been scared of being rejected, no matter if it was by someone I was attracted to or just asking an acquaintance if they wanted to grab a coffee some day.
In reality, to get the most out of life, we have to get rejected at times. If we never get rejected, it’s because we never take risks. Everyone who dares taking risks gets rejected at times.
See rejection as proof that you dare to take risks and make the most out of life. When I did, something changed in me:
When someone turned me down, I knew that I’d at least tried. The alternative is worse: NOT trying, letting fear holding you back, and never knowing what could have happened if you tried.
Don’t see rejection as a failure. See it as evidence that you’ve taken a risk and made the most out of your life.
Maybe you want to meet up with an acquaintance at work or a new classmate in school, but you’re worried that they might decline your offer.
Make it a habit to still take the initiative and ask.
If they say yes, great!
If they say no, you can feel great knowing that you make decisions that help you make the most out of life.
You never have to wonder “What if I’d asked..?”.
8. If you blush, sweat, shake, etc, act normal and people won’t know it’s because you’re uncomfortable
This graphic shows how blushing, shaking, sweating or other “bodily giveaways” snowballs the nervosity.
Let’s think about the last time you met someone else who was blushing, sweating, shaking, etc. What was your reaction? You probably care much less than when you yourself do any of it.
Here’s how I’ve reacted:
Blushing: It’s hard to tell if it’s just because the person is hot, so I just don’t pay attention to it. When I was in school, a guy was constantly red in his face. He said he was born that way and didn’t seem to care about it, so neither did we.
Here’s what I’ve noticed about sudden strong blushing: If the person who blushes talks on like usual and doesn’t seem to care, I don’t care. If they don’t act very obviously nervous together with the blushing, it’s almost unnoticeable.
Only if the person goes quiet and looks down the ground together with the blushing do I consciously pay attention and go: Oh, he/she must be uncomfortable!
Sweating: When people sweat I assume it’s because they are warm.
Shaking voice: I know a couple of people who have a shaky voice, but honestly, I don’t think it’s because they are nervous. It’s just how their voice is.
It’s likely that if you shake on your voice, people will just think that that’s how your voice sounds, just like some has a high pitched voice and others have a dark voice.
Shaking body: The thing about shaking is that you don’t know if it’s because of nervosity or because someone’s just naturally shaking. I was on a date with a girl the other day and I noticed that her hand was shaking a little bit when she was about to choose tea, but I still don’t know if it was because of nervosity.
LESSON LEARNED: If you talk on like normal despite blushing, sweating, shaking etc, people will HAVE NO CLUE if you do it because you’re uncomfortable or for any other reason.
9. Anxiety is easier to handle if you accept it instead of pushing it away
As soon as I had to walk up to a group of people or talk to someone new, I noticed how uncomfortable I got. My body tensed up in all sorts of ways. I tried to fight that anxious feeling and come up with a way to make it stop.
DON’T DO WHAT I DID.
If you try to push the anxiety away, you’ll soon realize that it doesn’t work. As a result, you start obsessing about it and become MORE uncomfortable.
Instead, accept that you’re feeling uncomfortable. Know that all people feel uncomfortable from time to time. It’s a perfectly normal response to new situations.
When you accept your nervosity, you stop obsessing about it. Ironically – this makes you more comfortable.
10. People can’t see that you are uncomfortable even if it feels like that
It feels like people can see how nervous we are, but they can’t:
In one experiment, people were asked to give a speech.
The speakers were asked to grade how nervous they think they appeared.
Then the audience was also asked to grade how nervous the speakers appeared.
The speakers consistently thought they appeared more nervous than they really did. 
Scientists call this the illusion of transparency: We believe that people can see how we feel, when in reality, they can’t.
The scientists decided to take it one step further:
For some of the presenters, they told them about the illusion of transparency before the speech.
Here’s what they said:
“Many people […] believe they will appear nervous to those who are watching.
[…] Research has found that audiences can’t pick up on your anxiety as well as you might expect. Psychologists have documented what is called an “Illusion of Transparency.”
Those speaking feel that their nervousness is transparent, but in reality, their feelings are not so apparent to observers.”
That group was SIGNIFICANTLY more comfortable than the group who hadn’t heard about The Illusion of Transparency.
Just knowing about The Illusion of Transparency makes us more comfortable.
Whenever you feel uncomfortable, remind yourself of The Illusion of Transparency: It FEELS like people can see how nervous we are, but they can’t.
11. Know that you stand out less than you think
These were the results:
We overestimate how much we stand out in a group. In reality, people pay less attention to us than we think.
12. Take ownership of your flaws to be more comfortable in yourself
For years, I worried about my looks. I thought my nose was too big and that I would never get a girlfriend because of that. At some point in life, I realized that I had to learn to own everything about myself, especially the things I didn’t like.
Even if there are things about yourself that aren’t perfect, they are still a part of who you are.
Confident people aren’t perfect. They have learned to embrace their flaws.
This is NOT about being a prick and say “I don’t need to change because people should like me for who I am”.
As humans, we should strive to be better. That’s how we grow. But while we work toward being a better version of ourselves, we should own who we are in each given moment.
Back in the day, I tried to angle my head toward people so that they wouldn’t see me in profile, because I then thought that they would judge me for my big nose.
When I decided to own my looks, I consciously decided to stop trying to hide my flaws. That (obviously) made me more free in interacting with others.
Ironically, this new freedom naturally made me more attractive as a person.
13. Staying a bit longer in uncomfortable situations builds confidence
The natural reaction to uncomfortable situations is to get out of them as soon as possible. But here’s the problem with doing that:
When we “escape” an uncomfortable situation, our brain believes that everything went well BECAUSE we were able to get away. In other words, the brain never learns that those situations are nothing to be afraid of.
We want to teach our brain the opposite. Studies show that if we stay longer in uncomfortable situations until our nervosity has dropped from its peak, THAT’S when we over time build our confidence!
Whenever you feel uncomfortable, remind yourself that you’re doing something good:
If you stay in the uncomfortable situation until your nervosity has dropped from its worst, you’re slowly rewiring your brain.
Rather than avoiding uncomfortable situations, practice staying longer in them. After a while, your brain will realize: “Wait a minute, nothing terrible ever happens. I don’t have to pump stress hormones anymore”.
This is confidence-building in the making.
- Tyler Boden, M. P. John, O. R. Goldin, P. Werner, K. G. Heimberg, R. J. Gross, J. (2012) The role of maladaptive beliefs in cognitive-behavioral therapy: Evidence from social anxiety disorder, Behaviour Research and Therapy, Volume 50, Issue 5, pp 287-291, ISSN 0005-7967, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2012.02.007.
- Zou, J. B., Hudson, J. L., & Rapee, R. M. (2007, October). The effect of attentional focus on social anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17521604
- Kleinknecht, R. A., Dinnel, D. L., Kleinknecht, E. E., Hiruma, N., & Harada, N. (1997). Cultural factors in social anxiety: A comparison of social phobia symptoms and Taijin kyofusho. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9168340
- What Is Exposure Therapy? Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/exposure-therapy
- How to Accept and Stop Controlling Your Social Anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-accept-social-anxiety-3024895
- Macinnis, Cara & P. Mackinnon, Sean & Macintyre, Peter. (2010). The illusion of transparency and normative beliefs about anxiety during public speaking. Current Research in Social Psychology. 15. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/239587874_The_illusion_of_transparency_and_normative_beliefs_about_anxiety_during_public_speaking
- Gilovich, T., & Savitsky, K. (1999). The Spotlight Effect and the Illusion of Transparency: Egocentric Assessments of How We Are Seen by Others. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 8(6), 165–168. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8721.00039
- Gilovich, T., Medvec, V. H., & Savitsky, K. (2000). The spotlight effect in social judgment: An egocentric bias in estimates of the salience of one’s own actions and appearance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(2), 211-222.
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