One thing that some people don’t understand about shyness is that, in social situations, it can be paralyzing. Those of us who are truly, deeply shy may not be able to even think of the right words to say, let alone actually say them out loud. This can create awkward silences and uncomfortable situation, wherein your conversation partner quickly makes an excuse to go elsewhere, leaving you feeling defeated.
However, there is good news – believe it or not, starting conversations is a social skill that can be learned. By learning a few tactics and a basic structure, even extremely shy people can have a conversation with just about anyone. Being able to converse is not only great for getting to know your colleagues and for networking events, but also can be useful during job interviews. Here are a few tips and tricks to get you started.
Channel your anxietyStruggling to start conversations is sometimes nothing more than a mental block. As anxiety plays a big part in this, you need to find a way to channel and reduce your inner fears. Instead of thinking of everything that could go wrong, it’s more productive and encouraging to think of why you would like to talk to the person, be a business interest, out of curiosity or simply because you’re interested in what the person has to say. A simple trick to keep your nerves calm is holding something in your hand, such as a pen or a glass or water. Some people find it also helpful to get some fresh air before an important meeting.
Have a purposeOnce you remind yourself why you want to talk to a particular person, you will find a purpose that drives your conversation. If you feel awkward talking about the weather, sports or other small talk topics, then don’t talk about them. Instead, introduce yourself and then let the person know why you want to speak with them. Keep it sincere and say what you want to say. Be it offering insights, asking relevant questions or congratulating your colleague on his/her promotion, an authentic approach will build a solid foundation for your interaction and helps create deeper relationships in the long term – plus, it might be a welcome relief from talking about how hot it is yet again.
Keep it balancedPeople who are nervous about conversations can sometimes get carried away once they start talking, awkwardingly rambling and ultimately dominating the conversation due to the fear that any silence will mean that the conversation is dying. However, a rich conversation always goes two ways. So, in order to encourage interaction with your conversation partner, ensure you are giving enough space and opportunities for the other person to reply – a remember that a little bit of silence is okay. One simple way to fuel the conversation is to keep asking open-ended questions. For example, when talking about the challenges of a certain project, you can ask for advice or their insights on the topic. The question, “Can you tell me more about that?” is one you should use often.
Have go-to topicsOnce in a while, you will be put into situations in which you may have nothing relevant to contribute or where you don’t know anyone else. For these occasions, you should prepare a few go-to topics that you can always talk about, be it your favourite sport, your latest travel adventure, culinary experiences or something that happened in the news. These interest and hobby-related topics are great conversation starters, especially during casual meetups. More often than not, this will spark a longer and deeper conversation.
By using these tips and making sure you practice them, you’ll come to find that a conversationalist is something that you’re capable of being. Just don’t let your own self-doubt or shyness can’t in the way – you can always overcome it, even if you feel a little awkward at first. Before you know it, you have become a confident, social chatterbox.