Tips For "Shaking Your Shyness"
Welcome to the Shake Your Shyness tip page. This page, like the website, is in its infancy. Please check back on regular basis to watch it grow. Also, know there is no such thing as one tip that works for all people in all situations. I offer these tips as food for thought in hopes that one or more of of them will be of use to you in some situations.
Conversation Topics-never leave home without them. Good conversationalists are rarely at a loss for words because: 1) they do so many things and go so many places that they have lots to talk about or 2) they prepare. Good conversationalists never leave home without something to say to the people they think they'll be seeing that day. If they're going to a party, they brush up on topics of interest to the people they know will be attending. Before returning to work on a Monday, they think about the activities their colleagues had planned for the weekend. They brush up on current events, the weather and anything else that might be the small-talk they need to get a conversation going or to keep it going. Never leave home without at least a half-dozen things to talk about. (See how business people prepare.)
Note---this may seem like a lot of work at first, but you'll be surprised. As you get in the habit of preparing things to say each day, the preparation phase will become so automatic, you won't even notice you're doing it anymore. At least not until you do what most of us do. You get lazy. And you'll know when it happens, too. You'll start running out of things to say and it will be harder to carry on conversations with people---even people you know quite well. But don't despair. Just get back with the program and prepare!
Let people know you're shy. This is a controversial subject.Some people recommend that you never tell people you're shy, because people will use that information to label you. Then again, if you avoid people, look down instead of making eye contact, stammer and stutter or turn three shades of purple when you're uncomfortable in social situations, people are going to draw conclusions of their own and odds are they'll be less favorably impressed with you than if you just tell it like it is---that you're nervous or feeling shy.
I think the problem arises because there are two ways to be shy---the obvious way and the not so obvious way. The obvious way to be shy is to blush, tremble, twitch or otherwise physically manifest your shyness. The not so obvious way is to avoid eye contact with people, not have much to say or decline offers from others you'd like to accept, but that are too far outside of your comfort zone for you to feel comfortable attending.
Not so obvious shy people are often mistaken as arrogant or aloof---even by fellow shy people--when nothing could be farther from the truth. We're terrified on the inside. It's just that we don't show it on the outside. Now granted, if you're a not so obvious shy person in the middle of a crucial business negotiation where power is everything, you may not want to admit to being shy. In fact, in this one case, your shyness may prove to be an asset. Why not keep them guessing? Or, if you're hanging around people who are known to be bullies or gossips---people who are likely to misuse the information---you may want to keep your shyness to yourself. The good news is that most people aren't like that. Most people are relieved to hear that you're shy. You see, odds are that unless they have a reason to know better, most people will interpret your not so obvious shyness as a sign of arrogance or being stuck up, or simply as a sign that you 't like them. Caroline Knapp didn't understand how her shyness was being interpreted by others until she overheard her neighbors talking about her behind her house
But if you are an obvious shy person, there's no need to hide your shyness. Let's face it. The word is already out. Trying to ignore your shyness only makes you and the people around you uncomfortable. Labeling your shyness makes things easier for people because they don't have to pretend they're not seeing what they're seeing. They don't have to avoid making eye contact with you, because they see you're uncomfortable. They don't have to exclude you from the conversation, because they see that your hands are trembling. By telling people you're shy, you've told them that you want to be a part of what's going on and that it's OK if they notice you're a little uncomfortable. And that helps them feel more comfortable, too.
**** Crucial Information ****
Whether you're an obvious shy person or a not so obvious shy person---or like me, a person who vacillated back and forth---the goal of telling someone you're shy is not to enlist their sympathy!!!!! It is to explain why you're acting the way you are. Your explanation will only take you so far. You have to do something about your shyness, as well. You have to show people you're making an effort to get over it. You're enlisting their patience and their support, not their pity, as you fumble through the process of learning what you need to know to feel more comfortable. They have every right to get tired of carrying more than their fair share of the weight of a relationship, if you're not trying to carry yours. However, I find most people are pretty generous as long as you make an effort to hold up part of the relationship. Many people even get a kick out of seeing you get stronger and watching you grow. Just remember, it's your responsibility to give something back to the relationship. Start small. Make more eye contact. Smile more often. Prepare topics of conversation. Be helpful in the ways you feel most comfortable and expand on the range of things your feel comfortable doing over time--one step at a time.
Reward effort not outcome! Memorize this one, because it's absolutely critical for conquering your shyness---or anything else you want to master, for that matter. The only thing we can control in our life is our self---and even that can be a stretch sometimes. We can't control other people and we certainly can't control how other people react to us and the things we do Nevertheless, most of us define our successes and failures by the way other people relate to us. If we smile and they smile back, well good. But if we smile and they don't smile too, we see it as a failure. WRONG!!! You won't get very far that way.
– In fact, at least in my book, what you did was a smashing success. You tried. You made an effort and that's all you can be responsible for. You can't control how other people respond to you. Sure, you can look back on your effort and speculate about things you can do to improve your performance next time, but at that very moment--at the precise time that you smiled, you made an effort and it's your effort that needs to be rewarded.
– Now about this reward thing. I mean that literally. You must reward yourself! It may be something as simple as a silent pat on the back--saying to yourself, "You did it!" Or it may something bigger like going out somewhere, doing something fun or buying yourself a treat. Back when I started working on my shyness, I used to reward myself with things like a walk through a park, an espresso and a good book, or piece of sheet music. Once in awhile, I'd even by a record "album" or a new set of guitar strings, if I'd taken a particularly big risk "for me."
– Notice, I said "forme." There were times when saying "hi" first, smiling at someone I didn't know, striking up a conversation with a colleague at a conference--even driving to the parking lot of an event, would be a big risk for me. The size of a risk is determined by how big it is to you, not how big it is to your best friend, your next door neighbor or even the eight year old kid down the street. If it's big to you, then it's big. No questions asked. Give yourself a big reward. You deserve it.
– But If you don't reward yourself, please be advised you may live to regret it. Why? Because you'll burn out and get discouraged. Brace yourself, because here's the part you don't want to hear. Sometimes your efforts will fail miserably. So miserably you'll want to crawl under a table and hide. And when you get home, you'll have that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. I know from personal experience that being rewarded for your efforts sure feels good about now. And quite frankly, you deserve a reward! You did what you were supposed to do. You tried! It's important to acknowledge all of your efforts, if you hope to have the strength to keep going when the going isn't so good.
Make things easy for the other person. This is a tuff one, because as shy people, most of us are too busy worrying about ourselves—about how we look, what we say and whether other people will like us—to stop and think about what we can do for other people.But really, that's what being social is abou—the other person, not us. Dale Carnegie knew that. He built a career on teaching people how to make other people feel good. In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, he lists principle after principle for putting people at ease and helping them feel special.
Sadly, I picked up Dale's book, years ago and like the shy somewhat critical person I was at the time, I promptly put it down. Not only did I not see the point---I thought it sounded phony---but I didn't have the courage to implement his recommendations. Looking back, I realize that the lack of courage was the real problem, because phoniness comes from within. If I do something because I mean it---even if it feels awkward at first---that's not being phony. It's just part of learning.
The truth of the matter is, whether we like it or not, we need to learn how to make things easy for other people. What it really boils down to is that life is like a convenience store. Most people are willing to pay more and get less for the sake of convenience. We are more likely to get to know people who make it easy for us to get to know them than people who put obstacles in our way. It doesn't matter if one person is as nice as another person, as kind as another person, as bright as another person or even has as much in common with us as another person. The person who makes it easier for us to get to know him will be the person we are more likely to get to know.
Think about it. If two people were standing at next to your at a bus stop, one smiled, made eye contact, said hello and commented on the weather, while the other person avoided eye contact, kept to himself and looked down at his feet, who would you be most likely to get to know? Probably the first person, because the first person took the initiative and made it easier for you to get to know him. But as shy people, we are more likely to act like the second person and construct a silent barrier of avoided glances, sagging posture and general body language that discourages people from approaching.
Consider this . . . step by ever so small step, begin opening yourself up to other people. It could be with a smile, eye contact or a simple hello. Start small and work your way up to bigger and better things. Think about how it feels to be the other person. What they need to feel good. Remember, there's almost a fifty-fifty chance that they they feel shy too. Put yourself in their shoes and do what you think it would take to make them feel good. That's not phoniness, that's kindness.
Pick one social skill to practice at a time You don't need to become a social butterfly overnight--and it's unlikely you could if you tried. What you can do is build a strong foundation of social skills one skill at a time. By picking one or maybe two skills to practice at a time, you can concentrate your energy and increase the likelihood you'll be successful. I started by working on simple things like smiling or being the first person to say "hi." But while I said "simple things," I'm well aware that even simple things can be terrifying when you feel shy. Choose skills you feel comfortable enough with to practice for a day, a week, a month or even a year. When I started, I practiced some skills for a year before I moved on to something new, while I only practiced other skills for a day or two. It's up to you to decide what's best for you.
Need some ideas about where to start. Check out these tips from veteran social skills training experts Don Gabor's, Debra Fine, and Susan RoAne, read as many books on social skills training and etiquette as you can and pay particular attention to suggestions that fit who you are or that inspire you to be who you want to be, and surf the internet. It's a wealth of information. But do be careful. These days, it's common for people to publish websites and blogs designed to lure users for advertising revenue. Social anxiety and shyness related "resources" are now littered with them. Beware of sites promising easy fixes, miraculus cures, tips that are too good to be true, and recommendations to seduce or deceive others in order to get ahead. On the other hand, don't throw the baby out with the bath water.
I know I said it earlier, but it really is true. When it comes to managing shyness, social skills and pretty much everything else in life, one size does not fit all. Your job is to pick and choose from what you see in search of what is right for you right now. If you're like most of us shy people, if you plug along at this stuff long enough, what's right for you now may not be what's right for you later as you learn and grow. And that, my fellow shy people, is a very good thing!
Take classes Shyness has a way of building on itself. Because we're shy, we don't do things. We don't go to the party, take the class or join the club. Our interests dwindle---or at least those interests that involve other people---until finally, when we do have an opportunity to interact with other people, our social skills are rusty and we have nothing to say. Not exactly what I would call a confidence building experience.
That's where adult community education classes come in. Adult community education classes provide us with an opportunity to build our social skills (I teach classes like Learn to Schmooze, Begin and Continue Conversations and Goal-Oriented Communication) as well as an opportunity to expand our horizons with anything from canoeing and glass-blowing classes to bicycle maintenance and cooking. Then when someone asks you what you did this weekend, instead of saying nothing, you can say you blew a glass vase or that you learned how to make exquisite crepes.
I know some of you are going to say that you're too shy to take a class---that it's stressful for you to find the classroom, let alone enter the room and take your seat. But know that you're not alone. Remember, odds are that nearly fifty percent of the people in the room feel the same way you do.
By focusing on adult community education classes----many of which only meet once or twice for a few hours---you can get your feet wet without having to make a long term commitment. I recommend that people take one social skills class (although these are often harder to find, read a book if you can't find one) followed by one or two interest classes (like a craft class or how to buy a new home) where you can practice one or more of your new skills on your fellow classmates.
Most cities have adult education programs of some sort offered through community colleges, parks and recreation departments, universities, community centers, or privately owned companies that specialize in adult education. I strongly encourage you to give them a try and, heaven forbid, you have a bad experience, I encourage you to try again. Remember, getting over shyness is a process. It won't happen overnight. You have to stick with it, if you expect to overcome it. Don't give up now.
I've included some links below to give you an idea of the kinds of adult education programs available to you. You may need to browse these sites a bit to find the classes you're most interested in. Or, if you just happen to be surfing the internet for programs, try using key words like: adult education, community education, personal enrichment, personal development and personal enrichment, as well as listing the kinds topics you're interested in. If you know of programs in your area you would like to recommend, please let me know so that I can consider them for inclusion in the list (email me).
Multi-State . . .
ed2go.com As of the time of this listing, ed3go had partnered with over 1800 colleges and universities to provide online training in a wide range of subjects, including classes on social skills that may not be available in your community.
California . . .
Albany Adult Education Be sure to download a list of current offerings from the link that's on this page.
California State University - San Marcos - Extended Learning
City College, San Francisco
Cupertino Sunnyvale Classes for young and more mature (50+) alike.
Fairfax County Public Schools
Fresno Adult School & Community Education
Tamalpais Union High School District
Tri-Community Adult Education
Georgia . . .
Valdosta State University
Illinois . . .
Chicago State University Options Program City Colleges of Chicago
College of Lake County
Harper College - At the time of this listing, they even had a class on Schmoozing
Waubonsee Community College
Indiana . . .
Purdue University (North Central)
Iowa . . .
Des Moines Public Schools
Kentucky . . .
The Delphi Center
Maine . . .
Wells-Ogunquit Adult Community Education
Maryland . . .
Harford Community College
Massachusetts . . .
The Boston Adult Education Center
Brookline Adult & Community Education
The Cambridge Center For Adult Education
The Roudenbush Community Center
Michigan . . .
The Osher Lifelong Learning InstitutePrograms geared for learners who are 50 and over.
Minnesota . . .
Open U Inc.
Missouri . . .
St. Louis Community College
New York . . .
Mohawk Valley Community College
North Carolina . . .
Pitt Community College
Oregon . . .
Portland Community College
Pennsylvania . . .
Butler Community College
South Carolina . . .
Texas . . .
El Paso Community College
Virginia . . .
Fairfax County Public Schools Life Enrichment
Washington . . .
Explore Program - Bellevue College
Wyoming . . .
Casper College (click the "Community Education" link)
West Virginia . . .
Great Britain . . .
Hammersmith & Fulham
Richmond Adult Community College
Disclaimer . . .
This site is provided as is without any express or implied warranties. While every effort has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in on this site, the author assumes no responsibility for errors or omissions, or for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein. This site is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and/or counseling.
© copyright 2011, All rights reserved by Renée Gilbert, Ph.D.