5 Tips to Help Overcome Shyness and Social Awkwardness

September 20

Feeling shy or awkward in certain situations is understandable. Don't we all have a little nervousness before we go talk to that guy or girl, or get sweaty palms before giving a speech? For some, though, shyness and social anxiety may not be circumstantial, but constant. This can be very frustrating and hard to overcome. But there are things you can do to overcome shyness and approach people in social situations.

Disclosure: If you purchase anything from links in this post or any other, I may receive some kind of affiliate commission. However, I only ever mention products I love and would recommend whether I was being compensated or not.

People think I'm a bit odd. Is that news? I doubt it.

I am more than happy to deliver a speech to 1000 people, without needing notes or looking at my slides once. The chances are I can nail it 99% of the time. Not a problem. I've been known to deliver 2 speeches a day, five days a week. I love it. So when it comes to public speaking, I am not a shy person.

Yet, give me a conference agenda with "networking time" built in, and my social confidence hits the floor! Apart from knowing exactly when I'll be heading to the loo during the day, these times are my enemy. I hate them so much. In fact, I also hate the period after delivering a speech when people want to speak to you. It's not that I don't want to talk to these people, I just... well, I just don't want to talk to people!

Small talk is not my friend

A few years ago, I was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from my old University. This meant attending a graduation ceremony. But not only was I attending, but I also had to give an address. So, there were about 1300 people in the audience for me to speak to. Fine, no big deal - an honour, if you will. After the ceremony, I had many people come to chat with me. That was fine, I talked a bit, but I had to rush off, so my time was short. Why did I have to rush off?

Because the University was hosting a dinner... for me! It was lovely and kind. I totally appreciated it. BUT. You saw that but coming, right? But as the guest of honour, it was my duty to speak to everyone there. I had to sit with the Vice Chancellor and other top people, and chat. I kept looking over at my husband, happily chatting with my mum and his parents - no small talk needed there, my friends! But for me... the public speaker... I smiled and tried my hardest not to feel anxious.

I have been paralysed by the thought of small talk and networking. It is necessary, though. So, over the years, I've come up with a few tips to overcome shyness. I thought I'd share. 

How to overcome shyness

Learn to Laugh

There's something about laughter that makes everyone feel more comfortable. This is why "icebreaker" activities are often designed to get people laughing. So, don't be afraid to laugh at someone's jokes. Or you could learn a few funny lines yourself. Please, no, not canned "pick-up" lines, but quick observations or comments. Laughing also helps to lessen the negative emotions you might feel in social situations.

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Force Yourself to Stay

Sometimes, shy people feel so uncomfortable in a social situations that they just want it to end. I get this! I highly recommend resisting this impulse. Tell yourself to stand your ground, stay put, and interact. Remember, the other people are not going to breathe fire. They only want to have a conversation and get to know you. Overcome shyness by standing your ground and going with the flow.

Learn to Feel Comfortable with Silence

Social situations can feel especially awkward if you are uncomfortable with mutual silence. This may trigger shy people to "babble" to fill the silence. Which then makes them feel even more awkward because they feel like what they're saying is silly. So be cool! A bit of silence between people is okay. In fact, it helps give the other person a chance to think before he or she speaks. The person you're talking with will appreciate this! Overcome shyness by easing off on the pressure you put on yourself to talk constantly.

Stretch yourself

Precisely like physical stretching, socially and psychologically stretching can be uncomfortable, even painful. But also like physical stretching, it's necessary. If your first instinct is to say "No" when someone asks you to do something, stop and think first. Tell the person you will get back to him or her if you aren't sure. This will give you some time to pluck up your courage and say "Yes."  Overcome shyness by telling yourself that saying yes will not be that painful - in the long run! You don't need to say yes every time, but the more you do, the easier it becomes.

When to Seek a Professional

There is a point when simple shyness and social anxiety may be an actual disorder. Social anxiety disorder and social phobias are nothing to be ashamed of. There are real issues that may need the help of a professional. The difference between shyness and these disorders is how much it affects your life.

You may feel anxious by just the thought of having to introduce yourself to others. You might go to great lengths to avoid any social interaction at all. In which case, it might be a social disorder. Don't try and deal with this alone.

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Disclosure: If you purchase anything from links in this post or any other, I may receive some kind of affiliate commission. However, I only ever mention products I love and would recommend whether I was being compensated or not.

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