As someone who has done a lot of solo travel, lunching, cinema trips etc I feel very comfortable in my own company! Even as a teenager I was one of the few who was actually OK with going to the toilets alone, unaccompanied by a gaggle of giggling friends!
But recently I was struck by how shy I became heading in to a breakfast launch event last week. As I was making my way into the room (full of strangers) I couldn’t get over how many people were and I immediately veered right, straight into the bathroom!
So, I wasn't off to a great start!
When I was in the bathroom I momentarily became lost in my own head and contemplated leaving all together! I have no idea why I became so self-conscious, awkward and shy. All I wanted to do was hide because I was just so embarrassed to be alone! However, after a couple of deep breaths I decided to give myself a love filled pep talk instead.
Shyness in adult men and women in not uncommon – it usually represents a reluctance to interact with others due to feeling insecure, awkward or embarrassed. This can cause a person to avoid social situations and hold back on trying new things or making new friends. Extreme feelings of shyness are often a sign of an anxiety condition called social phobia.
This explains why we can feel shy in one context and not another. In a room full of family members we can feel shy but the risk of embarrassment is much lower. The same for any group of people that you know!
In a room full of strangers, however, no such positive track record exists. We wonder what people will think of us and how willing we are to risk embarrassment? We became very aware of our self image (how we look and act and what we say). That's what determines how shy we feel.
Here are 6 tricks that I use to help me overcome my shyness and boost my confidence.
Compassion beats shyness every time: The expression of your presence does not determine or define you. It's OK to feel awkward or a little intimidated when you are trying something new for the first time but always remember, courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to act in spite of this fear. Don’t let a little shyness hold you back and above all else don't beat yourself up because you are feeling shy! Never avoid a social gathering because you are feeling shy as this will just reinforce your insecurity.
Give yourself something to do: Get yourself a glass of water, or a coffee. Remember to keep your body language open at all times - keep your head and gaze up and shoulders back. This will help you feel and look more confident. Set yourself small goals for each new event. For eg. Talk to a new person each week, make eye contact, introduce yourself.
Find someone else who is also by themselves and when you get a chance to introduce yourself, go for it! Begin with small talk, ask authentic questions (people love to talk about themselves so you can start with that), and let the conversation just flow naturally. Remember, odds are that this person is just as nervous about talking to a complete stranger!
Avoid being on your phone: If you are on your phone you are shutting the room off and any potential for interaction. It will give people the impression that you might not want to talk to anyone!
You don’t need to be the bell of the ball! If you say something quirky or silly don’t beat yourself up, we all have little awkward moments and you will laugh about it later (I once told a freelance journalist if she ever needed any help writing an article to let me know... face plant!)
Become aware of your self-talk. It’s easy to think about all of the negative outcomes in any given situation, especially when you’re meeting people for the first time. But think of the things that you would say to a 5 year old starting school for the first time, and treat yourself in this way!
It takes courage to overcome your shyness - you should feel proud of yourself (I know I did). Everyone at some stage in their life is going to feel a little sheepish and that is 0K, the important thing to remember is to take it slow and to never beat yourself up if things don't go the way you hoped!
Above all else, always remember that it is OK to feel or be shy. Every shy person I have ever worked with has also had oodles of compassion, empathy and the ability to develop strong relationships due to being such a good listener. Managing and overcoming shyness will start with acceptance. You are doing the best you can. You are enough the way that you are.