Do you feel shy and uncomfortable meeting new people for the first time? Is it hard to start a conversation?  If shyness is a problem for you, maybe you think

  • Everybody’s looking at me.
  • They’ll see I’m not like everyone else.
  • People will think what I say is stupid.

Why do you feel this way? It could be that when you were younger, someone made fun of you or belittled you when you talked. You lack confidence. You think poorly of yourself. Maybe you are trapped in a place where you are worrying so much about how you come across that you miss part of what is happening in your surroundings.  Your shyness is a way of hiding from the world.

Whatever the reason, it’s not going to help you now. And if you worry endlessly about it, you will be wasting your own time. After all, no great booming voice is going to come down from above when you find the answer to say “You are RIGHT!”

Never mind. You don’t need the “real” reason for the problem. You just need to stop being shy.

And you can! Let’s start by imagining you are going to a party where there are lots of people you don’t know.  What can you do? These tips will help you overcome shyness.

  • Look for someone who is watching alone from the sidelines.
  • Walk up to this person  and make a comment about your immediate surroundings.

For instance, you might say, “It is really hot here, don’t you think?” or “This is a really great place for a reception!” or “Do you think the woman in the green dress realizes she’s about to step on a turkey sandwich?” Wait for a reply.

  • Once the other person has answered, make a follow-up comment that builds on what this person said. Ask an easy question about your surroundings, or agree with the other person’s statement, or offer some other open-ended comment that invites a response.

For example: “I didn’t realize she was the cousin of the bride! How many of these people do you suppose are related to each other?” Or even just: “I see. Do you know a lot of the people here?”

  • If the other person is answering your questions, try commenting on the situation that brought you here.

“Actually, I myself know hardly any of these people. I only just met the groom at work. He has the office next to mine.”

The key to success is to notice what the other person is or isn’t saying. You want each remark you make, or each question, to respond to something the other person has said.

If the other person isn’t paying attention or doesn’t answer or answers with only a word or two, he or she is probably not a good prospect for a conversation.  Don’t let yourself feel discouraged. This person likely has another agenda. His or her mind is elsewhere.

You don’t believe me? You worry that you’re not getting a rise out of the other person because of something you have or haven’t said or done?  Don’t be fooled by this common trap! In almost every case, other people are thinking not about you but about themselves.  (We all do it.)

If you doubt my words, try this simple exercise. Whenever people do or say something other than what you want them to do or say, ask yourself how many possible reasons there are that have nothing to do with you.

You should have no trouble coming up with several dozen answers. The other person has a stomachache or a headache. The other person has a special message for someone else and is looking for that person. The other person is preoccupied by some other agenda or worry.

If you make this assumption, you will be on safe ground.  Think of the last time someone complained about something you said or did and you found it totally unrelated to your situation as you saw  it at the time.

If your first attempt at conversation fails, no worries.  Just find someone else in the crowd and start over.

Once you have advanced through the steps described above, you will eventually find some common ground with another person in conversation. You live near each other, work for the same firm, have some of the same friends, have children at the same school, or something else. At that point, you can introduce yourself by name.  From this point onward, the conversation should flow easily.

And that’s it!  You are on your way.  With a little practice, you will no longer be a shy person.

To recap, when you meet someone new and want to strike up a conversation, follow these guidelines:

  • Start by commenting on something readily observable in your shared situation.
  • Focus on listening rather than on talking.
  • Ask about or comment on information the other person has volunteered.
  • Keep your answers brief. If possible, ask about the other person’s answers.
  • Avoid lecturing.
  • Avoid asking personal questions about subjects the other person hasn’t mentioned.
  • Smile and make eye contact at least occasionally but without staring.
  • Share personal information after you have established common ground.