How do I stop being shy?

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11 9 0

I got a great question from IWT reader Kara, who wants to know how she can stop being shy.

“I would like to change the behavior of being shy. I’m an idea person and do not share them for fear of being judged. I’m often very hesitant to talk to people unless we can cut the BS and talk for real. I wonder if I should be more open to small talk to connect with people. I also hesitate to share my ideas because I fear it reduces my excitement when I have to answer a bunch of questions. I’m feeling slightly isolated. Please help!”

This question is pure gold because ALL of us are shy in certain situations. Maybe it’s around people who have achieved more than you…or attractive women…or your parents. At my last NYC meetup, I had a girl physically RUN away from me because she was so shy (not kidding). So cute.

Truthfully, I was REALLY shy as a kid. In fact, here’s what my mom told a national reporter when Fortune profiled me:

As a kid growing up in Sacramento, Sethi showed no signs of becoming the brash, opinionated person he is today. His mother, Neelam, says, “When he was really little, he just wanted to be left alone.”

SERIOUSLY, MOM? That was the ONE quote you gave about me in a 6-PAGE PROFILE? Thanks a lot.

Back to Kara’s shyness question. What’s MOST interesting in her question are the invisible scripts — the assumptions she doesn’t even realize she’s making!

  • SHE SAYS: “I’m often very hesitant to talk to people unless we can cut the BS and talk for real”
  • WHAT SHE IS REALLY SAYING: “I think small talk is BS because I don’t understand it”

So I recorded a video with my answers and suggestions on overcoming shyness. Note: It’s not the same old “5 tips to overcome shyness”:

(NOTE: The opposite of shy is not extroverted. I misspoke.)

Check the video out and leave a comment with how you’ve overcome shyness in just ONE area of your life.

I also took some studio time to show you how to improve your social skills in under 30 minutes.

P.S. Btw, heads up: Next week, I’m teaching a free course for 3 DAYS online: Money + Business: Essentials for Creative Entrepreneurs. Here’s the link to sign up free: Money + Business: Essentials for Creative Entrepreneurs
[UPDATE: This CreativeLive Class has already happened, but you can purchase the course at the link above or join my Insider's List below for free to receive some of my best material on earning more]

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64 Comments

11 9 0
 
  1. I found that saying something slightly bold, provocative or risky right after the initial small talk loosens me up and gives me more confidence – even better when it’s funny.

  2. I make it a game to find out one interesting thing about the person before the night is over. It forces me to listen closely and pick up on certain phrases or words, and then get that person to share more about him- or herself. It actually opens up a better pathway for me to start talking about myself too since it gives me something to go off of rather than just bringing up something out of nowhere.

    • Love this suggestion – I’m going to integrate that in to my next networking session. Are there any sort of questions you ask to probe and move the conversation in an interesting direction. I find it ever so hard to get to the bottom of what really makes people tick most of the time. Occasionally, people will open up when I say: What’s your long term goal? A great new friend I’ve recently made he immediately opened up to me and said he wanted to move away from his core business and focus on charity work. Suddenly, I could help him reach his more meaningful life goal.

  3. You’re not a psychologist. You’re a writer who made money off of a startup. I’d rather hear you talk about money than babble on about your ideas on pseudo-psychology.

    • I find this a really odd comment, Jeremy. Writers don’t have to be experts. What writers do is take great ideas and make them accessible, which is exactly what Ramit does in this video. That’s a skill in itself.

      This was a well-structured, well thought out video. I think you’re harsh to call it “babble”.

    • You may want to do a little more research on Ramit’s background before making these claims.

    • As a former shy person, I appreciate the question and Ramit answering it.

    • Jeremy,

      Take a second to do some research before running your mouth. If you look up Ramit’s background you’ll see he has a Psych degree from Stanford and I would say that is more than enough qualification to offer some insights regarding behavioral tendencies of people.

    • I disagree with each sentence of Jeremy’s comment. 1) You don’t have to be a psychologist to offer some guidance on overcoming shyness. 2) You’re telling Ramit who he is 3) He didn’t “babble on,” he answered a question posed by a reader. And they weren’t just his ideas. He referenced an article from the Atlantic.

      For those who didn’t get a chance to Google it – http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2003/03/caring-for-your-introvert/302696/#

  4. I felt the same way for awhile, terrible at small talk and always worried I wouldn’t be interesting enough. So I came up with a couple questions I always have in my back pocket if the conversation dies.

    What brought you here?
    What are you excited about this week?
    What project(s) are you working on?

    It’s always good to have answers to these yourself should they turn it back around on you!

  5. I remain shy in many social situations, but have learned to tell myself, “Everyone has something to teach me.” I approach new people by asking questions about them and subtly trying to learn the lesson(s) they have to impart. This allows me to cancel out any preconceived notions I may have based on their age, appearance, socioeconomic level, etc. Once they start answering questions, I become more comfortable and am often able to share my own experiences, building a more comfortable relationship.

    For practice, I recommend just chatting with the checkout people at the store. They are generally trained to wish you a good day or whatever. Just respond with a simple question about their day. You never know what you’ll learn. For example, I met a really cool physics PhD at WalMart this way. She talked about her hero (Feynman, of course) and I taught her about the amazing achievements of his sister.

    I’ve never been shy around guys socially, probably because I grew up in a neighborhood where I was the only girl. Being a tomboy, I was just one of the guys and was accepted as such. I often play translator for women I know who have no idea what a guy is thinking when he says/does something different from the way the female thinks/acts. In return, they translate female stuff for me. (I ponder why anyone would teeter around on 4″ heels–an orthopedic accident just waiting to happen. Or why anyone would clog all their pores with tons of chemicals and then wonder why they get zits.)

    No guys, I never wanted for dates when younger. I wasn’t a dog. I’m not gay. I’m (usually) happily married with kids.

    On the other hand, Ramit, the business world is a whole other ball of wax for women. Getting one’s ideas out on the table in a business meeting is one thing for males, but often a much different game (literally) for females. If we question a decision, or suggest a different way to look at things directly, we tend to be “complainers” or “whiners.” To avoid this label, the only path is to let the male leader(s) in the group think your idea is theirs. This takes some sophisticated footwork and can be very hard to do if you are shy. I wonder if that is the situation Kara is facing. The footwork is, essentially, B*S*.

  6. My approach to any situation is to just ask about them.

    Everyone likes to talk about themselves, so I show an interest in their hobbies, job whatever, and look for common ground somewhere, because common ground brings ease and comfort. Even if something common is something dumb, it opens doors.

    And…….SMILE (icebreaker to any situation)

  7. I used to be completely shy due to being uncomfortable around people that I perceived to be “better” than me (more accomplished, more attractive, smarter, more athletic). Specific: at leadership events, at seminars & conferences, especially when that person was “better” at something I tied my identity to (so after awhile, no longer as threatened around ‘the supermodel-attractive women because that’s not my niche’.

    Solution: trial & error, and a cycle of practice (do) & introspection (reflect). Constantly pushing myself to be uncomfortable, challenging myself to interact with the very people I would avoid. I quickly re-affirmed that no matter the outward appearance / what the bio reads – these are all still just people. Flesh and blood human beings like me. “Celebrity awe” spell broke, and now I seek these people out because in being vulnerable & open to the very people I’d been intimidated by (and would avoid), I have found my greatest teachers & learning moments. ~ H

    • Hi H, nice suggestion. I think I have to push my self to be uncomfortable too. I still feel shy to be around “those kind of people”. I wonder, how do you start to chat with them? Since people will gather around them too..

  8. This is probably the area where I’ve tested the most. I’ve always understood the importance being able to connect with others and have consciously decided to improve my skills at doing so.

    For example, I wanted to learn how to become more fluent when speaking to women so I bought a copies of Neil Strauss’s “The Game” and “Rules of the Game”. The first is his book on how he became a pick up artist (PUA). Some may look down on this field, but there is a TON to learn about social dynamics from PUA’s. The latter, is a 30-day challenge forcing you to take steps and break down the mental barriers one has when it comes to interacting with women. I especially enjoyed Rules of the Game because it has a “Get-up-and-do-it” approach that mirrors Ramit’s writing in a way.

    I highly recommend either to anyone looking to learn how to engage attractive women.

  9. One thing I did to help overcome my shyness was to actively participate in and help organize conference events, including giving speeches, rather than just attending them as empty training seminars where I just sat and passively consumed speeches and presentations (I had realized I needed to do more than collect training hour credits sitting in on sometimes boring seminars just to maintain my professional credentials).

    So I find that joining organizations and participating in them, rather than just passively attending their events, helps you get into the habit of small talk more easily because at first you are signing up for or are assigned specific, discrete work tasks, and as you work with other people in those organizations, the small talk will come later more naturally. I’ve found that after you start working with others on a project, etc., small talk happens almost naturally since the ice has already been broken to some extent. “Back-ending” that small talk may take any perceived pain out of doing it up front and head-on.

    For those of you afraid of public speaking at a conference or similar events, joining a local Toastmasters club to practice and get over your fears is a great start. (Side note and something consistent with what Ramit probably would tell you: perhaps counterintuitively, high-quality personal development organizations and courses like Toastmasters actually attract already ambitious “winners” who are looking to still improve themselves, rather than “losers” who may be looking for easy answers, so by joining such clubs/organizations, you are already more likely to be surrounded by top performers).

  10. Great video. I really liked the point you made that small talk builds relationships. I am a children’s minister and have to make a lot of phone calls to ask for volunteers which is something that I really struggled with when I first started the job. I got over feeling shy about it by praying and practice – the more I did it, the easier it became. I also noticed that if you ask them about their week and their life before just hitting them over the head with, “Can you help out in this class?” they are a lot more open to your request.

  11. In the area of networking or business in general I used to, and sometimes still do, get shy when talking to people who are in higher positions. I overcome it by remembering/thinking that someone used to wipe their butt when thy were a baby. We all pooped on ourselves at some point in life. That thought helps me remember we’re all the same. :-)

  12. I’m pretty shy in social situations, especially ones where I’m meeting a lot of new people. If it’s socially acceptable (like at a party), I’ll have a beer immediately. I just need to tone my social anxiety down to a manageable level and stop being so self-sensoring and critical. In situations where I can’t drink, I make it a game called What Would (My Sister) Do? She’s much more social than I am and I’ve seen how she can be charming and I try to use the techniques that she uses.

    At work, I make a huge effort to win the hearts and minds of my coworkers. I listen and remember the things they tell me, maybe do some research about what they’re into (example: my whole office is into football, I spent every Sunday one fall watching at least two games with Wikipedia open on my laptop so I could figure out WTF was going on).

    Also, I second the recommendation to read The Game. My husband (then boyfriend) was horrified when I read his copy of it. But even for a woman, there was a lot of social interaction process explained that I found fascinating.

  13. The “Caring for your Introvert” article is satire and not very helpful.

  14. Thank you for posting this. I am shy and I also do not like to chit chat. I go so far as to avoid people I know (and like!) at places like Target because I do not want to get caught up in small talk. I like to get straight to business and save the small talk for after – if there is time! This is a personal challenge for me and I will change my approach when I am in a situation where small talk will be beneficial so I can this technique in a positive light. Thanks to Kara as well for opening up this discussion!

  15. Shyness for me revolved around large events and “meetups” where there were a lot of people to whom I had no connection. I found a) having a goal , b) preparation, and c) maintaining scripts were hugely helpful.

    a) Having a goal – I started out (about a year ago) with the goal of getting one business card per event. Just one. Most people will give you a business card after pretty perfunctory conversation and then, if you’re more comfortable in writing, you can start building the relationship. Going for 1 card meant the bar was low and I could grow my confidence with easy wins. Now it’s up to 5 cards/event (for attendees) or meeting 2 coordinators/hosts.

    b) Preparation – before I walked in (do this in the subway/car/bathroom) I would do a 5-10 minute visualization of victorious times in my life – sports, professionally, academically, etc – to get into the right mindset and body language. I would also smile broadly and stretch out/loosen up my body to make sure I was breathing properly and not carrying tension in my shoulders/face.

    c) Scripts – Open-ended questions with a positive angle are key: what exciting things are you working on? (much more positive than “what do you do for a living…” blah). How are you connected to this event? (establish common ground). Also if someone is wearing something outlandish or unusual on (jewelry, ascot, whatever) I try to compliment them and ask about “the story behind it” which many people will love to tell. Finally, I’ve learned the importance of CLOSING – offer something of value, get their info and move on; thusly: “based on xyz that we talked about I really think you would love abc article, can I get your card?” (they hand you card) “great – I’ll send that over to you. Enjoy your evening!” And then move on.

    People will remember how you made them feel as much as or more than what you say, so keep the spotlight on them, appreciate their comments, offer value, and move on – don’t linger.

    • This is brilliant advice. I don’t like to talk about myself, because I like quiet things and I’m nervous of boring people, but if someone asked me “What’s the story behind those sunglasses?” or whatever, I’d feel really comfortable answering. That’s something that would tell you about a person without asking overly personal questions.

  16. I used to be very shy and averse to small talk and then I started organizing conferences, and realized I needed to get better at having “BS” conversations with people. It helped me to think of myself as a host — it was my role to help people feel comfortable and engaged, so I started asking them easy questions, about where they were from, their work, the weather, etc. If I thought about it as being about them, rather than me, it was easier for me to as questions that were “not important” and also to open up and answer their questions.

  17. I’m one of the first graduates of Ramit’s Earn1K course, so in response to some of the other comments about his “psuedo-psychology” I can say you need to read more of his stuff. Most of his writing is about Behavioural Modification as it relates to money. Google the name of Ramit’s mentor B.J Fogg to see where he gets it from.

    The comments on learning from Pick-Up Artists is spot-on. Though much maligned some of them teach very real social skills that can be applied to both seduction and business. This is because “Money” and “Dating” are games that we play with ourselves but we tend to think that they are games we play with other people. For instance, blaming our bosses for not giving us a raise, instead of proving to him why we need more responsibility and thus more money. In the same vein, blaming women for being ‘stuck-up’ instead of offering them an engaging conversation.

    As for B.S, I can tell you what doesn’t work. “I’m the best UNIX coder/Web Designer/Writer, etc so give me your business/money”
    works about as well as “Hi, I’m good looking and employed. Let’s get naked together.”
    Story (what she calls B.S) WORKS! It gives other a sense of who we are and our capabilities. Even if you are the best, there is not a long line for unsociable geniuses.

    With Ramit’s kind permission I’ll leave links to two resources:

    Stephen Nash’s podcast on “Getting into a Social state before you go out.
    http://podbay.fm/show/255456290/e/1209142548

    My post on 3 Benefits of Being A Risk-Taker
    http://www.writingsofamidlifeman.com/2012/10/01/risk-takers-doing-dumb-sht-so-you-dont-have-to/

    NUMBERS 2 & 3 are especially relevant to this conversation.

    All The Best

    J. Delancy

  18. I was always pretty shy in highschool and I noticed that it really affected me once I got to college. I had a hard time meeting friends and an even harder time doing presentations. So I decided to throw myself into as many social situations as possible and to train myself to become a more outgoing person.

    The first thing I did was to talk to as many strangers as possible in my everyday encounters. These mainly included people sitting next to me in class or the cashier in the checkout lane. Beforehand, I would write down a couple of conversational starter questions to avoid being Awkward Agnus.

    Then I decided to do something completely out of my comfort zone…join a sorority. Between socials, philanthropy events, meetings, and rush, I had no choice but to be outgoing. I felt that my 4 years in a sorority trained me a very important life skill.

    Several good things came out of throwing myself into something I was terrified of. I became more comfortable around women (something I always struggled with), I made tons of connections, and my interview skills improved. I was voted homecoming queen my senior year of college and even though it doesn’t carry much professional weight – it shot my confidence through the roof. I also met my husband at a restaurant by buying HIM a drink, something I did with zero hesitation.

    Sometimes you just have to challenge yourself.

  19. To overcome my fear of initiating face to face conversations with strangers, I decided to spend this past summer working in a wine tasting room. I was able to overcome my shyness by sharing my passion for wine, instead of having to drink it to be social.

    Pouring wine for strangers caused me to ponder whether it was shyness or perfectionism that has been holding me back. Perhaps this is a concept Kara should consider also. Does she not want to share her ideas o for fear of being judged or because she is afraid her ideas are not perfect?

    Either way, to change the behavior you have to get out of the comfort zone and force yourself to let go of your mental barriers. If what others think of you is what you are worried about, be the one to ask the questions first, get to know about the other person, build rapport and ease into sharing your ideas from there.

    • You made a good point there, Megan. Perfectionism is a “condition” that can be treated, and after you do, you get very good at spotting it in others. I worked a lot on curing myself and still have my moments. Exposing your perfect-in-theory ideas to others is really scary. But once you do, you realize that you have an unlimited resource of suggestions that will give you new and improved versions that you were missing out before.

  20. I think that usually the problem is to find something in the other person that really interest you. You can always ask questions you have memorized but if the interest it’s not truth the relationship can’t be build. On the other hand, I think that is very unlikely not to find something interesting in someone.

    Recently, I moved to my new job in Ireland from Spain and I still have problems with the “building a relationship talk”, probably because English isn’t my native language. So, many times I was afraid to share my ideas, etc, but well, I have to talk people and write always in English so, I really think that I’m improving all these things.

  21. Start off just talking to people. The hardest part of conversations is getting them started. My advice: wear Vibrams around town. You know, those weird toe shoes? I have yet to have more than 3 days go past without somebody coming up and asking if they are comfortable.

    Then, once you get used to people talking to you, start taking initiative. Talk to them. THEN worry about bringing up the topic of your ideas.

    • Lol, I just have to agree that, yes, FiveFingers are basically an open invitation for people to talk to you about your shoes.

  22. Practice, practice, practice.

    By nature, I’m a shy person as well. Like many others, by the time I got to college it became a HUGE problem, and when I started working it was even worse. I decided the only way to really move forward (you’ll get nowhere if you’re totally isolated and alone all the time) was to get beyond the shyness. I started striking up conversations with people wherever I was (people I usually didn’t talk to at the office, grocery store….just about everywhere!) and seeing what really opened up the conversation door. This was INCREDIBLY hard for me, but I pressed on. After a while, it started to become second nature and my career really moved forward.

    I would also like to note that, for me, this is a learned skill, not a natural talent. I have to keep using it or I lose it. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom in a rather isolated area for the last 5 years and I can tell my social skills have totally slid and my shy level is way back up. We recently moved across the country and I’ve decided I don’t want to be isolated any more. I found a mom’s club and keep going to the meets to force myself to be social. I can already tell I’m getting more comfortable speaking with others. I might even start making friends, soon!

    A final note: I’ve noticed my son has the same kind of shy nature that I have (he’s 5). I’ve been working really hard with him on how to overcome his shyness. He’s already managed to put together a group of friends, and is much less afraid to try new things than he used to be. The more he practices now, the more natural the behaviors will become and hopefully he won’t have the problems I had as a young adult.

  23. The symptom mentioned here about Small Talk = BS is indicator to me that Kara is an introvert; not necessarily Shy. There is quite subtle difference; and the key here talking about real stuff. A shy person won’t even talk about real stuff as its about fear of talking altogether; while introvert can go on and on forever on topic they know about (aka real stuff).

    I would suggest a very good book; “Introvert Advantage by Martin Olsen Laney”. This book helped me to understand my introvert self and come to peace with myself about how my temperament is; and how can I use it.

    I used one trick this book explains in Ramit’s meet up in San Francisco. Wearing t-shirt with my company logo as conversation initiator; to avoid awkward situation where we didn’t have topic due to my lack of small talk skills.

  24. I used to be very shy with women but I found that drink helped me talk. It didn’t particular make me a great conversationalist though.

    More constructive was a photography project I did, photographing strangers. I’ve photographed over a 150 but the time that I was least shy was when I went to Malaysia and Singapore for two weeks but I decided not to use a guide book or look up any information, instead I had to ask people for help, if I needed it.

    In Malacca, where I stayed for six days, my day depended on other people. I had no plans, so I met people (locals) and asked them about themselves and then, what should I do/eat/see etc in Malacca.

    It was very different to how I had travelled before and I became incredibly sociable. Even when I didn’t need to talk to people, I tended to strike up a conversation. I talked with everyone. It was incredibly fun.

  25. After High School (I was home schooled for that), I realized that when I went to college I was going to have to actually have a conversation with people, so I decided to try to get myself out of being SO shy by giving compliments to random people on their clothes or shoes or something. I created tiny (that’s tiny, not small) talk with them by asking them where they got it. So, it did help me and while I was in college I was able to start conversations with others by complimenting them because they seemed to be more open to conversing with me after I said something nice to them.

    After graduating, I still do it because I am still very shy but I try to use that as an avenue for letting people know that I’m a cool person and I’m not stuck up just because I don’t speak to anyone. If that fails, I just keep a smile on my face and giggle when they say something to me (as long as its appropriate to do so) because I am unsure what to say back and laughing keeps me from having to respond with words that I don’t have.

  26. We don’t know that she’s shy. She says she has developed a shy BEHAVIOR to avoid being judged. In a key sentence, she states that she is protecting her ideas from being hammered by questions. Look, a seed that keeps getting dug up will never grow. Being “shy” and holding back her ideas until they’re stronger may be exactly what she needs to be doing right now.

    I wouldn’t be as quick as Ramit to assume that a grown woman doesn’t understand what small talk is for. I’m sure she knows perfectly well what it’s for. I think she also may have experienced perfectly well that many of the relationships built through small talk are of no value for anything except wasting one’s time. Relationships built through shared experiences have value. Relationships built on “how you doing, man?” are empty and even draining for many people.

    My vote is to practice by doing something active and at least somewhat challenging. The guy who goes out running in the funny shoes gets it. If you’re doing and building, in my humble experience, you don’t have time to be shy.

    However, if she has social anxiety or Asperger’s, tactics aren’t the answer, and what worked for me won’t work for her. Social anxiety sometimes responds to prescription medicine and for that she needs a doctor, not a guru.

  27. I was born partially deaf and had to wear hearing aids from a young age. Children mocked me about my deafness and my lisping which ended up making me very self-conscious to the point of refusing to wear my aids. I ended up not hearing 30% of conversations and looking like a dumbass.

    After years and years I’ve finally practised self-acceptance and have no problem wearing my hearing aids and even changing batteries in front of complete strangers. When they look at me quizically I just say: “I’m deaf”, with a big smile. If they have a problem with it, they can go and … jump. That’s putting it politely.

    As for small talk. Geez, I try. It’s really hard asking a person 101 questions about himself and the interest doesn’t get reciprocated. I guess that’s a sign you should move on to the next person!

  28. Edward Snelling Link to this comment

    Thanks Ramit,

    You just pointed out for me my lack of sometimes not being able to enjoy a party. I have always sought out people who were willing to cut the BS and get to a mutual interest to discuss. Obviously I never got a lot of interaction. Now I understand why — I wasn’t willing to do the connection preliminaries.

    Thanks for the insight.
    Edward

  29. I used to have trouble with small talk because I thought it was boring. I didn’t care what people did for work, what colleges their kids were applying to, or whether their favorite baseball team won. My problem was I thought work, family, politics, and sports were the only topics covered in small talk. I didn’t realize you can literally make small talk about anything.

    Now I ask people whether they’ve played any cool games recently, what they do outside of work, what music they like, whether they have pets, where they’ve traveled–topics I find interesting. It’s much easier to make a connection and feel comfortable with someone if you find a common interest.

  30. This really hit home! I too have hated the small talk and just wanted to GET TO THE POINT! But I realized I come off the wrong way when I do that and I try to prep myself before I talk to someone and portray a relaxed attitude when I need to ask for something. Need to work on building up those relationships

  31. Regarding the “small talk is BS” thing:
    I find that when any technique (like this) is so widely used in every culture, it must have a value, so I’m not quick to dismiss it! I listened to some great audiobooks a couple of years ago; “The Art of Verbal Self Defense”, and “Difficult Conversations”. One of them said the purpose of small talk is to evaluate the other person in the conversation.
    She gave the example of traveller #1 stopped by the side of the road with a flat tire. Traveller #2 drove by, stopped, rolled down his car window and said, “Hey, it looks like you’ve got a flat tire.” The flat is plain and obvious, right? Just small talk. Why bother to say it?
    The subtext of Traveller #2′s words is, “Hello. I see you’re in trouble. I may be able to help you. I’m not sure if I will help you yet, or how much. I need to find out some more about you before I go any farther. This is the sound of my voice, it tells you more about me. What kind of person are you? What’s the sound of your voice?”
    Long answer, but that’s what small talk is for.

  32. I think Kara should take a class in improv comedy! I first realized how improv comedy can improve confidence in public speaking when after taking a few classes (just for fun), I discovered that I was more effective at my day job as a public interest lobbyist. I just started an improv comedy course specifically geared towards people who are seeking to boost their confidence in their everyday and professional lives (i.e., improv for regular people, not improv for aspiring performers). If Kara or any other readers on the blog are ever in the DC area and interested, check out my course at http://www.improboost.com. I’d love to have you drop by, even if just for a free workshop!

  33. I have found improv classes to be extremely helpful in overcoming shyness. The best classes have a great mix of theory and practise, and what makes a good ‘scene’ often makes for a good conversation.

  34. I’m also very shy, so, when I need to be in situations where I don´t know any one, I just start with a light talk about something in the place like furniture, the building, also the city or the place if it´s new for me. It helps very much to break the ice, also if you ask questions about the people and make them feel important or interesting helps. But for all these initiatives I work in reduce stress like if I were to begin a race, or a competition, you know: take a deep breath and relax your muscles previously, maybe in the bathroom or somewhere discreet.

  35. I took some beginning improv workshops for this very reason. A common misperception about classes like these is that they will make the shy person into a wild and crazy entertainer — no.

    What WILL happen is that you will get on stage in front of your classmates, and become so afraid that you’re pretty sure your bowels have failed…. and then discover that you’re okay. That your nervous system is sending you bad information and that this situation is NOT as perilous as you think. That’s an invaluable lesson for a shy person — you fear awkwardness, so you avoid it. In a workshop, that awkwardness happens repeatedly, and you discover that it doesn’t, in fact, kill you.

    The second thing you learn is that, in fact, being yourself is FAR more compelling than any schticky “act.” You’ll watch your classmates on stage and feel yourself liking them just because they are brave enough to tell the truth — any truth, even one kind of minor. You learn, first hand, that authenticity is automatically appealing. So for example, if you’re feeling kind of nervous at a gathering, say so.

    And lastly, when you watch someone on stage, you’ll discover that you *want* them to succeed — and you’ll feel bad for them if a scene goes badly. And this is the third thing shy people need to learn: You are judging yourself, but everybody else? They’re too busy judging THEMSELVES to judge you. So go ahead and say that thing you think is kind of outrageous — most people are barely paying attention.

  36. I like to compliment random people in elevators :) “I LOVE your shoes!” to the stylish girl at the office. “Your dog is adorable, may I say hello?” to the really cute fella in my apartment building.

    Most of the time I find it makes people smile and engage with me, which really makes me feel cool and gregarious, even though I usually think of myself as terribly shy!

    • Nice one Laura. Those words will really help anyone to start conversation. We can also start by complimenting about their looks.

  37. I used to be shy from 12 to about 16.
    This shyness was more among attractive women, older people and people in authority.
    Then I started work when I was about 17and half years old.
    People started taking advantage of my shyness and before I knew it I could not differentiate between being shy and being afraid( That is a raw feeling because you cannot do anything about it when it is so strong).
    Firstly You have to realise that your ideas are as a Powerful too as your Speech is. You are the owner of the IDEA and nobody knows waht you are thinking till you say it.
    Secondly write down your IDEAS- This helps especially if you are going to use these ideas at work or in business.
    Thirdly Share with your “Closest People” about what you think.Friends, relatives are a good start. Don’t worry about your IDEA being stolen- its yours, you are the originator and author of your ideas – whoever attempts to Hijack them cannot do it without your help- so no hijacking.
    Lastly when talking be bold and support your ideas. This part is tough because you have to believe in your ideas and confront the “press”. These are the people who bring you pressure on the ideas.
    It can be tough but believe in your ideas- they will liberate you from that small bondage.
    By the way am now 35 and I own a Private Training Institute with an average enrollment of 70 people every 6 months.

  38. That was so spot on Ramit! I was at a recent Internet Marketing meet up and realized by having ‘small talk’ and slowing things down helpse build a relationship with a person better which in fact got more of his attention and enabled him to ask me for my contacts. It’s so kickass. ‘I like, very nice, high 5′ – Borat Sagdiev ;)

  39. I was actually VERY shy in when I was younger. I don’t know what happened, but some time around high school, I just made a conscious decision to start talking to people. I found that I actually LIKED to meet new people. By the time I was 23, I was a radio DJ. go figure. hahaha! Now I meet new people and make new connections both professionally and personally on a daily basis and I LOVE it!

    Far From It

  40. I liked the opening and closing music.

  41. Kisobulu Uriah Link to this comment

    I used to be shy in 20s because of inferiority complex. I had very few female friendsand could not interact with people above my age. More importantly I could even fear rich people. I came to realise that anybody can be friendly when I shifted from rural to urban.

  42. I was painfully shy and introverted when I was younger, and the most effective treatment I ever did was customer service.

    At interviews I stated my goal of overcoming shyness and they loved it, it’s something memorable and positive. Retail customer service is essentially extreme repetition of small social interactions with a broad spectrum of people. No matter how shy you might be, after the first month I guarantee you will be on mental cruise-control greeting and chatting with any type of person.

    Now I’m a professional web developer and dealing with clients is MUCH easier thanks to my retail experience.

  43. As other people have mentioned, I’ve gotten better at small talk by just complimenting a person’s attire. I started doing it when I realized women did it to me all the time. I began to realize that people tend to enjoy talking about themselves but don´t continue unless prompted with the right guided questions.

    I find myself being shy at keeping friends. I am pretty decent at small talk, making new friends and talking to strangers because the novelty sparks my interest but sustaining friendships can be difficult. Living in a different country and not being completely fluent in the language may be part of it. Believing my language skills are sub-par probably contributes to me thinking I am not that interesting in the long-term. This leads me to being shy when inviting friends to hang out – I feel I have nothing to offer. Thus my friends tire of always inviting me when I don’t reciprocate and the relationship wanes… I suppose I need to be more confident in what I can provide as well as bite the bullet and reach out more and show that I do care and value my friendships.

  44. Kara probably doesn’t like small talk, but Ramit had a great suggestion by asking someone, “What’s up with you today?” (or something to that effect – can’t remember exactly). As Dale Carnegie suggests, get interested in what the other person likes and they will do the same for you. Or ask, after the initial small talk, “What would you say is the one thing that you’re known for?” This question will be a great segway for you to tell them that you are an idea person. But I feel you must test them out first to see 1) if they are interested 2) if you feel they can be trusted with your ideas 3) to see if you have a connection with them, which, of course goes hand in hand with doing the small talk to test them out first. For example, if they don’t give you an answer and the conversation runs out, then move on to another person and ask them the same thing. Sometimes it will take several encounters with this person to ask them such an effacing question. It’s almost as if you asked them “What do you look like naked?” They may or may not be ready to give you such a personal answer, BUT if they trust you, they probably will and you will be the one person that sticks out in their mind and remember you who 1) opened them up for a very interesting conversation. and now 2) you have made a new friend who likes to talk about what you like :). Good luck, Kara!

  45. I like to pretend I am not shy. That forces me to do things that people do when they are not shy. I usually feel very triumphant afterwards knowing I had overcome my fear.

  46. Good one! I am definitely of the small talk is BS mindset, so I will have to change that. I also know people like you mention that I will have to study now and emulate.

  47. People are interested in people who are interested in them.

    Small talk is only small in that it is focused on the smallest things that are of narrow interest to the person in front of you. ‘That’s a beautiful broach, where did you get it?’ ‘Your son’s soccer team has been playing loads of away matches, that must be weighing a ton on your weekend time!’

    People who engage in ‘genuine’ small talk – finding out what is personal and important to other people and remembering and talking about that are the people with the most fulfilling relationships in the world. And anybody can do it and get good at doing it.

    Once you focus on the other person, there is no space to be shy. You are shy when you are thinking about yourself ‘will this person reject me’ ‘Oh, my sweater has a mark on it’, ‘This girl is so beautiful, I’m sure she won’t find me interesting’ this is the self talk of shy people. It has one thing in common, it is all about them, their image, how they are perceived.

  48. Great tip to overcoming shyness Ramit. Starting small to build confidence and momentum is the way to go! I find that when I let go of thinking of ‘me’ and focus on ‘being’ genuinely interested in the other person, this allows the conversation to naturally progress. Being raised in the Caribbean islands has also helped me since it’s generally a friendly and engaging environment. I am inspired by that, and tend take that warmth with me whenever I converse with friends and new acquaintances. We are all interconnected and it helps to remember to celebrate and appreciate the uniqueness of others. Thinking from that prospective kills shyness every time!

  49. I am naturally shy around people until I get to know them reasonably well. I am less shy in social situations but the alcohol definitely helps!

  50. I was so shy as a kid. No one now would believe it. Even as a young adult, I had a hard time at parties. One thing I did to overcome my shyness was to sign up for a ballroom dance class. I had to walk alone into a room in an unfamiliar part of town where some people already knew each other and not only talk to strangers, but I had to dance with them, which sometimes included looking like an idiot because I couldn’t get the steps right. It broke my space bubble down. I’ve also found it helpful that when someone strikes up a conversation with you and asks about you and your interests, if you’re already doing lots of things, it’s easy to answer questions. People are very interested when I tell them I’m a violinist who’s now taking cello lessons just because I wanted to.

    And for those ladies who are shy about how they look and perhaps get white coat hypertension during those doctor visits, I suggest having a kid. Once you go through labor and delivery and everyone sees your business, you don’t care a fig about modesty so going in for that yearly appointment suddenly becomes a breeze.

    Lastly, I agree with above commenters that complimenting people with something as simple as “Nice nails” helps them to let down their guard so they are less shy and a little more willing to open up. Plus, it brightens their day just a bit. Who couldn’t use more of that?

  51. Great advise, per usual, Ramit.

    I’m an introvert and now feel confidence in it through reading “Quiet” by Susan Cain.
    I make contacts with myself to get new information on at least one of my clients weekly by engaging them in conversation (and then
    writing it down).

    I focus my small talk on their families and health since these are things that I truely care about- even though it is unrelated to my project. When I care about the answer, my clients feel listened to. I then feel like the “small talk” isn’t B.S. but actually intimate information with which to start a relationship.

  52. Holy smokes, I can be shy in just about every area of my life: family, neighbourhood and business.

    And I find the best way to beat that shyness is to just step out and say something. Hi. I TRY to get to that small talk. The more I do it the more comfortable I get at it. The less I do it–the less I hide from contact–the more shy and isolated I get.

    I used to avoid client calls because I didn’t want to talk. That lead to some pretty neurotic behaviour on my part. I realized I needed to climb out of my shell if I wanted to be successful a successful husband, father, writer/freelancer and neighbor.

    Great topic. And great article to plug.