All year round letterboxes across the land, inboxes and phones fill up with invitations to parties. Ah the excitement of it all. What will you wear? Who will you meet? Will you make a few new friends? What do you mean you’ve been in an almost constant state of panic since you opened the envelope, and now you’re desperately thinking up excuses to stay away, or you’d rather stay home and watch a movie. My friend, speaking from experience, you may very well be shy, an introvert or both. Here’s how to enjoy parties when you are shy.
Shy, introverted – surely it’s the same thing?
For years I struggled with shyness and introversion – and no, they are not the same thing:
- Shyness is the extreme fear of judgement, a shy person constantly worries about other people’s opinions. As a vulture picks over bones, a shy person will pick over a conversation, re-playing it in her mind over and over again. Desperately seeking out ways to retrospectively improve her social skills – “If only I’d said that, it would have been the perfect sentence.” “Why did I say that? It sounded so dumb!” A shy person often lacks self-confidence, is extremely self-conscious and can sway between feeling too visible or invisible. And, probably above all else, a shy person dreads meeting new people.
- Introversion is the preference for quiet, less-stimulating environments. An introvert does not seek out social gatherings and interaction – too much social interaction can leave her exhausted, both physically and mentally. Introverts usually have a small group of intimate friends and are sometimes great listeners. To their close friends they will give well thought out advice when asked and can be wonderfully empathetic.
The big difference between the two is that while an introvert will quite happily skip a social gathering to stay at home with a good book, a person who is shy feels that they have no choice other than to stay at home.
So being a shy introvert I hid myself away, I avoided any kind of social interaction like the plague, and as for Christmas parties – forget it! And then something wonderful happened. I hit the grand old age of 40, took a good, hard look at my life and thought, “Well this is all a bit pants!” So I decided to change, to push my own boundaries, to “boldly go” and all that. And in doing so I learned how to overcome my shyness and completely accept my introversion.
Sounds good huh? Want to know how I did it? Here are a few tips to get you started. I can’t promise that you’ll be the life and soul of the party or end up dancing on tables, but give it time 😉
Step one – fake it till you make it.
- Baby steps – do something every day that you would normally avoid. Find something that makes you uncomfortable and push yourself to do it, but start small: you don’t want to fall at the first hurdle. For me it was making phone calls, so every day I called someone: directory enquiries, cinema box offices, my bank, etc.
- Practice – when you’ve decided what you’re going to do run through it in your mind. Visualise each step, push away any negative thoughts and imagine how good you will feel when you’ve achieved your goal.
- Don’t procrastinate – as soon as you’ve made up your mind to do something do it! Half the fear you will be feeling is the fear of actually carrying out your task. Start the task quickly and you’ll reduce your stress levels.
- Pump it up – as soon as you’ve mastered one task move on to a more challenging one.
- Rinse and repeat – keep going, keep challenging yourself and before you know it tasks that used to make you come out in a cold sweat will become second nature. Believe me, I went from not being able to speak to more than a couple of people at a time to running business courses with hundreds of attendees.
- Move forward – I’m not saying it will be easy, and there will be challenging days when you may slip back into your old ways. Don’t dwell on these days, accept that you’ve had a bad day and move on. Remember what you’ve achieved and how far you’ve come, keep moving forward.
It really does work, it’s almost a “fake it till you make it” approach. Keep telling yourself that you can achieve something and before long you’ll start believing in yourself.
Step two – dealing with other people.
- Give out the right signals – it’s not uncommon for shy people to be wrongly thought of as stuck-up or snobbish. Body language has a huge part to play in others’ perception of us, so work on it. Don’t avoid eye contact, it will make you seem disinterested or untrustworthy. On the other hand don’t constantly stare into the other person’s eyes – a good rule of thumb is to look the person straight in the eye for around 60% of the conversation. Nodding during a conversation will show that you are listening and interested. Smile, I’m not saying to go around like the Cheshire Cat, but a person wearing a smile is far more approachable than a person wearing a frown.
- Ease it up – take a good look at the person you are interacting with, are they at ease? Let’s face it, it’s highly unlikely that you are going to be the only shy person in your work / social / family circle. Do you see the signs of shyness in others? If so try to put them at ease, I know it’s hard but try and make the first move. Strike up a conversation, smile in their direction – you’ll soon discover that by making other people more comfortable you’ll feel more relaxed yourself.
- Shift your focus – as a shy person you will probably rebuke yourself for not being able to regale others with wonderful, funny stories. You may even feel that you have absolutely nothing to say. But try this: shift your focus onto the other person. Ask them some general innocuous questions, nothing too deep or personal, and let them take the floor. Most people love to talk about themselves, and they will love you for taking an interest.
- Accept the inevitable – not every person that you try to interact with will be interested. You’ll smile, they’ll ignore you. You’ll strike up a conversations and they’ll grunt and walk away. Such, my friend, is life. If we were all meant to be bosom buddies then we’d have been born Teletubbies! Accept it and move on – who wants to be a large, brightly coloured creature living on a hill and talking baby-talk anyway.
So now it’s party time, time to face the music and dance! OK, maybe not but these next tips should ease you into a gentle sway.
Step three – party like it’s 1999!
- Look accessible – no matter how tempting it is to play with your phone, read the buffet menu, check out your nails or take an unhealthy interest in the wallpaper, don’t! Nobody is going to come over and say hi if they think you are busy.
- Eyes up – it’s extremely difficult for people to approach you if you keep looking at the floor or hiding behind your hair. They want to see if your face has an open, friendly expression. Even an extrovert doesn’t wish to be rebuked, so they will be looking for signs that you are open to conversation.
- Drop the shield – in order to feel more secure in social gatherings, a shy person will often “hide” behind inanimate objects. Step out from behind the chair, sofa, table, convenient sleeping cat. A person will find it far easier to approach you if they don’t have to mountaineer over a mound of furniture and fur,
- On the side – don’t clutch your drink, bag, that convenient cat close to your chest. This is a surefire “step away and leave me alone” signal. Hold your drink or bag to your side and drop the darn cat already!
- Open it up – ask open not closed questions. A closed question only requires a yes or no answer. For example, “Do you know the host?” – the only required answer here is a simple yes or no. An open example on the same topic would be, “How do you know the host?” Can you see how this could move the conversation forward?
- Don’t put baby in the corner – standing in a corner may seem like a good idea, but think on. You now have a view of the whole room filled with people, which has the potential to be overwhelming. Stand closer to the centre of the room, make sure you can see the exit if this makes you feel more comfortable and less anxious.
- Breath – every now and again pay attention to the way you are breathing. Are you taking short, shallow breaths? Slow it down, take some deep, calming breaths and breath out for a few seconds longer than you breath in.
- Step away from the bar – you may think that alcohol is the answer as it “brings you out of your shell” – think again. After your first couple of drinks you may become more animated and less reserved, but keep drinking and the opposite occurs as alcohol depresses and slows down your nervous system. Some effects you could experience include: foggy memory, slow reaction time and hazy thinking. Not great if you’re going to follow the next step.
- Script it – have a few questions up your sleeve and practice them before the day. This may feel dumb but stick with me here – stand in front of a mirror and say your questions out loud. Notice the way you are standing, breathing, the angle of your head. Keep in mind all the tips above and practice over and over again until you look and sound natural. Just remember not to just push these questions into the conversation, only use them if they fit in with the natural flow.
I know this all sounds like a whole heap of work but think of it this way: would you rather evolve, overcome your shyness and have a more fulfilling, less stressful life or are you going to continue down the shyness road and end up sitting at home with a houseful of cats? I exaggerate to make a point, but instilling confidence into your shy soul is going to take work – I also seem to be obsessed with cats at the moment.
And as for my introvert side – after I’d walked the fairly long road from shyness to confidence, it occurred to me that some of the time I do like my own company, I do find parties exhausting, I do prefer peace and quiet, I do like to work alone. I am a “sometimes introvert” and you know what? I’m OK with that.