Your ability to communicate effectively is one of the greatest influences on your professional and personal success. Having that ability impaired by shyness is, therefore, a huge impediment to attracting and interacting with the people you want and need in your life in order to accomplish your goals.
That said, we must be careful not to confuse shyness with being an introvert. While introverts feel energized by time alone and may prefer their own company to social events, that doesn’t mean they necessarily have a problem expressing themselves and communicating. Shyness, on the other hand, is characterized by a feeling of apprehension and nervousness regarding interpersonal interactions, which sometimes leads to a partial or even complete failure to communicate.
If you think that shyness is holding you back from the life you would love to lead, you are probably right. And you are not alone. It is said that about half of all adults in the United States consider themselves shy. A little shyness around personal interactions is pretty normal and little to be concerned about. But when shyness closes doors on opportunities, impacts your relationships and holds you back from what you want to achieve, it’s time to do something about it. Before shyness inhibits your freedom of action or even contributes to debilitating negative self-talk and unhelpful self-preoccupation, you need to recognize that you can do something about it. You need to learn how to replace shyness with confidence.
Shyness and confidence are opposite sides of the same coin and can often be traced back to personal or cultural experiences during a person’s formative years. Because they are both products of our emotions, the problem with shyness can be addressed using emotional intelligence.
In my experience, confident people tend to inspire others and are often more successful. Expressing confidence can help people get jobs or promotions that can elude the shy. And confidence allows people to attract others and develop many different kinds of relationships.
Developing confidence isn’t so much about changing yourself as allowing yourself to be comfortable with others. It will give you a more positive outlook on your abilities and goals and make room for positive change in your life.
Eight Practical Steps For Overcoming Shyness
1. Acknowledge your shyness.
The first step in overcoming a problem is to admit that it exists. Thus, own up and recognize that you are overly shy and need to do something about it. Couple that with a firm commitment to become more confident and you are on your way.
2. Set realistic goals.
Set your goals too low and you accomplish little or nothing. Set them too high and you not only fail yourself, but your resulting failure reinforces your shyness. So, for example, rather than attempt a speech before a crowded auditorium, start with a smaller group, perhaps a few friends and sympathetic coworkers. Use this confidence builder as a basis for what you’ll do before a bigger audience. Make consistent, incremental improvements and celebrate every success.
3. Believe that you can do it.
Henry Ford reportedly said, “Whether you think you can, or you can’t — you’re right.” To make a significant change in your behavior, you first have to believe that you can do it. Then, be the change that you want to see.
4. Focus outwardly.
During social interactions, shy people tend to focus on how they are coming across and what on earth they are going to say next. Combined with low self-esteem, this inward focus can lead to damaging, negative self-talk. The remedy is to not focus inwardly, but outwardly. Give your full attention to your listener(s) and your subject matter and you won’t have room to think about being nervous and shy.
5. Practice active listening.
In that same vein, don’t be the person who listens with feigned attention while mentally anticipating what she is going to say as soon as the speaker pauses. Be present and actively listen. Ask follow-up or clarifying questions. If your own thoughts are getting in the way, acknowledge this and resolve to pay closer attention to what is being said.
6. Know what you want from any interaction.
Think about what you want to accomplish. Is it to inform, convince, obtain information or merely to have a pleasant conversation? Whatever it is, if you think about it in advance and then follow through, you’ll find you can replace shyness with the emphasis on your audience and goals.
People prepare and rehearse for important interactions all the time. For interviews, speeches and presentations, it’s not at all unusual to have a pre-performance “run through.” Why not do the same thing with your lesser interactions? Give a little advance thought to who you’re talking to, how they are likely to receive what you’re about to say and how you should deliver your content for maximum effect. And, it wouldn’t hurt to think about a pithy quip or anecdote you could tell either. As a result, people will become more interested in you. This is what a real conversation is all about — a mutual sharing of things of interest.
8. Adopt confident body language.
Behaving and carrying yourself confidently can have a huge effect on your confidence level. Stand or sit tall. Don’t slouch. Keep your head up. Smile at every appropriate opportunity. Develop a confident tone of voice to help emphasize the message you want to convey. Instead of using a quiet, mousy voice that is often indicative of a shy person, be mindful of your volume and make sure you speak with authority.
Not only will eliminating or reducing shyness make your life easier, but it will also help you feel more content, fulfilled and, ultimately, more confident and successful. Focusing your attention outwardly with these practical steps will also make you a better listener and enable you to help others. Allow your confidence to grow to achieve your goals and desires, whether they are personal or professional.
This article was originally published in Forbes.
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