Do you have social anxiety? Not all HSPs have it, but many do. This guest post is by Katrina Razavi, communication coach and founder of CommunicationforNerds.com. Here, she shares 3 specific actions to begin making a change in your social life, including:
- Why you should get over your fears of stuttering, stammering, or going blank during a conversation,
- The #1 thing that gets in the way of having engaging interactions where you truly connect with someone, and
- The simple tweak to give amazing first impressions.
So, you’re talking to someone, feeling awkward, and that voice in your head says:
“Ugh, did I really just say that?”
“They’re looking at me like they think I’m weird.”
“I’m not good enough to be talking to them.”
If that sounds familiar, you likely deal with social anxiety to a certain degree, and you’re not alone. A recent survey found that social anxiety prevents 15 million Americans from leading “normal” social and romantic lives.
It can be a serious issue that is difficult to overcome. I’m a communication coach, so I know firsthand!
I want to remind folks who deal with social anxiety that taking a step back and looking at the problem with fresh eyes can be helpful.
Here are 3 counter-intuitive facts related to social anxiety, with specific actions to begin making a change in your social life.
1. People don’t notice every little thing.
Say you just had a conversation, and you’re replaying every single thing you said and how it could’ve been interpreted. You’re wondering how that person judged you and if they thought you seemed nervous.
You assume that the person realized you stuttered twice, had one awkward pause, and they probably didn’t like your shirt.
People don’t notice or realize every little thing.
In a fascinating experiment, college students were randomly chosen to arrive late to a class full of students taking an exam. The student who walked in late was wearing a ridiculous t-shirt with Barry Manilow’s face on it.
The tardy student entered the class while everyone was taking an exam. The teacher singled out the student by asking them to wait outside.
Later, the tardy student was asked how many people in the class could identify who was on their shirt. Basically: “Do you think anyone noticed your ridiculous t-shirt with Barry Manilow’s face on it?”
On average, the singled-out students thought that about 50% of the people in the room noticed the shirt and would be able to identify Barry Manilow. But that was not the case.
Only about 25% of people in the room actually noticed.
The takeaway is that people vastly overestimate how many people notice them. So, even though your self-talk may be telling you that the person you were talking to noticed every little quirk about you, you’re likely wrong.
How to Take Action:
The next time you’re in a conversation and your self-talk is going berserk, ask yourself one question:
How can I make this person feel comfortable?
Stop focusing on yourself and how you’re being judged and focus on the other person. Are you making them feel as if they’re listened to?
As soon as you answer that, keep that inner voice quiet. Focus on the words the other person is saying, giving them 100% attention and understanding.
By doing this, you will immediately find yourself becoming more empathic, listening better, and your body language will likely ease up.
2. Self-talk only makes it worse.
We’ve already talked about that nasty little voice in your head; it can help or hinder you.
It seems like it’s always on, even if you’re not in a conversation. That voice may sound off when you’re considering approaching someone.
In most cases, that inner voice wins, and you talk yourself out of saying something nice to the person standing right next to you.
What you may not realize is this: that inner voice is consuming valuable resources from the pre-frontal cortex region of your brain, making it difficult for you to retain information and have fluid conversations.
Leading cognitive psychologist Sian Beilock and her team studied brain scans of students who “choked” under pressure. By putting them in a variety of stressful situations (like timed math tests), they realized that when there’s “cross talk” between the amygdala (the part of your brain associated with worrying) and the prefrontal cortex, it affects your working memory.
What does that mean for you? Because you’re so bogged down in worry, your prefrontal cortex doesn’t have enough bandwidth to help with executive functions like memory and decision making. That’s why you may find yourself “blanking” during conversations.
Ever had a conversation and have no idea what the other person just said? You heard them speak, but you have no idea what they’re talking about.
That’s your prefrontal cortex and amygdala getting tied up.
How to Take Action:
Come up with a physical cue that will remind you that negative self-talk is happening.
As soon as you hear that inner voice, do something physical to acknowledge it.
Try something like: taking two very deep breaths, clasping your hands together, or a quick nod of your head–something physical that will help you break the negative cycle of thinking.
The physical cue will help you begin to realize how often self-talk is triggered, and remind you to snap out of it as best as you can.
Then, you can think of the earlier mantra: “How can I make this person comfortable?” and focus on the present.
3. Your feelings are contagious.
Awkward conversations suck. I know, I’ve been there many times. But as I was working on improving my social skills, I started doing one thing that made things way less awkward right off the bat.
It’s so powerful. Numerous studies have shown the positive effects that smiling can have on yourself and on others who see you smile.
This study shows that smiling can immediately uplift your mood; your physiology is changing your mental state.
And when people see you smile, they begin to experience the same emotions associated with smiling, like joy and happiness.
That’s the power of mirror neurons: they basically make your state contagious. When you start off a conversation with a smile, you’re signaling to the other person that you’re open and friendly.
This is important because first impressions happen in a matter of milliseconds. You only have a few moments to show that you’re trustworthy and unthreatening (you can thank our caveman/cavewoman brains for this).
The point is this: smiling changes the tone and mood of a conversation. I’ve found that simply smiling can be enough to start a conversation with someone. Imagine that–starting a conversation without saying a word!
How to Take Action:
Just smile! Here’s a challenge: smile at the next stranger you see. You don’t have to say anything, just send them a smile and good vibes.
Social skills are just that, skills. They can be practiced, improved and perfected. Don’t let your inner talk bog you down; by implementing these action items, you will begin to see small changes in the way you interact with others. Remember, change requires action. It’s all about using these strategies in the real world.
This guest post is by Katrina Razavi, communication coach and founder of CommunicationforNerds.com. If you liked this article, visit her site to sign up for a free three-video mini course called: How to Shut Up that Inner Voice & Beat Awkward Conversations. It covers six secrets to social confidence, the #1 strategy to improve your life and how to have natural conversations…even if you’re super awkward.