The gift of gab, a born charmer, a real people person; some people are described this way. Whether they are surrounded by friends, co-workers or being introduced to others for the first time, they just have a natural ease with engaging themselves in conversations. They make it look so easy and for them, well…it is.
However for many, it’s a struggle to mix and mingle with others. When preparing to go anywhere where a gathering of people is expected their anxiety rises. For some reason, very competent individuals who have particular talents and expertise may have poorly developed interpersonal skills. The lack of these skills, or their under-development could adversely affect an individual’s ability to meet the right people or impress them enough when they do meet them to be considered for promotions or special projects as they arise.
If you are the kind of person as described above, you may desperately wish you had better people skills but have a greater fear of what it will take to improve in this area. Like it is with anything you wish to improve or learn, it does take some effort; and you may have some setbacks along the way where things don’t go smoothly. Don’t give up trying though; the payoff is increased self-confidence and a comfort level you don’t currently have in both social and professional situations.
Let’s look at a few things you could do. For starters, when you’re about to meet people for the first time, remind yourself that they don’t know you until you are introduced. Therefore, they don’t know the lack of comfort you are experiencing either. For all they know, you may be quite comfortable and at ease with holding your own in a conversation. Use this to your advantage.
Planning on keeping conversations short with any one person is another way to go about gaining some assertiveness by building on small successes. If you envision meeting someone and having a 10 minute one-to-one chat, the anxiety you could work up fretting about how to fill a 10 minute conversation may stop you before you even say hello. So reframe that conversation into a polite but short introduction.
One thing it is very important not to overlook is that a conversation is a two-way exchange. You are only 50% responsible for the dialogue and don’t have to talk the entire time. Some people make this mistake; do all the talking and exhaust both themselves and the person listening as they move from topic to topic until they are out of things to talk about. While it may appear to you as an onlooker that this kind of person has great people skills, in fact they don’t. They are talking for the sake of hearing themselves and not really engaging in true conversation.
This brings us to listening skills. Whomever it is you are going to chat with provides you with both words to listen to and thoughts to respond to. Listening attentively to whatever someone else is saying gives you things to consider and then respond to. You can’t anticipate and plan what to say until the other person gives you the information to respond to. Overly anxious and nervous people are often so busy thinking of what to say next they fail to pay attention to what the other person is talking about.
Take a deep breath or two and slow down the pace of the words coming out of your mouth. When we get anxious or nervous, or even excitable, there can be a tendency to speak quicker, making our voice tremble and the words harder to understand. Slow things down, speak clearly and you may find you engage more with the conversation as it ebbs and flows back and forth.
Asking open-ended questions of those you meet rather than yes/no questions is also helpful in shifting what to say to the other people you are chatting with. Just one or two of these questions is enough to get things started and then as mentioned above, you can demonstrate your listening skills by responding to what you hear.
Can you really ever become comfortable; really comfortable engaging in conversation with others if you’re not a people person? Like any skill, interpersonal skills can be improved upon. If you are expecting however to change your entire personality; going from say an introvert to an extrovert, not only is this probably not going to happen, you shouldn’t feel compelled to have to. Many people who are naturally shy or introverted can and do have sufficient people skills to engage with those around them.
It is not necessary that you transform into a naturally gifted public speaker or the life of the party. Turn down the pressure you perceive to be that kind of person. You are best to be true to yourself; be authentic and just work to develop in this area as someone else might work on areas they too wish to improve in.
Consider starting with people you meet in brief moments throughout your day. Be it the Bus Driver, a Server, a Cashier at the grocery store; a short conversation and a smile in these situations can give you the confidence you need to engage with others. Remind yourself too of what’s the worse that could happen with that store Cashier? You leave.
Written By Kelly Mitchell