Just Shy of Success

6 Aug

Dear LetterBalm: I’m a college sophomore who’s almost pathologically shy. It’s difficult enough for me to talk with my girlfriends in a group. It’s just about impossible for me to talk with a guy, even if we’re in a group, hanging out. A lot of boys have approached me and have turned away disappointed because our conversations go nowhere and I go silent. I’ve read books on overcoming shyness, but I’m too nervous to try anything new. Can you help me?

–Held Back by Timidity

You may want to schedule a few sessions with a therapist who specializes in social anxieties to gain insights and tools to help you. You also might try any number of websites – thinksimplenow is one – that offer good advice on overcoming shyness. Practice making and holding eye contact in front of a mirror. Ms. L.B. suggests once you feel more confident and comfortable, arm yourself with several opener questions and observations that focus on the other person and indicate your interest. (Steer clear of incendiary topics like politics and religion, brief yourself on basic sports knowledge and don’t take it personally if the encounter doesn’t lead to anything.) Try these on for size:

  • This place certainly is crowded tonight. Guess it’s because the game is on TV. Hi, my name is Sophie.
  • That’s an interesting watch you’re wearing. Is it from your family?
  • I see you have a heavy briefcase. Are you taking work home?
  • What do you do? [Basic, but tried and true.]
  • I’m studying/my job is … [When asked, be prepared with a few brief, interesting sentences about what you do – put it in the best light, and don’t be negative about your school, studies, work, employer, boss or co-workers. Even if you flip burgers, you can find something sociologically positive in your interaction with customers.]
  • I see you have your gym bag. What’s your workout routine?
  • It’s been so hot and humid this summer, my gym issued directives about the heat. Have you had to change your workout? I had to ….
  • What’s your sport? What teams do you follow? [If the response is enthusiastic, ask open-ended news-related sports questions that require their opinion.]
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