More Advice for the Shy

camera shy Here’s a guest post from Susan Murphy, another in our two-part series on shyness.

The mere thought of walking up to a total stranger and saying hello, picking up the phone to cold call a potential client, or standing in front of a large group of people is enough to cause me to have significant heart palpitations, cold sweats, and shortness of breath. Even as I write this, I’m feeling the butterflies well up inside.

Sound familiar? If you’re shy like me, I bet it does.

I believe I was born shy. Since I can remember, I’ve been more inclined to back away from the spotlight and avoid being the centre of attention. As a little kid, I spent a lot of time peering warily out from behind my Mom. In school, I was mortified every time the teacher called on me. Even as a young adult, I could barely pick up the phone to order pizza delivery without panic setting in.

Yet, these days, I’ll regularly walk up to people I’ve never met, pick up the phone a half dozen times a day and call strangers, and stand on a stage and talk to a large crowd, with hardly a second thought.

Shyness can be very debilitating, resulting in missed opportunities, and even depression in extreme cases. I’ve learned over time that although this personality trait of mine will probably never go away, shyness can be managed to the point where it doesn’t have to be an issue. Here’s how I do it:

Accept Your Shyness- Like it or not, shyness is a part of your personality. It’s ingrained in your psyche. Instead of worrying about it, accept it as a fundamental part of you. Stop identifying with your shyness – in other words, stop using phrases like “I can’t do this because I’m too shy”. Once you have completely accepted this part of yourself, you can move beyond it.

Put Yourself Out There- I’m not saying you need to jump on a stage in front of 500 people or start shaking every hand in the room at your next conference. But regularly putting yourself out there, in situations that demand decidedly un-shy behaviour is key to overcoming shyness. This takes practice, so start small. It could be something as simple approaching someone in line at the coffee shop, and asking them for their thoughts on the dark roast they just ordered. Put yourself out there, in small ways at first, and you will begin to get used to it. Then you can build up to the bigger stuff.

Hang Around with Un-Shy People- Funny thing about shy people – they tend to attract extroverts. Ironically, nearly all of my friends are total extroverts. Hanging around with outgoing people is actually very good if you are shy. You can learn from the guy who always has a crowd of people around him (not mentioning any names Chris Brogan!). Observe what Mr. or Ms. Popular does to engage people, and keep them interested. Observe how much they are enjoying giving that speech. And see if you can’t pick up a few of their techniques and use them yourself.

Be a Conversation Starter - Not sure how to kick off a conversation with someone you’ve just met? Ask questions. Not sure what to ask? Next time you set out to a conference, or meet up, or the coffee shop, prepare a list of questions and commit them to memory (nobody wants to talk to the guy carrying around a list of questions). People love to talk about themselves. So if you aren’t sure what to say, start asking questions. Not only will you learn a lot, you’ll be at ease because the conversation will just flow.

Suck It Up- In the end, if you really, really want to achieve something badly enough, then at some point along the way you will be forced to suck it up and just go for it. This means pushing aside all of those voices in your head that tell you that you’ll look stupid, humiliate yourself, or say the wrong thing. The only way you can overcome these voices is to simply ignore them, and go for it. I guarantee that doing un-shy things never turns out as badly as what you make up in your head.

These are just a few techniques I’ve used over the years to cope with my shyness. What about you? How do you deal with your shyness?

Susan Murphy is partner/producer at Jester Creative. She blogs at SuzeMuse, and hangs out somewhere up north.

Photo credit, orangeacid

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