“I’m not shy, I just don’t like you.”
“I just really hate small talk.”
“I would rather be at home watching Netflix than at this party right now.”
As millennials, one thing that many of us have in common is social anxiety. It is difficult for us to connect with new people at parties or events, and we often brag about our desire to avoid it. We may not even label it as anxiety. Maybe you are convinced that you aren’t a social person and that you prefer to be in your own head.
Whether you consider yourself introverted or extroverted, being able to engage with others socially and to enjoy it is an important part of life. I’m finally gaining some ground in this area myself, and I’m beginning to understand the root of this struggle in my own life. Here are four tricks that have helped me to enjoy being social again.
1. Be Curious About Other People
Sometimes my anxiety stemmed from my disdain for small talk. Whenever a conversation was about something in which I was interested, I would be engaged, but I had a hard time when this wasn’t the case.
Small talk can be hard, but as I am praying about this, I realize that the real solution is to start taking a genuine interest in other people. I was so into my own thoughts and interests that I couldn’t focus on anyone else’s, which was making it so hard to connect with others.
People who are curious about others are the best conversationalists.
They ask questions and show interest in hearing the answer. I believe that this sense of curiosity turns small talk into something much less boring. Instead of asking questions just to keep the conversation going, we are asking to discover things about the other person. When we are curious to know people, we won’t need the conversation topic to be related to our own personal interests. We will be able to enjoy connection for the sake of connection.
2. Drop Your Agenda and Go With the Flow
I tend to enjoy conversations about ideas and concepts with each person contributing his perspective to the conversation. My friend Natalia is this way as well. Whenever the two of us are together, we take turns monologuing, each giving the other a chance to fully express what they are thinking. I used to have a hard time when the conversation wasn’t following this pattern. It was hardest when I was with groups of my female friends. Everyone would be chiming in and interrupting each other, floating from one topic to the next at rapid fire speed. I got frustrated at never being able to finish saying what I was thinking.
I realized that if I wanted to enjoy myself around all kinds of people, I couldn’t expect them to change. I would have to let go of my agenda and adapt to the situation. If the conversation is all over the place, or if I’m with people who aren’t very good listeners, I alter my expectations and choose to enjoy the fellowship.
We need to value connection with people enough that we can enjoy it even when it doesn’t suit our preferences.
That said, your needs are important, so it’s okay to assemble an inner circle of people who enjoy the same things as you. When you are getting your needs met in that area, it will make it easier to go with the flow when you are around people who are different.
3. Listen well, but also reciprocate.
We are told to talk more than we listen, but sometimes we take this idea too far. We start to worry about how much we are talking in proportion to the other person instead of just engaging in the conversation.
In a healthy conversation, both parties should contribute. When you are asked about your week, don’t just say, “It was great,” and then ask how their week was. Instead, tell them a specific story from your week – a funny anecdote, something exciting that happened, or something that you learned.
Storytelling is a great way to engage someone in conversation. This will help the other person get to know you, but it will also give him permission to be open and tell you a story. How many times has a conversation been shut down because both parties feel uncomfortable with talking too much? When you are open, it gives the other person permission to be open as well, and the result will be a stronger connection to each other.
4. Find freedom from self-consciousness.
I have always been very self-conscious. I am very aware of what I might look like to others, which can cause me to be reserved and cautious rather than to be free and to act like myself.
Growing up, one of the lies I believed was that I was weird and that something was wrong with me. Because I believe this, I felt as though people were watching me and seeing how weird and different I was. Sometimes I find it difficult to handle positive attention. It’s hard for me to accept a compliment. I have a hard time doing things that I am good at in front of an audience, or even walking into a room when I know that I look good. Part of me believes that I’m unworthy of the attention, so whenever I am being praised in public it’s easy to feel embarrassed about it.
These feelings stem from fear of man.
When we are concerned with how we appear to others, we will not be able to act freely because we believe that their perception of us is connected to our value.
Rather than keeping an internal focus on our own happiness, we focus on controlling our behavior so that we can control how others perceive us.
When I was struggling with this, God spoke these words to me: “You are no more and no less deserving of love and attention than anyone else in this world. You are not more worthy or less worthy than anybody else.” Saying this to myself and actually believing it made me feel free to be who I am without fear of standing out as too little or too much.
The real root of society anxiety is a self-centered attitude. I was so interested in myself and what I looked like to other people that it actually became crippling. Fear of man likes to disguise itself as being less selfish than it actually is. People who are fearful of what others will think can be very nice people on the surface. That was my story, but lurking under my sweet exterior was this truth: I was only kind to others because I was concerned about having a good reputation. I treated people well because I knew that this behavior would make me more likable. Take away the approval of others, and I had the exact same selfishness as anybody else. When we stop craving for the approval of others and seek God’s approval instead, social anxiety will dissipate. We will be able to love freely with hearts that are pure and fearless.
At your next social event, what are some questions you can ask to demonstrate an interest in learning about other people? And what story or anecdote can you share about yourself that would help others get to know you on a deeper level?