Shy people are often mistaken for being reserved or even haughty when they are simply uncomfortable is social situations. Such people shrink back from making friends and become unnaturally quiet when approached by strangers. But here are a few ways which can help you to put a shy person at ease and make conversation with them.
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Take the right approach
Shy people feel their worst in a social scene like a party. So if you want to help someone to open up, approach the person in a non-threatening manner. Go up to him or her with a smile on your face and a friendly expression. Look at the person in the eye when speaking but don’t expect him or her to maintain continuous eye contact since this is something shy people find difficult doing. Also be careful not to approach the shy person as part of a group. He or she may get daunted at having to deal with several new faces at the same time.
Speak softly but clearly
When talking to a shy person, keep your voice pleasant and well-modulated. He or she may be too shy to speak clearly and may even mumble a reply but don’t respond by talking too loudly. This will only intimidate the person and make him or her draw back in nervousness.
Ask about them
One of the most effective ways to draw shy people out of their shell is to ask them questions. If you are at a party begin by asking them how they know the hosts. Or if you have met at a movie theater or a sports stadium, ask them what they think of the performances. Avoid putting Yes/No questions which will let them answer in a monosyllable and then allow them to clam up. After you have broken the ice, let them tell you about their work, hobbies and other interests if they feel comfortable.
Use your discretion
It is better to avoid putting personal questions to shy people at the first meeting. Even if you have been successful in putting them at ease, be careful when asking questions about their family and childhood. If they seem unwilling to talk about their home or the past, let it be and move on to other neutral topics. Also avoid being too insistent with your queries or probing too much into their opinions on politics or sports. The thumb rule while talking to a shy person is to keep the conversation light and relaxed or they may get tensed and clam up again.
Shy people generally take some time to put their thoughts in words. So wait while they finish their answers and see if they would like to put a question to you in turn. Pushing them verbally with “Go on…” or “You were saying…” will only make them more nervous and not get your conversation anywhere. Also refrain from finishing their sentences even if you can correctly guess what they are trying to say. Give them some time and space and you may be surprised at what acute perceptions shy people often possess.
Be an active listener
If you truly want to engage a shy person in a conversation, make sure you listen actively. Looking or smiling at others while someone is speaking to you will put off any speaker and more so if that person is naturally shy. Also continue to give a positive feedback in between questions. For instance, if she hazards an opinion on a recent movie, say something like “what you say is interesting; it never occurred to me to look at it from that angle”. Apart from encouraging the person to open up further it will also show your own interest in what he or she has to say.
Take a hint
By now you must have had a fair idea on what interests your shy friend. Explore those topics further and invite him or her to say more on them. If you find out that he or she has learnt Italian cooking or is fond of growing bonsais, compliment them on their special knowledge. Very often sincerely praising an accomplishment is an effective way to put shy people at their ease since it enhances their sense of self-worth and therefore makes them confident.
Avoid risqué talk
Shy people are generally very sensitive in nature. So avoid making jokes at their expense even if such anecdotes seem quite harmless to you. Try to make them comfortable with your conversation and body language since only when you appear trustworthy, will they open up to you. Above all don’t play with their feelings or they might get hurt and draw further back into their shells.
Don’t force them to be part of a group
Pressuring a shy person to contribute to a group discussion is not necessarily a good way of helping them to open up. Suddenly asking a person to give an opinion on the topic at hand will cause several people to look at him or her and make them even more nervous. If you think that your shy friend is feeling awkward at not being heard, then use a natural pause in the discussion to present a specific question to him or her. This will be relatively easier for them to answer and need not make them the focus of the group’s attention.
If you ask a shy person why he or she is so quiet, it will only increase their discomfort. Calling attention to their shyness will hardly help them to open up and you may find them shrinking back into their shell. So avoid awkward questions like, “Why makes you so shy around people” or “Why are you so quiet”. They have probably heard such questions before and dissecting their shyness may be in fact be counter-productive.
Shyness is most often a symptom of an underlying anxiety, low confidence or some kind of insecurity. The worst part of it is that the condition prevents people from living a full life. However with a little bit of confidence and some support from friends like you, a shy person can emerge from the shadows to find the world a more welcoming place.