In my two previous posts I covered the use of body language to help shy (and even non-shy) people achieve a comfort level in social situations. In this third and final piece I cover simple conversational tricks or skills that when combined with body language will enable shy people to participate much more confidently and effectively in conversations. Although the topics covered are quite simple and easy to learn, it is a good idea to first get a comfort level by practicing them in more comfortable situations such as with family or close friends.
Also, you should get comfortable using these techniques in one to one conversations before venturing into group discussions.
Shy people find it almost impossible to participate naturally in normal conversation. The reasons for this can be varied. When I work with clients seeking to deal with shyness my preference is to address the root cause of the problem. If this is done successfully then the driver for shyness is gone and generally speaking clients will no longer be significantly challenged by social situations. They will quickly find themselves naturally and comfortably participating in normal conversation.
However, not everyone will seek help for shyness and in the absence of dealing with the roots of their problem, using the techniques outlined in these articles should result in increased ease of communication in social situations.
In order for a conversation to flow naturally it is necessary in for at least one of the parties to be relaxed and at ease. Ideally both parties should be that way. By using these body language and conversation skills the shy person can begin to operate on a par with a confident relaxed person.
For the shy person the first step is to use his or her newly acquired body language skills to achieve a comfort level with the other person. It then becomes possible to use the basic conversation skills I will cover here. In reality, both sets of skills need to be used simultaneously, but learning them one at a time makes it easier to become proficient.
Eye Contact for shy people
Although not strictly a conversation skill, one of the most important aspects of good conversation is eye contact. Eye contact reinforces respect, understanding and trust during a conversation. Unfortunately eye contact is often challenging for shy people. However help is at hand. A simple but very effective trick is to look instead at the bridge of the other person’s nose. The other person won’t notice the difference but the shy person will be much more comfortable.
Head nodding for shyness
Another important technique for encouraging and keeping a conversation going is the strategic use of head nodding. Head nodding when the other person is talking has the effect of encouraging him or her to keep talking. It is a technique widely used in police interrogations and even in therapeutic situations to encourage a witness or client to say more than might otherwise be forthcoming.
Head nodding and eye contact (or the illusion of eye contact), are excellent tools to keep a person talking when they are already talking. However, one of the biggest obstacles for shy people when faced with a conversation is knowing what to say. This is where a little preparation is important.
Say it as it is
The first action for a shy person starting a conversation is to quickly mirror the other person’s body language to achieve a degree of unconscious rapport. Then the shy person should say something that reflects what is going on around him or her and the other person.
For instance if you find yourself face to face with a stranger at say a work reception, once you have done some body language mirroring you could make a statement such as “It’s a busy place, isn’t it?” or simply “Busy Place”.
Both of these are in reality questions inviting an answer and assuming the other person is not also shy then he or she will probably respond with more than a yes or a no. It is at this point that you can begin to nod your head while looking at the bridge of his or her nose, encouraging the person to elaborate. If the other person does keep talking; that’s great.
In case they they answer very briefly such as "Yes it is busy" then be prepared by having another question or statement in reserve such as "What do you think of the setup?" (which is an open question - see further down) or "it's a bit noisy" etc..
Often they will ask you a question back such as “what brings you here?”. Again a little preparation is worthwhile. Have some stock answers ready such as “Oh, orders from above. And you?” The question at the end of your answer, combined with eye contact and head nodding should be sufficient to get the other person talking again.
Open and Closed Questions
The next step is to get the person to talk even more by asking “open questions”. An open question is one that is difficult to answer with a yes or no or a single word such as "blue". In the above example the other person might respond with “Me too – my boss sent me. I’d rather be at home gardening”.
A response such as “Do you like gardening?” Is a closed question and invites a very brief answer such as “yes” or “no”. However “Gardening? Tell me all about it?” is an open question and invites a longer and more involved answer, especially if the person is passionate about gardening (or whatever the topic might be). Again head nodding and eye contact will serve to keep the other person talking.
Open questions take longer to answer and as such eat up time and so take pressure to contribute off the shy person. They also yield more information and create opportunities to ask more open (or even closed) questions.
Open questions often begin with “tell me about” or “how do you feel about”, or “what is it about …..”. You can learn more about open and closed questions here and here
It is well worthwhile to have some adaptable pre-prepared closed and open questions to help you transition from the initial contact with another person into a more involved conversation where at your bidding the other person does most of the talking.
Combatting Shyness - the power of silence
A very powerful conversation skill is the use of silence. In social situations people tend to abhor silence and if a conversation comes to a halt, inevitably someone will feel compelled to step in and fill the void. Crime suspects often betray themselves by opening their mouth and speaking when a silence from their interrogator becomes uncomfortably long.
Managing silence well requires confidence and can be difficult for shy people. However, once you become proficient at body language and the other conversation skills, then you can move on learning to strategically use silence to keep the other person talking.
Combatting Shyness - putting it all together
In summary the process, whether you are shy and want to make conversations easier, or are confident and wish to have a greater degree of influence or control of a social interaction is as follows:
Practice using body language as shown in the previous two articles to achieve a degree of rapport and comfort in the presence of another person.
Have pre-prepared some opening comments that reflect what is going on around you when you encounter another person. Statements such as “Busy place isn’t it” or “isn’t it a beautiful day?” are usually sufficient to get the other person talking.
Have some pre-prepared open questions for when you get further into the conversation such as “tell me about…….?” or “how do you…. (find working in Dublin etc.).” Or what do you like about….. (Your job, jogging etc.) etc.
When you encounter a new or challenging social situation:
Quickly mirror the other person’s body language, expression, breathing etc. to get into rapport.
Then, if the other person doesn’t start the conversation, use one of your pre-planned opening statements or questions to get him or her talking. You may need to use a few of these statements which reflect the reality around you to keep things feeling natural.
Then use head nodding and eye contact to keep the person talking.
As the encounter becomes more relaxed you can begin to ask more open questions, eliciting longer and more informative responses.
As you become more confident in body language and conversation skills you can begin to use silence as a strategy to keep the other person talking.
As you get more skillful at using this approach, interacting with other people will become less challenging and more natural and enjoyable.
As I said earlier, when working with shy people my preference is to help them get at the root of their shyness and clear it from their system, making “managing” shyness and “managing” conversations unnecessary. However, in the absence of this solution learning and using body language and conversation skills can be a very effective tool in making life easier if you are shy.
If you would like some help with shyness or any other issue feel free to contact me. I will be delighted to work with you.
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You can contact James Jameson on 086 2835758 / 1800924864 or email@example.com
James has clinics in Wicklow Town, Bray and Dun Laoghaire.
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