Feeling shy?

By Ali
Category: Social | Date: Mon 29 Sep, 2008

If you’re one of those confident, chatty people who can walk into a pub and just sit and chat to anyone – you don’t need to read this. Go have fun while the rest of us hide in this corner.

For those of you who are still here: welcome! First, let me reassure you that almost everyone feels shy some of the time, especially when starting a new undergrad or postgrad course – or when joining a new society, living with a bunch of strangers, starting a new seminar …

Introverts – you’re not alone

Some of us have it worse than others. I’d describe myself as an “introvert”. I’m not painfully shy, and I can manage to strike up a conversation with a stranger, but doing so gives me sweaty palms and a racing pulse. I’ve definitely become a lot more confident since I was 18 (three years as an undergrad and two years in the “real world” of work helped), but I still found myself hugely relieved to latch onto the one person I’d met before at my MA course induction last Wednesday.

Estimates vary hugely, but anywhere from 25% – 50% of the population are “introverts” with the rest being “extroverts”. And introversion is linked to intelligence, so if you’re at uni, you’re more likely to be surrounded by introverts than if you’re on an episode of Jerry Springer (not that I can imagine many introverts wanting to be on a chatshow).

Finding the other shy people

When I’m thrown into a group where I don’t know anyone, I tend to look for the other people sitting on their own, glancing nervously around for a friendly face. I find it really hard to butt into a group who are already chatting and laughing together (I end up hovering on the fringes, smiling weakly and remaining completely unnoticed).

Most people are friendly and perfectly open to conversing with you. It just takes a little effort to cross the stranger barrier. Each person is an incredible learning opportunity. What they tell you about themselves. How they live and interact with the world. There is a wealth of information waiting to be tapped.
– from The Shy Person’s Guide to Talking to Strangers

Go up to someone on their own, and say something like “Mind if I join you?” or “Is this seat free?” (which gives the truly misanthropic an easy opt-out). I find that introducing myself by name at the start of the conversation avoids that awkward moment ten minutes into talking when I have to say, “I’m Ali, by the way,” or mumble a “Sorry, I don’t think I caught your name?”

If it’s any help, it really does get easier as you do it more!

Shyness and social anxiety

I’m a bit awkward around strangers (and even around those I know reasonably well), but some people have more crippling forms of shyness. Social anxiety or social phobia is the most common anxiety disorder around.

In its simplest terms social anxiety or ‘SA’ is a fear of people: of being around, having to interact with, being watched, criticized or judged negatively by, other human beings.

For sufferers of SA, everyday tasks which most people take for granted – working, socialising, shopping, speaking on the telephone, can be a wearing ordeal marked by persistent feelings of anxiety and self-consciousness.
– from Social Anxiety UK

If you feel that your shyness is stopping you from getting the most out of university, you might want to have a quick chat with your uni nurse or councelling service.

Don’t forget to smile!

Some quick tips for meeting people – ones I’m trying to put into practice this week – are:

  • Make eye contact and smile – you’ll always get a smile back
  • Look for other shy people and say “hi”
  • Ask something related to the situation (“What sort of writing do you do?” works well when I’m meeting fellow creative writing course students; “How are you finding things so far?” is a good all-purpose one.)
  • Speak up straight away – introduce yourself to someone as soon as you enter a room, rather than sitting or standing on your own.

Further reading

If you tend to be shy and you have good tips on meeting new people, share them with us in the comments – I know I could use a few more!


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