5 Tips for “Shy” Teens who want to Have More Conversations

Almost everyone feels shy sometimes. While there are some people who can strike up a conversation with anyone about almost anything, many of us feel a little insecure from time to time. For some people, this is a daily occurrence. When this is the case, it can be very difficult to make friends.

After all, it’s pretty tough to get to know someone when you can’t talk to them about their hobbies, interests, and opinions. You’ve got to be able to find common ground  if you’re ever going to form a true friendship. So what do you do if your anxiety about starting conversations is getting in the way of your chances to make friends?

You may have been told that the key to getting passed shyness is to step out of your comfort zone more. Some people will tell you that you should practice talking to everyone, every chance you get. That’s pretty common advice, but it can also be tough to follow if conversations are something you dread.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t aim to challenge yourself from time to time. Stepping out of your comfort zone can actually be a great way to make friends, and it can expose you to people and opportunities you may not have realized you were interested in before. But if the thought of taking part in more conversations than are required to get through the school day makes you cringe, we’ve got some advice on how to change that:

  1. Don’t Try to Talk to Everyone. That may sound like strange advice, especially if you’re trying to overcome your shyness. But if you’re going to learn to enjoy having conversations, you should start out by having them with people you’ll actually enjoy talking to. Starting a conversation with someone you have nothing in common with can leave you feeling awkward, and hesitant to reach out to others in the future. Instead, consider talking to a classmate who seems to be enjoying the assigned reading as much as you, or someone who participates in the same after school activity. That way, you know you’ll have a few topics of common interest on hand, in case an awkward silence sets in. You’ll also be getting to know someone who has the potential to be a friend.
  2. Forget About your Label. Sometimes it’s scary to break out of our usual routines, because we feel like it’s what others are expecting of us. If your peers are used to you being the “shy” or “quiet” one, you may think they will resist your efforts to change. It’s important to remember that labels like “shy” usually stem from people’s observations of you, and don’t necessarily reflect the way they want you to act. There’s nothing wrong with changing people’s expectations, and when it’s done in the name of being friendly, many will actually welcome the change.
  3. Stay in the Moment. If you get bogged down worrying about what stories you’ll tell, or which jokes you’ll crack, you will probably end up psyching yourself out. Most people you talk to on a daily basis aren’t expecting to be impressed by a top-notch monologue. They’re expecting some give and take, and know they’ll have to contribute to the conversation as well. So instead of worrying about dazzling the person you’re speaking to with humor and wit, stay in the moment, and let the conversation go where it goes naturally. That’s the best way to get to know a person, and find out if it’s someone you would enjoy being friends with.
  4. Address your Insecurities. It might help to spend some time thinking about why conversations make you nervous. Are you worried your stories will fall flat? Do you think you have a tendency to dominate conversations? If so, be conscious of these concerns during the conversation. If you feel like you’ve been doing all the talking, ask a question to give the other person a chance to talk. And when in doubt, you can call attention to the thing you’re nervous about, by simply saying something like, “I’m sorry. I feel like I’ve been rambling. Why don’t you tell me about your day?” That gives you a chance to quickly remedy any faux-pas, and depending on how the other person responds, you may find that you’ve been worrying over nothing.
  5. Put it in Perspective. Starting a conversation might feel monumental if it makes you anxious, but it’s important to remember that for most people, it’s just a part of the daily routine. The person you’re talking to probably isn’t going to analyze everything you say, so it’s okay if everything doesn’t come out just right. Remember, they’re likely going to talk to plenty more people before the day is over, so the not-so-funny joke you told will be forgotten by next period. Try to relax, and just remember that conversations are a chance to get to know others a little better. If they don’t go the way you planned, there’s always another chance tomorrow.

As with many things, getting over shyness can be much easier to talk about than it is to do. It may take some time to get over that nervous feeling you get whenever you start a conversation, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid doing it. Make some adjustments in your mindset and strategy for conversations, and you’ll probably find yourself feeling much more open to talking to peers and getting to know potential friends.

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Isa Marrs is the Founder and Executive Director of the Where I Can Be Me® social skills program. She is a board-certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in pragmatic language (social skills) disorders in children. Read More