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How to Be Less Shy Around Other People

By: Brian Kim - July 26, 2007

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There are probably a lot of people out there who are pretty shy. They’re terrified at the thought of meeting new people, making small talk, holding long conversations, etc.

The shyness I’m talking about here is pretty much the extreme case. People may label shyness as a “cute” quality, as something gentle, and endearing, and while that’s true if it’s applied to a little child, extreme shyness in adults, in most cases, if not all, usually contains elements of narcissism, in the sense that we believe that how we look, talk, and interact with other people is important, important in terms of painting the image that people see of us in their minds.

What makes this even worse is that extremely shy people tend to get labeled by those around them after some time passes by.

They get labeled as “the shy guy” at first. Then “the quiet guy”. Then, “the creepy guy who stands in the corner by himself”.

And what happens is that this begins to further exacerbate the situation.

People label him as such and therefore treat him as such, ignoring him without ever considering starting a conversation with him, making it that much harder for him to interact socially.

Then the shy person begins to feel he can’t do anything because it would seem that if he were to try to break out of his shy state, it would seem out of character for him to do so to other people. He would think that people would then label him as “weird” instead of shy, which makes it seem so much worse to him. And slowly, he begins to feel he is digging his own social grave, looking toward a future life filled with loneliness.

Shy people have a pretty bad habit of giving others power, in terms of giving them the power to control their own behavior. And it’s so easy to do this because we want to be liked by others.

So shy people tend to overthink and overanalyze every possible future social situation, wanting to come out as “perfect” in those interactions, thinking the slightest mistake in verbal or nonverbal conversation can cause their own downfall in the eyes of others.

There’s a subtle message that comes about when we really want to be liked by others and that is we don’t like ourselves that much. We don’t like ourselves so we feel the need to be liked by others in order to fill that “void” within us.

Like yourself. Accept yourself, flaws and all. Fix them if you can so you won’t be so preoccupied with them, but accept them if you cannot Take away the need to be validated by others. Validate yourself.

This is the first step toward conquering shyness. Be the best you can be, in your own eyes. Work on yourself until you begin to like yourself to the point where you don’t worry what others think about you because you know you. You know who you are and what you stand for.

But even if you have all that down, you still have to master the next part, and that is learning the “social dance”. And that’s something you can’t do yourself because after all, it’s a social dance. You need partners. Many of them. And yes, you will step on a lot of toes, figuratively speaking. But that’s fine.

And that touches on one of the biggest problem that shy guys have and that is they want to go from hermit to a suave guy like James Bond in the course of a single day.

It’s not like that. It doesn’t happen that way. And because they put so much pressure on themselves to be this social butterfly, that nothing ever gets done. The gap is too big and it paralyzes them.

Start small. You learn a dance, one move at a time. You master that one move, then learn the next. Then you put the two together. Then you learn the third, then put the first, second and the third step together. You start small, build on each step, repeat it till it becomes natural, and you progress until you master the entire dance.

Don’t try to have the most amazing conversation on earth as your first try.

Start small. Make eye contact, smile, and say hi to complete strangers as you walk by. This may seem easy to social butterflies, but to extremely shy people, this act alone is enough to get their heart racing and their palms sweating.

When you have the eye contact, smile, and greeting down, go to the next stage. Small talk.

How are you? How was your weekend? Did you watch such and such movie over the weekend?

You’ll slowly begin to learn the rules. When to speak, when not to, how to get the conversation going, how to get the other person to keep talking, etc.

Realize though that you will have awkward pauses in conversations. Realize you will probably say the wrong things at the wrong time. Realize that you will probably miserably fail in some conversations.

But soon you’ll find what works and what doesn’t. You’ll find the commonalities. You’ll learn “the dance”. You’ll learn to let it go and relax and go with the flow.

And then there will come a time when you’ll just enjoy the company, have no worry, not focus on the outcome so much as the interaction itself, and you’ll begin to wonder what you were stressing over so much all this time.

Realize that most people are lonely in life and crave deeper, more meaningful conversations than:

“Hi, how are you?” “Good. How are you?” “Good.”

Define who you are. Work on yourself. Like yourself so then you can put all your attention on not of what others think of you, but on learning who the person is that you’re talking to and what they’re all about. Their thoughts, hopes, dreams, ambitions, the way they see life, etc. Focus on the other person. And when you start focusing on other people rather than on yourself all the time, and learning about each person along the way, what you’ll find at the end of your journey is that we are all the same.

Have you ever noticed in those “asteroid on a collision course with earth, end of the world” type movies that the entire earth seems to feel that connection of “oneness”, despite race, religious affiliation, or nationality?

Feel that connection now. Start looking at humanity as a whole. Realize that the guy driving the taxi cab, the convenient store clerk, the mailman, the co-worker, the neighbor next door – they are all human. They all share the same joys, concerns, doubts, worries as you, even though it seems they don’t at times. We all tend to wear “social masks” when we go out, but at the end of the day, when we are alone, by ourselves, we all take them off and connect as one without even knowing it.

There is nothing standing in the way between you and other people except the desire to learn about them and when you do, you will find that the thoughts you’ve had, the worries you’ve had, the problems you’ve had – that other people have had them too, that you were not alone, that you were never alone. It’s only because you were so wrapped up in your own thoughts about what other people thought of you that you never got a chance to realize it.

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19 Responses to “How to Be Less Shy Around Other People”

  1. slayerboy Says:

    THANK YOU!

    I’ve always wondered what was wrong with me because I knew shy people usually don’t have the best self-esteem. Given my “unusual” circumstances, I have risen from crippling shyness and crippling low self-esteem to where I am now. It took almost 15 years to break out of my “shell”. Actually…when I worked in retail sales, I was care-free when I was at work, but I put so much effort to trying to impress people because I felt like I needed to impress these people to make them believe in what I was selling to them. I was the best salesperson in that store for a long time.

    After I left that job and started working behind a desk and moved out of my parents’ house at the age of 27, I started to drift towards an even deeper shyness. It almost felt like I had never been out of my shell, and in reality I hadn’t been because I could only be that way at work trying to sell things. Sales is not my true nature, and when I got pushed to sell things I did not believe in, it was almost unmanageable stress.

    I used to be the “creepy” guy in high-school, and I broke out of that in my early 20’s, but was still very shy around people I didn’t know because I still don’t think very highly of myself. Now I’m about to turn 30, am single and never had a girlfriend. I have the whole “appreciate and see the good in you” thing down pat. I’m happy with my life situation and what I’ve been dealt. I just need to move beyond that and start building friendships again. I lost a lot of friends after I left retail sales because I very quickly forgot how to break out of my “shell”. Living in a time when social is more internet-based than real-life based makes it all that much harder.

    Baby-steps. Sounds stupid, but makes more sense than rushing head first into a brick wall. I’ve never been one to do things the easy way, or at least learn the easy way. Opportunity, or whatever, could punch me in the face and I’d never see it until I’m lying on the ground wondering what happened and by then it’s long gone.

    Sorry for the long post, this was just very inspirational to me.

  2. Brian Kim Says:

    Hi slayerboy,

    Thank you for the kind words about the article. I really appreciate it.

    And thank you for sharing your story with us. I have no doubt that a lot of people will relate to the journey you’ve gone through.

    You make a lot of interesting points in your post and one that caught my eye was that “Living in a time when social is more internet-based than real-life based makes it all that much harder.” and I couldn’t agree more with that. Technology is seemingly isolating us from one another even thought it seems it is connecting us with one another more than ever before.

    Like you said, baby steps. Little by little. That’s how anything worth doing is done.

    Thanks again!

  3. joel Says:

    man i was a little shy, bt yo no what you dont have to take baby steps, its gotta be within you if you really feel confident thats what you gotta think when you walk up tp people , you gotta say in your mind who you really are

  4. nick Says:

    Hi ide just like to say how helpful this was to me…it has really made me see things ina completely different light…everything you have written isexactly how i feel at the moment…

    I am really going to try and put these ideas into action..

    the best article ive ever read about how to change my life and it really related to me personally…

    Thanks Alot..

  5. Lucy Pollard Says:

    Interesting points.

    I have a different take on this thing about being shy; everything I’m saying here is talking as a shy person myself.

    A few years ago, and as part of my studies in work psychology, I carried out the MBTI (Myer Briggs Typology Indicator). I discovered that I am an introvert. From what I remember – this was 4 years ago – if I’m wrong, please correct me. Introverts get their energy from being alone; this doesn’t mean that they always want to be alone; it means that being in crowds or with groups of people, their energy is sapped. This is different to extroverts who get their energy from being with others.

    I really enjoyed discovering this and it helped me understand a lot about myself. For example, I’m really chatty on a one-to-one basis – I enjoy that type of exchange. I also decided at that point that it was okay to say no to invitations to going out in groups; that sort of thing just doesn’t work for me. Why should I go to a social event that I don’t enjoy and leaves me feeling drained? I now have a social life that suits me perfectly – meeting one or two friends at a time and we have a great time. Having said that, I am able to switch on the chattiness when necessary. For example, I worked in training for many years. I can stand in front of a group and speak without any difficulty. The point is: it’s not my prefered situation. The MBTI helped me understand why I needed to get out of training and into something else.

    In the group I was studying with, we were encouraged to understand and respect the favourite “stances” of those different to us. The MBTI helps us understand ourselves and others. I really love this approach. I think it’s okay to be shy in groups. I think that if somebody is shy and feels okay about it (and I know many people in this category) that’s great. What is difficult for shy people is other people’s thoughts that changing will somehow be better for us. I don’t ask extroverts to change. The fact that extroverts are ‘out there’ more and speaking more, doesn’t make their way of being the only or best way.

    Okay rant over!

    Having said all of this, the tips are great for shy people who do want to change. I’d just like to speak up for shy and introvert people who are happy as they are!

  6. Brian Kim Says:

    Nick,

    I’m so glad the article was able to help!

    Lucy,

    Thank you very much for sharing your story with us. I really appreciate it. I know others will be able to relate to it.

    I also have a pretty good feeling you’re going to like this article I wrote too: ;)

    http://briankim.net/blog/2007/10/top-5-things-every-extrovert-should-know-about-introverts/

  7. Lucy Pollard Says:

    Thanks, Brian I did enjoy the second article and it speaks to me more than the first one.

    Lucy

  8. John Doe Says:

    Brian,

    i read your article and it makes sence. it describes me very well (as far as i’m shy cause i’m petrefied that people won’t like me since i don’t like myself) however there is one problem. when i’m forced to be around people (i.e. work) i can hold a conversation quite well, i make eye contact, smile, and say hi to virtualy every person i pass in the hallways, i’m athletic, atleast somewhat atractive, and yet still, unless they know me very well, most peope would never guess that i would rather sit in my dorm all day than risk going to some social thing and feel left intentionaly left out again; even seeing if people i know want to get a bite to eat or somthing petrefies me. wtf is wrong with me?

  9. Brian Kim Says:

    John,

    It looks like when you’re forced to be around people, such as work, the relationships aren’t that “deep” so to speak, so you don’t feel the need to “truly” socialize and connect with them. The relationships are formal and superficial in a sense, whereas on the other hand, you feel petrified to go out with people you know because maybe it’s not just another superficial relationship, but something that can turn into something much more and you want to protect yourself in the event that it doesn’t work out.

    That’s just my take on it.

    I would recommend seeing a professional to get some more detailed answers.

  10. Jason Medina Says:

    Hey Brian,

    I just wanted to compliment you on a great article - and a great website. I recently turned thirty-four, and I have struggled with shyness and self-esteem issues since I was a young kid. As a result, my life has not been the most fulfilling or the most rewarding up to this point. In fact, I struggle on a daily basis with trying to break out of my “shell” and trying to be confident. I am still very much a work-in-progress. The way I look at it, my life really hasn’t started yet; I am a stereotypical late bloomer if you will, but I know things are going to turn around!

    Anyways, you are a very perceptive and smart individual. And I cannot agree with you more that a huge factor underlying the “shyness problem” is a person’s lack of self-acceptance and self-belief. Liking ourselves frees us and allows us to be who we are and to not care so much about what other people may think………

    Well, I will be back to read much more on your website….Thanks again for a great article and for a very beneficial website.

    Jason Medina

  11. Brian Kim Says:

    Hi Jason,

    Welcome to the site!

    And thank you very much for the kind words. I really appreciate it!

    It’s great to see you’re making the strides to break out of your “shell”. Little by little, step by step, inch by inch, and it’ll be a cinch.

    Keep at it and like you said, things are going to turn around!

    Here’s to the new chapter unfolding in your life,

    Brian

  12. Daphne Says:

    Wow, this was so inspiring. I am a pretty shy person, and at times I feel like I can’t do anything about it. These words were very inspiring to me and whoever wrote them is a genius. Thank you!

  13. Dovima Says:

    I lke what you say about shyness. I find that when people forget themselves and focus on others they can move outside of themselves and engage more freely. Active listening and taking a genuine interst in conversation helps immensely.

    Dovima

  14. Brian Kim Says:

    Hi Daphne,

    Thank you very much for your kind words. I really appreciate it!

    I’m glad the article was able to help.

    Hi Dovima,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I couldn’t agree more with what you said.

  15. Sean Says:

    Hey Brian,
    First off, I want to say that I really enjoy reading your work. This article is one of my favorites because I have had a problem in the past of being shy. I actually have almost every other part of my life down pat: School (college) grades are all A’s as was high school, I have very close friends and family, I improve myself often in various areas, I work out and love my body, and I am generally very happy. The one thing that I can’t seem to get down, though, is this shyness… I have definitely improved from a few years ago, but I am not at the place I want to be. I still get nervous when talking to new people, and, of course, it’s way worse with beautiful girls. I just can’t seem to figure out why? I think I am a nice guy with above average looks, yet I still lock up. What I’m going to do now is just try to meet new people and hang out with them (this is the first week of the first semester), but I know it’s going to be tough…

    If you have any advice, it would be greatly appreciated!! And thanks again =)

    Sean

  16. lissa Says:

    thanks Brian,
    you changed my life for the better, i now know that i can be me and theirs nothing wrong with me. you inspired me to move forward with my life. i now know that their is hope for me.

  17. Brian Kim Says:

    Hi Sean,

    My advice - pretend the person you’re meeting is the most fascinating person in the world. You want to know everything there is to know. That desire to learn will take the pressure of self consciousness off you + the other party will be flattered at the attention.

    Lissa,

    You’re very welcome! I’m glad the article could be of service and that it has helped you!

  18. Shanaya Says:

    Hi Brian,
    This was a really good article.like you said i too am labeled as the “shy.quiet.backward person”
    Now wherever i go, it seems to be my identity.
    It was really irritating and i couldn’t imagine anything to do about it.but after reading this I’ve gained confidence to prove them wrong.
    Again thank you for this valuable advice.
    Shanaya

  19. Brian Kim Says:

    Hi Shanaya,

    You’re very welcome! I’m glad this article has helped give you the confidence to prove them wrong.

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