How do I talk to new people more confidently?
January 24, 2005 9:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm moving into a line of work where I will have to talk to people more than usual, work with them on projects, and generally be fairly talkative and sociable. I have no trouble with my friends or people I know well, but sometimes, with new people, I clam up, or talk quickly in one long monotonous ramble - yet sometimes I'm fine. It's basically a lack of confidence in myself - how can I trick myself into feeling confident, or at least talking normally?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have the same issue. In particular, I have a serious problem with eye contact, and the rest of the world's many extroverts just hate it if you're not looking them in the eyes when you speak to them, for some reason, so I just unfocus my eyes, breathe deep, and babble carefully about whatever.

It took practice, and I often slip back into staring at the floor or wall, but it generally works for me.
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:46 AM on January 24, 2005

Be patient. I feel similarly to you, but it helps me to realize that when forced to interact with "new" people on a daily basis, they quickly become people I'm comfortable talking with. Ergo, soon they are no longer "new."
posted by scratch at 9:52 AM on January 24, 2005

I used to have to remind myself not to spin on my heel and end off a work conversation prematurely. I'd get nervous and assume that whoever it was wasn't interested in a lingering, chatty conversation with me, and as soon as I sensed that business had been taken care of, I'd fly away. But far worse than being a bit gabby from time to time, I gave the impression I didn't like whoever I was talking to, and couldn't be bothered to really discuss whatever their need was, etc. Now I just breathe and remind myself that it's okay to wait for the other person to say "well okay, I guess I'll see you later." That doesn't destroy my ego, and I don't have to worry about giving people the brushoff anymore. In fact, I'm glad now when it's the other person who ends the conversation, because I know I've hung in there long enough to see it through.

This job will be the best thing for you. Just keep an up attitude about it, remind yourself that it's going to be a helpful, healthful change for you, and ride out the rough bits. Practice with people helps more than anything.
posted by scarabic at 10:15 AM on January 24, 2005

You might find it helpful to show up a little early to a meeting and introduce yourself to any newcomers. Alternatively, if you walk into a room full of people, say hello to those you know and introduce yourself to those you don't. In this way you can illicit information on who they are and what they do so you know how to team is comprised.

It's a little trick, but it's worked wonders for me.
posted by FlamingBore at 10:20 AM on January 24, 2005

I have fairly severe stage-fright, if I need to perform, I go to open mics for a few weeks to take the edge off.

Go to more parties?

I find myself to be a more confident communicator when I'm very clean and well dressed, not my usual condition.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 10:22 AM on January 24, 2005

The single biggest thing that worked for me is paying more attention to others than to myself. Man's capacity to invent private neurotic hells is endless, but paying attention to someone else for a change can be really liberating.
posted by inksyndicate at 10:28 AM on January 24, 2005

There was this book profiled in the NYT a couple of months ago about confidence. It may be this one.
posted by scazza at 10:28 AM on January 24, 2005

I've been told by several people that I make poor-to-bad eye contact, especially at social events where I am out of my element, and either come across as over-the-top or shrinking violet. Now, in my work with Autistic children, I've learned to recognize some of the more anti-social behavior traits in myself, but it's still very hard for me to self-regulate.

Alcohol helps, as does sleep deprivation. I tend to be much more traditionally congenial after sugar, and alcohol, and/or sleep deprivation. These aren't entirely healthy remedies, but they help.

I also have a close friend who's dynamite with interpersonal interactions, even with strangers. Recently, as I've been hanging out with her, all I can really do is take note of some of the ways she communicates, and then try to remind myself that the world does not exist merely in order to reject my feeble attempts at reaching out.
posted by redsparkler at 10:40 AM on January 24, 2005 [1 favorite]

I have similar issues. The thing that I find useful is to focus on the task rather than the person. You and they have something you want to do together: a meeting is just a way of figuring out how to do that. If you worry about the whats and the hows, you have less time to worry about the whos.

I put myself into this frame of mind by constructing the agenda, and the corresponding goals for the meeting in my head before hand. The focus in the meeting is to meet those goals (or to adapt them, as necessary). Sometimes that means listening, often it means offering an argument for your point of view. Try to think about the arguments you'll need. If you have time, it doesn't hurt to rehearse them to yourself.

I realize that this is a very objective task- and data-centred approach---it won't work for everyone, but it does work for me.
posted by bonehead at 10:44 AM on January 24, 2005

I imagine I'm talking to my wife. She's pretty, easy to talk to, and doesn't ridicule me if have fluency issues or saunter around with my speech. The most important thing is to mentally take yourself out of the physical location then put yourself back in. I see a board room full of cranky accountants, I close my eyes, say a quick prayer, then see my girl sitting at the end of the table in her PJ's with her iBook patiently waiting for me to finish up so that she can go take a shower. Whenever I do this, I nail it.
posted by sled at 10:51 AM on January 24, 2005 [1 favorite]

Being well-prepared and one step ahead will definitely give you extra confidence.

You may also want to look into ToastMasters. I know people who have benefitted greatly from it.
posted by mds35 at 10:53 AM on January 24, 2005

Some great advice already! Here's one more book to read - How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
posted by seawallrunner at 11:41 AM on January 24, 2005

Awesome advice here. I'd like to put a slightly different spin (or maybe just emphasis) on comments made by bonehead and a couple of others.

I am extremely shy. Yet I teach for a living and I also work in the theatre. I used to try to deal with my problem by working to become more confident interacting with people. Nothing seemed to work.

One day, I decided that since I lack so much confidence in that area, I was compounding the problem by any OTHER areas where I lacked confidence. From then on, I made sure that I was always super-organized. I may be uncomfortable looking you in the eye, but I know EXACTLY what I'm doing in every other aspect of the classroom or the rehearsal hall. (I.e. if I'm acting, I learn my lines backwards and forwards).

To my surprise, that confidence leaked over into "people confidence" without me even trying anything. Now students and co-artists complement me on my people skills!

I also realized -- and this was a difficult realization -- that I had been using my shyness as an excuse for laziness. I would claim that I froze on stage because of shyness. In reality, it was because I didn't put in the work I should have on my lines.
posted by grumblebee at 2:24 PM on January 24, 2005 [2 favorites]

I'm an extrovert at work and an introvert almost everywhere else.

My solution was to get so involved with whatever I'm doing, that talking about the projects just comes naturally. If you know what needs to be done forwards and backwards, and it helps if you're excited about what you're doing though that part can be faked, then work conversations become relatively easy. Once you're comfortable talking about projects, then the social stuff just flows naturally, once you get to know your co-workers.

You'll get a rep for being the person to talk to which will cause your confidence to go up which will improve your talking skills which will cause your rep to go up. Its a pleasant version of a vicious cycle.

In terms of presentations, if you're easily nervous in front of people, then you should probably skip the pleasantries, which will just increase your nervousness, and get immediately down to the meat of the presentation. Once you're dealing directly with the ideas and thoughts which are your chief focus, you'll forget about your stage fright.

I don't know if my solution is transferrable to others but its worked very well for me.
posted by pandaharma at 2:47 PM on January 24, 2005

My job requires that I work in new locations quite regularly. As a result, I was forced to learn how to build rapport quickly and to figure out how to start conversations. It was painful, but with practice, it got much easier.

The best thing I've come up with is to follow a simple script of questions to ask the person when I first meet them. "Where are you from?" "How long have you worked here?" "Where'd you go to school?" Seem like stupid questions, but they can be quite effective. Most people like to talk about themselves and when someone gives them the opportunity, they enjoy it. It also gives you insight as to what the person is about. I've found it helpful to focus on things that we have in common and talk about that. If there doesn't appear to be anything, I ask about something they mentioned that I have no knowledge about. Eventually I realized that this initial conversation and what I've learned about the person can be great way to start conversations the next time we work together.

I pretty much follow this plan until I am comfortable with the person enough to relax and have a "normal" conversation.

Good luck.
posted by danuble at 4:41 PM on January 24, 2005

You can "trick yourself" into feeling confident by getting your congruence right.

When we communicate we use one, two or all three communication "channels":

Words....Plain English, Gobbledygook, Technish, whatever.
Tone....the way we SAY those words. body language, facial expression etc.

"Congruence" is when all these 3 channels are giving the same message. Congruence often comes over (to others) as confidence (or assertiveness). Then, the others start to communicate with you as though you were confident/assertive (rather than just congruent).

As they treat you as assertive/confident your actual confidence grows over time and your congruence changes to actual confidence.

Hope of help....good luck!
posted by JtJ at 3:20 AM on January 25, 2005

Things that helped me (and it sounds like a similar circumstance that made me change) :

1) Talk to them like they are your friends. Smile, make eye-contact, stop regularly to check that everyone understands.

2) Don't care what people say. Now that you're out of school, it's very rare that anyone will say "Shut up! You don't know *anything*" to your face. If they say it behind your back, so what?

3) Know your stuff. I still get thrown when someone asks a tangential question about something related, but with which I haven't been involved. And I then lose track, and get embarrassed.

4) Don't be afraid to put yourself down, or make fun of yourself. Gabble too quickly? Joke about needing to "put your teeth back in". Realise that people are glazing over? Yawn, and apologise that you managed to bore yourself.

I'm sure that there are other things - people say to imagine the person you're talking to naked. They probably haven't met some of the people I have to talk to... :-)
posted by Chunder at 7:13 AM on January 25, 2005

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