How Do I Change People's First Impressions Of Me and TALK LESS?
January 21, 2013 3:38 PM   Subscribe

I've asked similar questions on here, but I'm now focusing on one of my behaviours--Talking way too much, way too soon. I'm in France on exchange, and while I've made friends and calmed down a lot since my last question, I'm still in the habit of monopolizing conversations (ughhhh) and generally being an intense weirdo due to my social anxiety. I'm generally confident and extroverted and was improving on my intense-crazy communication style quite a bit, but this trip is bringing out the worst of my social anxiety bad habits. Please help!

I have asked questions similar to this quite frequently here, but I want to get to the root of this basic issue now. I'm 20 years old, female, currently in France on exchange (been here for 3 weeks now) and I'm having some social difficulty. We are about 200 students from all around the world, so it's actually a rather small group. We drink and party way too much in the student city I'm in. I'm not exactly sure what I think yet of the culture here, but I am aware that I'm still experiencing culture shock. Of course, this is adding to my difficulty here.

I'm SO FAR from perfect, but I'm a pretty great girl in many aspects (if I do say so myself...)--I'm smart, I've overcome some difficulties, I am hard-working, I'm kind, whatever. I like myself, my real deep-down self, just fine. But I feel like it's hard for others on this exchange to like me because I've been talking too much.

It's mainly out of anxiety and stress. I've been making some really good friends here, and I've had some good times. I know there are people here who already quite like me and I know there's a lot who won't. I'm fine with that. But I feel like I'm scaring off a huge subset of potential friends just by being too talkative at the beginning of having met them. It's been rough because it's who I am, a very talkative, expressive, and outgoing person, but I DO believe I can control it if I consciously TRY.

One thing that I've tried to keep in mind is that I should give everyone a chance to say something in the group before I do. But frustratingly, I can't stand awkward silences. I feel it's almost painfully awkward when there's silence, and my kneejerk reaction is to talk. I know (TRUST ME, I know) that sometimes, silence is truly truly golden. But what can I do to tell myself to shut up? I want people to get to know me slowly and surely. Please help me try and slow my thoughts and actions down.

I know I've been improving a lot. But there are a LOT of situations here that just make me feel really anxious. And I'm very worried that I've already made permanently bad impressions on people--just by talking too much, too loudly, too expressively, too intensely...too soon.

So I ask you people--How can I stop gushing with stuff to say? How can I show people that I'm genuinely a nice person with brains, and change their initial impression of me? How do I calm down, and honestly, how do I SHUT UP? =P

Is it possible to change first impressions? (I know the answer is yes, but it feels so difficult) And if you've been through the same things, I'd love to hear some anecdotes!

Thank you so much.
posted by rhythm_queen to Human Relations (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Ask questions. People love to be asked about themselves. When you feel anxious, or awkward silence... find something to ask about!

This is really easy to do in an environment where you don't know people, too. You're in a position to learn so much about the culture and people, and you'll learn way more by asking as well.

But don't stop at asking -- really listen to the answer, give the person time to finish answer, and ask more questions based off of what they said.

If I were making friends in France (oh how jealous I am!), I would be curious about what their day-to-day life was like, differences in TV shows and movies that are popular, what it's really like to grow up in the French education system, the foods I *had* to try before going home, where they go on vacation, the best shops, what clothes I should buy before going home, if French people tour the chateaus or if that's just a foreigner thing, on and on. If you're worried about having questions, think of some before you meet people so you have a list to choose from.

When you get into a good exchange (and most people will ask you about things as well -- a good conversation is a roughly 50/50 balance of QAAQQAA), just make sure you are still asking questions -- give yourself a mental check.
posted by DoubleLune at 3:55 PM on January 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

You seem very concerned about people getting to know you, but you don't mention how you will get to know them.

Next time you are in a social setting, change the goal from how others view you to who everyone else is, and start asking them questions and listening. If there's an awkward silence, don't fill it with your ideas, ask them about theirs.

It's the main component of "How to Win Friends and Influence People". If you want people to like you, be honestly interested in them. People like someone who finds them fascinating a lot more then they like fascinating people. We're vain that way.

And don't be so hung up on everyone liking you, it is impossible to achieve and will destroy your self esteem. Out of 200 people in the class, there is guaranteed one person who loves a chatty excitable friend and one person who can't stand it. You can't please both people, and if you try to conform to whatever the person you are speaking with likes you'll end up hurting yourself.
posted by Dynex at 3:58 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

You seem very concerned with how other people are getting to know you. It would help to express more interest in getting to know other people. Not only will it force you to talk less, especially when it comes to oversharing about yourself, but it will prevent you from monopolizing conversations with "Me, me, me!" It's much easier to keep conversations flowing and minimize awkward silences when you find commonalities between yourself and others.

As someone who is generally quiet and introverted, I've never been "scared off" by loud, talkative people. In fact, I'm often thankful when I meet people who aren't the least bit shy and will take the liberty of pulling me out of my shell. But I am put off by people who regularly launch into monologues, steamroll over everyone's attempted contributions, and generally don't seem interested in anyone else or anyone else's opinions on the matter. I don't like feeling like someone's audience, if that makes sense.

Holy cow, on preview, exactly what Dynex just said.
posted by keep it under cover at 3:59 PM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

In my experience, people who talk too much come across as people who don't care what you have to say. It feels like they'd be just as content talking to the wall because they don't show interest in what you have to say and when they do stop talking, they only seem to be thinking of the next thing they want to say instead of listening to you. It can also skew a group conversation dynamic if one person dominates, which may lead to more of those "silences" you hate.

So, try a day where you try to make a habit of asking people questions or ask what they think. If you had to put a ratio on you talking vs them talking, try to keep it 40 (you) to 60 (them).

When you find yourself opening your mouth simply to fill a silence, count to 20 before talking. If you find yourself needing to take deep breaths while talking, because you are talking for so long, then try making shorter statements and then give the other party the chance to speak.

Put a reminder somewhere, so you can make a habit to give others a chance to speak.
posted by dottiechang at 4:02 PM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Hi! You're all already absolutely, absolutely right. I just really want to point out that I DO want to get to know people, to make real friendships and real connections. I certainly do not intend to launch into monologues or interrupt people. I hate it when I feel that others are uncomfortable around me. My question is honestly about making people more comfortable around me rather than scaring them off.

One-on-one I fare quite a bit better (though I've had trouble in the past, it's much easier for me to have one-on-one conversations than in groups, where I feel strange and much more anxious) but this is a huge, group setting. It's been frustratingly hard here, frequently =/

The only reason I am so talkative, I feel, is because of my anxiety. I don't think I am better than anyone I meet, neither do I think what I have to say is more important. The anxiety that leads to this kind of behavior is extremely frustrating, and I'll have to deal with that in a more long-term way, but for now I am looking for how to control my speaking habits. Great tips, as usual. Promise I am not going to thread-sit.
posted by rhythm_queen at 4:08 PM on January 21, 2013

The common advice is to ask more questions and I agree that a little of that can't hurt but I don't think question asking is the meat of most conversations between people when they're really connecting. I've noticed that when people are at ease they tend to talk in parallel. One person will say, "let me tell you about this experience I had." The other person will react in some way and then say, "Let me tell you about this similar experience I had." This is a good way of telling the other person about yourself but also showing interest in them, by finding a way relating your experience to their own.
posted by timsneezed at 4:12 PM on January 21, 2013

When I first saw your question, I was confused because I thought someone had asked the exact same question just a week ago (down to the details of the trip to France), and I was wondering if AskMetafilter had glitched up and started showing older questions or something. Then I dug through your history and saw why - you DID post a very similar question just less than two weeks ago!

And to that extent, I feel like there are some re-occurring issues going on here. Here's my advice for you:

- Being self-conscious and being self-centered often go hand in hand. It's tough to engage with other people if you're constantly worried about the way you look to others, because your attention will be on yourself and not the other person. Internally, it may be reasonable to be a bit anxious, but externally, you need to be aware of the image that you're projecting onto others. They can definitely tell that you're paying more attention to yourself than them, but they aren't able to see your inner motivations, so you end up looking self-centered as a manner of being childish and egotastic. From your questions, I can tell you're focusing very, very much on the way you appear to others. As others have pointed out, being interested in others is the step to developing reciprocal relationships. But again: you must be genuinely interested in them, and not faking. I'll rephrase that, actually: it's less about faking (because other people ARE inherently interesting) as it is devoting energy to them - and the more energy you put into keeping an eye on yourself, the less energy you'll have to pour into them.

- It's okay if not everyone likes you. There is absolutely no personality type that everyone will get along with, and honestly, the vast majority of personality types out there have their complements. I'm personally brash and overbearing and talkative in real life too; sometimes, people won't click with me, and that's okay, but other times, people do click with me magnificently (it's generally the quiet introspective type whose energy I can really pick up and bring out). Instead of trying to change who you fundamentally are, embrace your personality strengths. People will flock to you no matter what your personality is - as long as you're confident in and aware of who you are.

- Give things more time. It was only a week in when you posted your first question. It's only been less than three weeks in now. Relationships honestly don't move that fast, and if you feel that you're being left behind, that's just you projecting your own fears and anxieties onto the narrow pie slice of the interactions you see others having. Sometimes, a need for speed can really scare people off - realize that in any relationship, you're not the only one dictating how fast they move: and if you're not paying attention to and picking up the cues as to the pace that the other person is going at, you're not going to do well.

Basically, calm down. I feel like 90% of your problems right now are caused by you being anxious, because you otherwise sound like you're doing fairly well in meeting and engaging with others. And seriously, other people ARE going to be picking up on your anxiety and feeling anxious for all that nervous energy around you. Heck, just reading your post makes me feel high-strung and nervous right now. You do not want to make people feel even more nervous than they already are. Try to repeat the three things I pointed out above to yourself, and keep in mind that this exchange is pretty much the best time to experiment. Yes - you might meet some life-long friends, but the majority of people you meet aren't going to be in contact with you ever again after the exchange. Let yourself make mistakes and introspect on them later, but for now - you're in France! Enjoy yourself!
posted by Conspire at 4:24 PM on January 21, 2013 [8 favorites]

Are you aware of the non-verbal cues that other people give when they're about to speak? Making a practice of looking for them when silence falls could be helpful in not jumping to fill the silence yourself, and in demonstrating that you're actively paying attention to other people. I've seen attentive extroverts who could dominate a conversation on their own draw out quieter people with a purposeful look or question. It's a good skill to cultivate, if you have the inclination.
posted by EvaDestruction at 4:37 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree with Conspire, and will add that people will pick up on how you are feeling and often mirror it back to you. You might be sensing that people are uncomfortable because you are uncomfortable.

I have social anxiety and strongly recommend you seek out CBT therapy when you are able to. When I find myself freezing up I concentrate on relaxing my body language, forming a confident yet relaxed posture, and breathing slowly and deeply from the stomach. It really helps, a lot like how physically smiling will affect your mood. Practice it on your own, imagine yourself yourself in a stressful environment and let your body tense up and get that anxiety rising, then change your posture and breathe.
posted by Dynex at 4:40 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wanted to add: I would personally avoid following arbitrary rules like "you should talk half of the time, they should talk half of the time", "let them say something, respond with your experience, repeat," and so on. Some people can find them useful; but for myself personally, I find that it makes me neurotic. The issue is that not everyone plays by these rules, and you'll find yourself questioning and double-checking if you've done something wrong if they're causing you to "breaking the rules" when they're actually having a pleasant time and can't tell that there's a problem. Not everyone has the same interaction style; I have a friend who just loves to listen and dole out tidbits of insight, so the proportion is skewed heavily in my favor, whereas I know a noisy musician who talks 90% of the time about fascinating stuff while I listen appreciatively.

Plus, if you're not used to following the rules, that's yet another thing you're going to be focused on instead of focusing on the other person.

Generally, I let the conversation stream run as it goes naturally. Sometimes I'll find myself getting more animated depending on the person, sometimes I'll find myself being more quiet, and that's fine. The only thing you can decide for yourself is "did I enjoy talking to this person?", and naturally, you'll only really be able to answer that question honestly if you're not putting all sorts of checks and balances on yourself. Whether the other person enjoyed talking to you is totally up to them, and that's fine - but hey, at least you gave them your full attention, and let yourself have a chance, right?

YMMV, but just keep in mind that not everyone follows these things and it's perfectly fine and that there's nothing wrong with you if you find them more fussy than helpful.
posted by Conspire at 9:49 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's funny, I had a real issue with silence in conversations too until I started listening to a radio program where the DJ would take his time in gathering his thoughts in response to people. I had never heard that before. Radio is always constantly going, no dead air allowed. Of course, this program was not on at conventional hours where a ton of people would be listening to it, but it shocked me still to hear it. It made me feel awkward to listen to it when it happened. As I kept listening to the program though, I started to get used to the silence. I started feeling less awkward with it, and could almost anticipate when the person who called into the program would start getting uncomfortable with it (instead of me). It wasn't for minutes on end, mind you, but definitely long pauses. I guess my mind got used to it, and realized that nothing bad would happen if there was silence allowed in the conversation. It actually started to feel good. It's breathing room, I think.

Conversations are alive, they need time to breathe, to ebb and flow. Go with the tide if it slows down, don't fight it. If you had to listen to a song that went on and on and on, you would want to kill someone after a while. It's like that with conversations. I don't think the silence is much to be afraid of, or an indication that something is going horribly wrong. It's a good opportunity to digest what the other person has said, and give space to what ideas will come next to talk about.

I think it's about practice, maybe try with a friend you already know quite well, or feel really comfortable with. When your anxious thought pop up that say "oh it's quiet I have to start talking about something now or else they'll think I'm boring/not interested/or whatever", just try to be ok with some breathing room (it's not the other person that's thinking those thoughts anyway, it's you, your inner dialogue). I think that's a big reason why there's a tendency to interrupt other people when they're speaking- you have a voice that's constantly going in your head that's not giving you much rest. At least I did, pretty severely. You could try meditation, that helps quiet the mind.

And really, nthing asking people questions about themselves, their passions, and whatever else interests them. This can help improve your listening skills, and you get to learn all these new amazing things about the other person. This makes conversation fun, and less focused on the anxiety of "is this going well", or "should I be speaking now because it's quiet". Don't be afraid to take some time to gather your thoughts, and go off the cues from the other person about where the conversation should go next. You could perhaps try thinking "I wonder what they'll say next" (with an inherent curiosity), whenever you get that knee jerk feeling to bust open the silence with words. Don't put all the focus on you having to steer the boat when it comes to conversation, it's a two way street.

Don't worry about the silence, if you're a good enough listener and have some interesting things to say, it's not terminal in the least :)
posted by readygo at 1:40 AM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh and if you do get the chance to practice some "breathing room" with a friend, perhaps at an outdoor cafe (what better place to do it, if it's warm enough!), it might help to try and focus in that moment on how warm the sun feels on your face, the breeze against your skin, or any other sensation that brings your attention to your other senses, and out of your mind. Really try to feel it, enjoy it, that moment. If you're successful and open to it, you'll open your eyes with smile on your face, and who doesn't want to be around someone who's got some joy on their side.

You're in France by the way, beauty all around! Enjoy it :)
posted by readygo at 2:07 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I sometimes have this problem. I repeat to myself, calmly and firmly:

"Listen. Think. Breathe. Speak."
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:36 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's not having a lot of little things to say that tends to be off-putting, but a tendency to monologue. If you just add little bits, you're not so likely to inhibit other people's ideas; it's the long rambles that monopolize the conversation. If nobody else is talking or about to talk, and something relevant pops into your head, it's okay to want to say it. But first, try to summarize your paragraph(s) in just one sentence. The thing you're going for is to make someone you're conversing with say, "Oh, really? Tell me more - when/why/how was that?" If they don't seem inclined to ask a question or follow up on the sentence you threw out there, then the soliloquy you just aborted would probably have been annoying or not fit the conversation as well as you'd hoped.
posted by aimedwander at 6:58 AM on January 22, 2013

You can also verbalize to other people - 'I'm talking a lot because I'm a bit nervous'. 9 times out of 10 this will defuse things for you and give others something genuine to relate to. Maybe even put them more at ease. People's kindness and generosity may surprise you.
posted by Salamandrous at 2:39 PM on January 22, 2013

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