Trouble talking about myself
May 16, 2016 5:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm a shy person and it seems like I will always be this way. As I've grown older (I'm in my late 20s) I've learned to cope with my personality quirks and to modify certain negative aspects of my social self, but overall I think that socializing and entering new situations will always be a little bit tough for me. But I still would like to challenge my character and learn to open up more.

Speaking has been particularly difficult for me all my life. For the most part I've learned to overcome problems with speaking in the workplace by over preparing beforehand. I can speak quite freely about things that I feel I have considered and weighed thoroughly. But when I have to wing it I feel nervous, unfocused, and my mind goes blank so it is difficult for me to speak. Sometimes I face similar difficulties in social relationships. With people whom I admire I can become a bit introverted and I feel unsure of what to say or how to share my thoughts and experiences.

My way of having a personal conversation with someone is to ask lots of questions. I've learned to tone them down so that they are not too intense (a problem I had in my youth) and now people seem to really enjoy answering my questions. Most people can get a bit self absorbed, though, and often they neglect to ask me personal questions in turn. I try not to rely on direct questions in order to talk about myself, but sometimes, despite myself, I crave them because they make me feel the person cares to hear my thoughts. So I'm looking for advice on this particular issue: how do I learn to share my thoughts and experiences more freely in a conversation? I wish there were a way for me to over prepare as I do with my work, but that sounds a bit absurd. Maybe it's not though? Perhaps keeping a diary with share-able thoughts would be a good idea? I'm open to any insights or advice you might have for me!

By the way, I hope the tone was not too dour in this post. I have several friends with whom I have an equal relationship, and I can be quite fun and intimate in conversations, especially when I'm excited, but I've recently been trying to develop new relationships and have faced some direct confrontation on the issue of my private nature. It would make me happier to be able to open up with these new people.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (4 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Not too dour! I am also more comfortable asking questions of other people than talking about myself. Most people like to be asked, but I've learned to keep it from sounding like an interview by really softening my tone so it doesn't sound "demanding." Also I try to make the next question flow from their answer:
Like: Where are you from? (answer-- Hudson Valley, NY.)
Next question-- Oh, is it as pretty there as they say? (answer-- yes, especially in the fall)
Next question-- Did you go down to the city often?

A way to volunteer info is to spin off the questioning. "I'd love to drive up the Hudson River in the fall! I've been through Vermont in the fall, and that's beautiful. I don't think I could ever live in the south or Southern California because I'd miss the fall colors so much."


Of course, how you converse with someone you just met and how you converse with a friend is different, but you want to get from "just met" to "friend". Try just letting it flow. Listen and pick up on what the other person said. Use inclusive language-- "Oh, I love sushi too!" and "You're so right about that!"

I am going to embarrass myself and say that sometimes before parties where I know more or less what sort of person I'll be meeting, I write out a little script -- mostly just questions-- and read it again before going in. You know, if this party is going to have a lot of bankers, I might have a few questions about how banking works and how their job fits in with the big scheme.

I think if you try to connect the "me" with the answers you get to the questions, and don't hijack the conversation to be "all about me" (which it sounds like you're not going to do!), then they will get an idea of who you are, and also feel positively about you because you're interested in them.
Just be genuine. Ask about what interests you about what they tell you about themselves. If you're really bored by banking, ask about what interests YOU-- like what they do after work, or where they went to high school. I drive cancer patients to their treatments (just a volunteer job), and obviously they're not that interested in me, but if they seem to want to talk, I ask where they went to high school. (Usually it's here in our town, and I'll know the neighborhood.) Oddly enough, that's just an easy question that opens up to a lot else.
I think you sound like you'd be a good person to talk to at a party! You might seek out the shyer people-- probably no one thinks to ask them about themselves.
posted by my-sharona at 5:49 PM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

This may sound really dumb and obvious, but I've had the same issue, and my solution was that when something popped into my head about my own experience, I would say it out loud. Like, they say, "I went hiking this weekend," and I would think "I did too!" but I would instead say, "Oh really, where did you go?" But now I'll say "I did too! I went to ___, where did you go?"

I also find it useful to pretend I'm better friends with the person than I am. I tend to be reserved, but not with close friends. So if I want to have a real conversation with someone, it helps me to think of that person as someone I have really warm feelings toward, rather than someone I don't really know.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:32 PM on May 16, 2016 [6 favorites]

This also maybe sounds dumb, but I'm a formerly-shy person (which would probably surprise many people who know me now) and my most helpful trick was to try to imagine myself as a character, and enter into conversations while playing that character. I'm a university professor and I still heavily rely on this trick when I'm doing my lectures or interacting with students.

The character I decided on is just a kind of caricatured, kind of idealised version of myself, which is what I think makes it work. It also spins my weaknesses into good traits or at least non-negative ones (in terms of keeping the conversation going).

To illustrate: my weaknesses as an interlocutor are that I can be scatterbrained, kind of bumbly, and I have a weird background and interests relative to many potential conversation partners which mean that half the time I don't know what's going on -- I don't get a lot of references, etc. My strengths are that I'm pretty good at quickly making surprising links, which can be helpful for branching the conversation out or inserting offbeat humour. The net effect is that I can easily play a sort of bumbling, geekily eccentric professor-type who is constantly self-deprecating but really interested in learning about or talking to almost anyone. It's almost actually me, but it's enough of a step removed that it enables me to get beyond the self-consciousness that plagues shy people: I don't worry about people judging me, they're just judging this character.

Like I said, it sounds silly. But I swear it works -- at least it does for me, most of the time.
posted by forza at 10:04 PM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm nthing the advice to take a moment to spin off of someone's answer by sharing a little more info or opinions before asking them another question, provided you're careful not to ask questions only to set up your own answers. But you seem considerate enough that I doubt this will be a problem!

But frankly, if you're talking to someone who can't stop talking about themselves (even if it is in response to your questions) long enough to respond with "And what about you?" every so often, that might be saying more about THEIR conversational issues than yours.
posted by helloimjennsco at 9:12 AM on May 17, 2016

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