Why do people go quiet around me and how I can I make a better connection with them?
July 25, 2007 7:11 AM   Subscribe

Why do people go quiet around me?

Well, not all the time. But I've noticed, especially within the last few years, that some people tend to go really quiet and shy around me but tend to be loud and open around other people.

This usually happens when I don't know someone too well, and it happens with both guys and girls. I wouldn't describe myself as being loud, in fact I'm pretty shy, but I'm always the first to say hello, or to introduce myself. I'm a normal enough guy (read: I don't come off as a weirdo) and I try to be friendly but I always sense some sort of hesitation from people.

Lately I've been telling myself that they are the shy ones but then I realized that it may be something that I'm doing, is there a way I can come across as more friendly or less intimidating? Not that I think that I'm intimidating.

Oh, just to add, I get along well with pretty much everyone that I meet; I try my best to be considerate, and will go out of my way to help. I have plenty of friends in my social circle but I'm always looking to expand.

MeFi, tell me what I can do to be more friendly.

(This is anonymous because I've told quite a number of my friends about the site and I don't want them to read this)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Being the first to say hello or to introduce yourself isn't always enough. Some people create awkward silences by being sort of abrupt, and just waiting for the next person to pick up the slack in the conversation. I find that a lot of times shy people spend a lot of time in a conversation thinking about what they're saying and very little time thinking about what the other person is saying. Make sure you are asking questions in conversation and truly listening to the responses. Asking questions that you are genuinely interested in hearing the answers to is an almost surefire way to keep a conversation going. People love nothing more than to talk about themselves, so you have to be very careful not to make it uncomfortable for them to do so.
posted by tastybrains at 7:30 AM on July 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

I second tastybrains - asking questions is key to manufacturing conversation when it isn't happenning automatically.
posted by taliaferro at 7:52 AM on July 25, 2007

This same thing happens to me, for two reasons (that I'm better at identifying than changing).

1. I suck at smalltalk. Like you, I'm friendly and will often make introductions, but if the conversation remains light for too long (as opposed to delving deeply into some complex topic), I run out of things to say or start becoming noticeably unnatural in my forced smalltalk.

2. I'm too serious. I don't mean that I have no sense of humor. I do, and I can even be extremely silly. But this side of me only comes out when I'm really comfortable with people -- with longtime friends, not acquaintances. I'm the guy in the bar who wants to have an in-depth conversation about theology, history, science or literature. And that's often a lead balloon.

The other issue -- probably the most important one -- is that I'm very aware of 1 and 2, and that makes me self-conscious. I could probable get away with being That Eccentric Guy Who Talks About Highfalutin' Stuff All The Time if I was confident about being that guy.
posted by grumblebee at 7:52 AM on July 25, 2007 [5 favorites]

I'm shy/introverted and notice that other people often have a far easier time of conversation than I do.

I try to note what it is that these people do. What I've noticed is they give the other person plenty of opportunity to join in.

As an introvert I tend to fall back on something I feel confident talking about - my experience with X, what I like about Y and I think that comes over as me really liking to talk about me when really its me just trying to continue the conversation the best I can.

What the good conversationalists do is give the other person obvious places to join in, asking questions is the most obvious way to do this.

One person I've noticed who is really good at conversation will always give me an opportunity to respond to her, she'll say 'Hey, you look well today, how has your day been?' or 'I like the shoes you're wearing, where did you get them from?' or she'll remember little things from previous conversations. 'So you were planning to go to the cinema at the weekend, what did you see?'. Now I've noticed that this is what she does I make a mental note not to go on about the flim I saw for too long but to do the same back and open the door for her to respond to me.

I've tried to make more use of these conversational tactics and they do indeed lead to less strained conversations. As an introvert its really hard to talk about trivialities but I suppose you need to get through the trivialities to stand any hope of talking about less trivial things one day.
posted by Ness at 7:55 AM on July 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

tastybrains pretty much nailed it - get them to talk about themselves and LISTEN to what they say.

I've always had a tendency to not shut up in social situations - mainly out of insecurity. The result is that other people were fairly quiet around me because there just wasn't a chance for them to get a word in edgewise. Yes, I am the legendary 'mouth-of-the-south'.

Basically, I would equate even the most minute pause in a conversation to some sort of social failure on my part. Its taken a LONG time for me to force my trap shut and listen to what other people have to say. I don't have ADD, but it probably came across that way. In some situations I came across as overbearing and brash, all because I was afraid of a little silence. I'm just sharing my experiences, not saying that you are guilty of my own past mistakes.

But now, see what you've done anonymous? You've got me talking about myself, and you didn't have to say a word! We can now be BFF's.
posted by matty at 7:55 AM on July 25, 2007

The long and short of it is that it is hard to talk to shy people. I'm something of a recovering shy person and now when I run into shy people at work I'm not sure what to say and maybe in some ways respect their shyness (dont want to make them uncomfortable) and dont say much, if anything.

Its difficult to start up small-talk with a shy person. Its hard to know what to say other than 'good morning' or 'did you have a good weekend.'

There's also a good chance that people think youre snotty and do not walk to talk to them. Shy people often get mistaken for this.

I think you just need to be more outgoing and initiate conversation more often, even if its just 'how did your weekend go?' Smile more too.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:16 AM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

This usually happens when I don't know someone too well

Many people, I'd almost say a majority, are not that talkative until they know someone well. Small talk is just that -- small. It kills a few minutes here and there, and usually meant to fill a minute or two unless you stumble across a topic that leads into a larger conversation. Even then, it may take a while for someone to open up until you know them.

Don't mistake their loudness among longtime friends and quietness around you as a social snub. It's just an indicator that they value their socialization, and it will feel that much more rewarding when they do open up to you.
posted by mikeh at 8:30 AM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

You can practice small talk with strangers: your barista, dry cleaner, grocery bagger, etc. I usually start out with "Hi, how's your day going?" and chit chat from that point. I am an extreme extrovert so I admit that it's difficult for me to understand the shy person's POV, but like anything else, conversation gets better with practice. And practicing on people you don't know and may never see again is a lot lower risk / lower social overhead than a friend or co-worker.

It's also really hard to talk to people who don't respond to conversational openers. Like, if I say "Say, have you seen any good movies lately?" (an inane question, I admit, but one which almost anyone can answer) and they say "No", that doesn't really help the conversational flow. Answering "Well, I saw They Live on TBS the other day" is much more likely to spark conversation.
posted by alicetiara at 9:28 AM on July 25, 2007

I agree about asking them questions about themselves. I used to be very shy, but sort of forced myself to get over it because I realized that I wouldn't really get to know people at college if I remained that shy. People like to talk about themselves, as mentioned above, so ask them questions that don't have a Yes or No answer. That will elicit more information from them, which you can work off of. Also, before you think you'll be in a situation such as a party, think of a couple of interesting topics that, if all else fails, you could fall back on and ask them some non yes or no questions about that.

I used to hate being at the food table at a party with someone I didn't know, because after "hi" I had no clue how to start a conversation. This is where you can start asking them questions (I'm not talking about deep questions) and go from there.

You said you're friendly and no doubt you are, so approach people with a friendly smile and unless they are totally obnoxious, they'll match your smile.
posted by la petite marie at 10:27 AM on July 25, 2007

One thing you should consider, in addition to all the above (which is all good advice), is that if you're a big guy, especially if you dress particularly well or particularly badly, people can get intimidated.

Just ask questions and smile and I think you should be fine. Don't respond in such a way that they're put off ("I really like Austin Powers!" "Really? Oh. I prefer Fellini."). For the first few times you see them, compliment them in a very delicate, very casual, 'I am not sucking up or trying to hit on you' way, and make a point of paying attention to them.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 12:10 PM on July 25, 2007

You need this shirt.
posted by dagnyscott at 2:09 PM on July 25, 2007

Do you ever see how those same people react to other individuals who may also not be as familiar with them? Like if this included co-workers, do they get just as awkward and quiet when a new employee joins in, stuff like that? Are these groups all really close amongst each other to begin with, or is it a random collection of people who seem to be getting along at the moment?

It might just be them and not you, but if it happens a lot I can see why it might be hard to not take so personally.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 2:31 PM on July 25, 2007

Have a few topics in your brain to bring up.. sports or current events... sometimes people run out of ideas.
posted by MiffyCLB at 3:11 PM on July 25, 2007

Nthing the suggestion to ask questions. And, more importantly, listen to what they say; don't look like you're simply composing your response in your head while they talk. Ask them to amplify on their answers so that they know you're genuinely interested.
posted by Oriole Adams at 3:27 PM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think the only way to really find out what's going on is to ask someone who knows you. You need a reality check from someone's who's observed you in real life.

If you get a lot of "huh, I have no idea what that could be!" re-read all this. But you could get, "well, it's not that it bothers ME or anything, but I think maybe SOME people feel xyz." And you could also get "really? I see people open up to you that never talk to ANYONE!"
posted by salvia at 4:32 PM on July 25, 2007

As kind of a shy, or at least conversationally awkward, person, I have to say that you want to take it easy when asking questions about, showing interest in and/or complimenting a shy person you're getting to know. All that stuff makes me feel like someone is shining a klieg light in my face and makes me extremely self-conscious.

Don't get me wrong, the techniques themselves are good, but not overdoing and keeping the focus on something external, not the person or her/his clothes or haircut or life, is helpful. I have had a very dear friend for decades who's a great conversationalist, but she used to be a journalist, and Jesus, I sometimes look down midway through dinner when we're out and realize I haven't eaten more than two bites because I've been "interviewed" for the last 30 minutes and haven't had much chance to ask her anything. And this is with an intimate; it's way more irritating when a stranger does it.

The whole goal here is to dispense with the loathsome social convention of "smalltalk" as soon as is humanly possible and get to substantive "talk," which for me includes just shooting the shit, mocking mockworthy things, trading smartass remarks. Those are light but so much nicer than icky, generic, personal smalltalk.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:12 PM on July 25, 2007

Leaving aside for now individual personal preferences or differences (eg introverts v extroverts), my general theory is that people tend to reflect back whatever 'energy' is directed towards them. This seems almost self-evident - if somebody is giving off warm & friendly 'vibes' (argh!) towards you, you are more likely to reciprocate than not. Conversely, if they appear hostile or aloof, then chances are you'll draw back.

The net result, factoring the individual differences back into the equation, is that you tend to meet somewhere in the middle. In my own observation, I find that I can be a hundred different people even within the same setting, depending on whether the person I am interacting with is boisterous & blokey, quiet & intellectual, lighthearted & jokey, warm & empathetic, and so on.

Added to that is my theory of momentum or inertia, which is that whatever path you initially set along with somebody, it takes more energy to change that path than to continue along it and expand it along the same lines, so it might be that (for example) your relationship with a person starts off all flippant & wisecracking, with the result that it's more likely to continue like that than it is to become all serious & philosophical.

Some people are also more likely to be sensitive to these kinds of nuances, and to react along the lines I have described - effectively, trying to empathise with & pre-empt how they think you want them to behave towards you. It sounds to me like you are one of those types of people, and if the more mercurial types around you who you describe are similar, then I'd say you might have part of your answer there - you could be trying too hard to second-guess each other & going round in amusing little circles.

(for a bonus prize, try googling INFP or ENFP & see if they describe you at all)
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:08 PM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

remember that a conversation is an improvisation between the two of you, so there really aren't rules you have to follow to "do it right". You just have to decide what you think is fun and find out if this person finds the same thing fun. The other factor is the long term, that is, you can try to please this person by making it fun for them so that they will continue to hang out with you, even if you don't really find it fun, but honestly, I don't think it's worth spending too much effort on this aspect since if you don't share interests, then why really spend time together?

so, personally, I find intelligent discussion fun. Sure, things will start with small talk, because we will get each other's names and so forth, but we are going to find a segue into a topic of interest through a job or a news event or a book one of us read or even just something one of us was recently thinking about. If the other person doesn't respond in a manner that feeds the conversation - if they want to talk about sports or clothes or tell me what happened in a movie, (not comment on something but just retell a joke, basically) I'll want to dig around and comment on the joke or what it means, or find a way to make it interesting.

If the other person is just not going to take me up on it at any point, then I don't mind just not really talking. Awkward pauses don't have to be awkward. I just decided that it wasn't awkward if no one talked, and now I don't worry if there isn't anything to say sometimes. Try to engage with people by listening to them and seeing if you share any interests - and when you're just being randomly social, be broad about sharing interests - but you don't have to force yourself to play a role.

What it comes down is, conversation is human interaction. It can either be a method for trading social cues, which is small talk, or it can be a method for sharing what is actually going on inside each other's heads. Maybe small talk is what's going on inside some people's heads, but I think the purpose of it is more to be near people and hear their voices or feel like part of the human race etc than because they really find it interesting (ie, they wouldn't read the book) whereas a good discussion can be truly thought provoking.

If you're having trouble with the small talk aspect, that's why people talk about weather, sports, and all of those everyday topics that anyone can comment on. The point of that is to make whoever it is feel included, even when it's a retired shoelace inspector whose primary interests are bob barker and waffles. But you're not obliged to make small talk with everyone. When you're trying to be polite while you're waiting for your mother in law, that's one thing; when you're trying to make new friends, that's another. If potential friends don't respond to topics that interest you, they probably won't end up being the most ideal friends. If you're not having fun, don't worry about it. Move on. This is about you, too.
posted by mdn at 11:26 AM on July 26, 2007

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