Overcoming shyness in social situations


In this month’s mindfulness and wellbeing updates, we’ll be thinking about ways of coping with shyness in social encounters. 


The pandemic years and consequent changes to our lifestyle have impacted considerably on many of our social interactions, as has the onward march of technology and the fact that a far greater proportion of our lives seems to take place online these days. This scenario can, of course, work in the favour of some people, and indeed if you’re a freelancer then you’re probably already fairly familiar with working remotely, corresponding with people in other countries, and spending long periods of time in your own company. 


Having said that, times will come when we’re all thrust out into the world. As a freelancer, you might decide to attend a workshop or a conference, whereas if you work for a company, you might be invited to a team-building event with colleagues, or another work social situation. On a more personal level, you might find yourself facing daunting occasions such as meeting your partner’s family for the first time, or being introduced to a personal friend’s wider friendship group.


Whatever the occasion, we have a few tips that we hope will come in handy, though they’re by no means exhaustive, so please feel free to share your own ideas in the comments section. 


  • You’re not alone


The first thing to emphasise is that there’s nothing innately wrong with being shy. We all have our own ways of being and communicating. Furthermore, we might feel more shy when in unfamiliar situations, such as speaking in a foreign language, or having to hold a conversation about a topic that we’re not very familiar with. The perceived weight of a situation in terms of social acceptance, professional outcomes and so on can also have an impact on our shyness, but it’s important to remember that even the most confident and accomplished people have moments of doubt. Shyness is part of being human.


  • Try to find common ground 


If you’re interacting with people that you don’t know very well, try as far as possible to avoid touchy topics. As well as the usual conversational flashpoints of religion and politics, try to avoid bringing up anything that is likely to split opinion, particularly between different members of your group. Sadly, the somewhat febrile nature of today’s social media age means that we now tend to have more polarised opinions about a wider range of topics, so it’s probably also best steering clear of some of the more specific areas of contention, such as controversial items in the news, or topics like whether or not lockdowns were worth it.


Instead, think about some lightweight conversational topics that you can easily discuss with people, such as sports or holidays, or try asking about things that are close to people’s hearts. People generally like talking about their kids or their pets, but food is also a topic that most of us have something to say about. If you can already see you have something in common with the people that you’re talking to, you can mention this to create common ground.


If possible and appropriate, see if you can find out something about the person or the people you’ll be seeing before your meeting. For example, if you have a job interview scheduled, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to look up your interviewer on LinkedIn to learn more about their background, as you might have previously worked for the same company or studied at the same university. The same goes if you attend meetups with other translators (whether online or in person), or any other type of industry networking event. 


  • Don’t be afraid to make the first move 


Often the hardest part of any social occasion, particularly in groups and particularly with people that we don’t know well, is getting the conversation started. Sometimes, the best thing is to just say anything, even if it’s only a remark about the weather or the traffic. Once people start talking, the conversation will get easier. Remember that you might not be the only person feeling shy, and that your saying something might make another person feel more at ease.


  • Don’t overanalyse afterwards


We tend to rake over social situations and only remember the worst parts, but if you did something you’re mildly embarrassed about then try not to replay it in your mind too many times. Not only will you torture yourself, but other people around you might not have even noticed, or they might have found it endearing. Unless you unintentionally said or did something that you genuinely feel merits an apology on your part, it’s best not to bring these things up again. Be forgiving of yourself. 


  • Run with the good parts of the situation


However the event or interaction went, you did well just by turning up to it. You should be proud of yourself for rising to the challenge, particularly if your shyness can make this difficult for you. If you managed to succeed with something over and above the social element – for example, if the occasion involved you having to speak in a language you’re not very confident in, or holding your own among experts in a topic – use this as inspiration for future encounters. If you made friends or professional contacts, make sure to follow up with them. Most importantly, take this courage forward to the next social encounter. 


That wraps up our tips for getting to grips with daunting encounters, but we’d love to hear your ideas too. Do you have any tips for overcoming shyness in social situations? Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments.


Until the next time!