It is time for that job interview over Zoom. You are right for the job, you know it: your experience, your CV - they match the job description to a tee. You feel excited and hopeful.
But then you remember your previous interview, in person, before the lockdown. And your hands start shaking slightly. Your confidence is starting to dwindle. Your determination is dripping away from your body, taking with it all the thoughts and ideas you have prepared for the interview.
A new thought replaces them all: you are 'not good with new people'. How can you look self-confident and a great communicator if you do not know how to chit chat without blushing and almost fainting?..
So many of us feel uneasy and uncomfortable when we need to talk to people we do not know. It is especially true for those of us who are relatively the trait of shyness or timidness or introversion. Our resolve is tested if and when we need to 'sell' our services during a job interview, freelance contract pitch or a presentation to a group of people.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), approximately 40 % of all the adult population are shy to a certain extent. Some might show those traits during an unusual or stressful situation, such as job interviews. Others might be uncomfortable starting conversations and giving speeches; others might have it as severe as social anxiety which is characterised by difficulty interacting in situations involving other people. Social anxiety needs to be addressed by professionals that can help to reduce the intensity of discomfort experienced by an individual.
Shyness brought on by a job interview, a networking event where you need to talk to new people can be helped by a few tricks. Some of them are outlined below:
1. The world is a friendly place. Imagine that all the people you meet are friendly and communicative. They want to get to know you. They are interested in you. This simple thought could make starting conversations with people you don’t know a little bit easier.
2. Practice mindfulness. Be present and be genuinely excited in getting to know someone. People can sense genuine attention. Everyone likes to be listened and attended to.
When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen. - Ernest Hemingway
3. Give a helping hand. Talk to someone who looks even more uncomfortable or shy than you are. By initiating a friendly conversation with a person who also finds social interactions slightly uncomfortable, you will remove the significance of talking to a stranger and instead become a helping hand to someone else. Being helpful might actually give you enough confidence to speak to other people.
4. Come prepared. Create a cheat sheet of questions you could ask someone you meet for the first time, for instance: what your hobbies are? This one from Shauna Douglas is very comprehensive.
5. Practice active listening skills. Try listening attentively and ask questions based on what you have just heard instead of thinking what to say next. Active listening is an excellent asset in combating shyness or feeling uncomfortable in social situations. It gives you a superpower that you can use as not many people listen carefully and hear what is being said.
6. Smile. Smile signals friendliness. It attracts people to us and makes us look approachable. Everyone wants to be friends with someone who looks approachable.
7. Practice small talk. Make a habit of talking to people regularly, whether in real life or online. Create a habit of commenting on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter; leave product reviews or have a chit chat with a shop assistant while paying for your goods. All of these interactions will make it easier for you to initiate conversations with strangers and be yourself in various social settings.
Effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know.” - Jim Rohn
8. Master public speaking. Join Toastmaster group or any other groups that require you to express your thoughts and meet new people. You could also look into joining theatre or improv groups as they help to overcome insecurities connected to talking to new people.
9. Be a conversation starter. It is easier to be the first to say something as then you are the one leading the conversation, at least at the beginning.
10. Master eye contact. Look people in the eye. According to the British Psychological Society's BPS digest, avoiding eye contact sometimes signals that we are less sincere, and people might not trust us as a result. By looking people in the eye and maintaining eye contact, we say that we are open and eager to get to know them.
11. Play a game. Invent a little game when the goal is to get to know as many people as possible. If you convince yourself it’s only a game, and you are earning points for every conversation you strike - it might be less intimidating and scary to approach new people and initiate conversations.
12. Read and learn from the masters. Read books such as "How to win friends and influence people" by Dale Carnegie. It is such a classic book on improving conversation style that regardless of its age it remains valid, useful and motivating.
13. Make your goodbye count. Make a good last impression by smiling and saying something friendly. According to the primacy-recency effect people mostly remember things we say the first and the last. So if your conversation started was not strong enough, make sure to say goodbye confidently and positively.
14. Practice regularly. If you are working - attend meetings, networking sessions, etc. If you are a stay at home mom use baby/toddler groups or any other social occasions to try and get to know as many new people as you can. Go and introduce yourself. You will see how much easier it gets with practice.
It's important to make sure we're talking to each other in a way that heals not in a way that wounds. - Barack Obama
So what do we do to calm our nerves, shyness and uneasiness before that job interview?
Remember that the person on the other end might be equally uncomfortable. Think about putting him at ease instead of what to say next.
Listen carefully and attentively. Do not practice your reply while another person is talking. By engaging in active listening, you will show your potential new employer that you can pay attention and remain present at all times.
Smile and make eye contact as much as possible. The person on the other end of the screen cannot see your eyes. They are looking at you on the screen, and you are looking at them - but the camera the device capturing your gaze. Calls via laptops and other tools make eye contact more manageable as we do not need to be looking in other peoples eyes.
Be yourself. That is the most crucial piece of advice I received from my mentor many years ago. You do not know what the other person might find important, endearing or charming. Your blushing face might be your best asset. If you forget your words but quickly remember them, it might show the interviewer that you can think on your feet.
Be yourself. The world worships the original. - Ingrid Bergman.
Don't give up if you say something wrong or if you stammer. We all are humans. We all make mistakes - even the person on the other side - he or she has also been in your shoes. Everyone knows how nerve-wracking interviews are. Just apologise and continue. As the saying goes, 'to err is human...'
Wear your favourite slippers. As you at home you can wear whatever you want as long as what you show to the other person looks formal and presentable enough. If it makes you feel comfortable and more at ease - wear something happy. Or wear your lucky charm on your foot if you don't want anyone to see or hear it :)
Starting new conversations is not easy. Showing our best qualities, showing how great we are in five minutes, is difficult for almost everyone. Just accept it. Be yourself and do your very best.
Shyness and uneasiness from talking to new people disappear with practice. Try and enjoy the process of acquiring new skills. Imagine, one day you will be so good at it that you might think of past self - shy and nervous - with a smile and a sense of nostalgia.
What tips do use when meeting someone for the first time?