How to be less shy, whether you are an introvert or an extrovert
Being shy is not something to be embarrassed about. It also does not have to be something that dictates your social life, your dating skills or your relationships.
People often confuse shyness with having an introvert personality and some even think that overcoming either of these is an insurmountable challenge. That is not the case.
This article will explain how shyness isn’t necessarily a bad thing and provide some tips on how to overcome it. I will relate it to my own experiences of going from notably shy and reserved in my youth, to confident and comfortable in any social scenario…
Introvert and extrovert personality types:
Most people lean towards one of two personality types, introvert or extrovert, and you can be equally shy in either case.
There are many misconceptions as to what exactly an introvert is. People often mistakenly think of an introvert as a social recluse, one who despises and avoids social interaction wherever possible.
An introvert is simply someone who draws their energy, thoughts and feelings from their inner world and is decidedly selective in their social endeavours.
An extrovert is typically more gregarious, outspoken and consistently fond of the company of others.
It is a combination of these contrasting traits that gives the impression that an introvert is also shy by default.
The difference between being an introvert and being shy:
The terms introvert and shy often get used interchangeably but there is a key distinction between the two.
Shyness is a learnt behaviour formed from beliefs and experiences, usually during childhood. In a general sense, shyness is a fear of social interactions. In comparison, introversion is merely an internal preference towards social interactions.
One of the main barriers to overcoming shyness is being labelled, by others and also by ourselves. Constantly reaffirming that you are “shy” only reinforces the associated beliefs and behaviours, especially when faced with a social situation where that shyness is a conscious hindrance.
Due to the social stigma against introversion and shyness, I generally recommend against purposefully stating that you are shy. If you embrace the way you are without using it as a restriction, you can take small steps over time to change the aspects that are undesirable to you.
Going from shy to sociable:
This is exactly how I overcame the shyness I possessed. I made small, manageable and conscious steps as often as possible, starting with talking to strangers regularly and getting more involved at social gatherings. As experience and confidence grows, shyness becomes something that you are completely in control of: you can choose when and with whom to interact with, regardless of whether you are an introvert or an extrovert.
Even now I would class myself as leaning towards the introvert side of the personality scale. I enjoy meeting people, making friends and interacting with others but I also enjoy my own quiet time and I am not particularly brazen in social environments. This can sometimes be viewed as shyness to outsiders and that’s fine.
This may seem rather surprising for someone who has worked predominantly as a dating coach for so many years and indeed I do have a style that is unique and renowned amongst fellow relationship and dating coaches.
Your personality type does not have to directly affect your dating life and relationships; it will just modify your approach to them!
Fear and ego in shyness:
It is counter-intuitive to think of the ego as something associated with shyness but that is actually what it is. Shyness is an ego-protection mechanism born out of fear and presumption.
Another term that describes this internal struggle is outcome dependence. Outcome dependence in this context is the fear of repercussions as a result of specific social interactions. If you want to be fully comfortable and confident in any social interaction, as well as being able to approach and start conversations with anyone you choose, then you must start refraining from assuming, pre-empting or hoping for a specific outcome. Try to be in the moment whenever possible.
An article that discusses this aspect of shyness and how to establish a proactive mindset towards being less shy is the popular article, Dealing with approach anxiety.
Working with your shyness:
You can be shy and still have adept social skills; you just have to work to your strengths.
For example, whenever I attend a party or other social venue, I am much more interested in quietly connecting with a chosen few, rather than be seen as a loud and natural socialite. I would rather make a deep and lasting impression with one person than be casually remembered by everyone.
If you are shy, forget about the big picture and how you appear to everyone else and start by becoming more confident talking to less threatening or domineering people. It actually makes the other person value the interaction if they assume you are shy but you have started to get to know each other anyway.
Once you start making sincere connections with even a few people, it doesn’t take long for that to transpire into your social life in general, as well as becoming more pragmatic in developing fulfilling relationships.
Being a storyteller and being a good listener:
Storytelling is something that is touted as being essential to creating attraction and lasting memories with the people you meet. I agree that being able to hold and engage a group with a story is a great skill to have, but it is not as imperative as some people make out.
I admit to not being the greatest storyteller. Yes I do have lots of stories but I tend to keep them short and interactive, rather than long and emotive. I much prefer encouraging others to tell their stories and to interact through those. If you are shy you can probably relate to this.
The most important thing is to learn to be socially aware, so that you can sense when someone is feeling awkward or uneasy. This will only be perfected through experience. Small talk and other related social norms were created for this very reason. The last thing you want is for people to misinterpret any shyness you have as disinterest or rudeness, so use simple conversation pieces to lead into more meaningful rapport at a later stage.
Listening intently and encouraging others to talk whilst showing full interest is an easy first step to overcoming shyness.
I hope this article has been useful and interesting and I’d love to hear from anyone who feels that they are an introvert, an extrovert or particularly shy, or if you have had to deal with shyness in the past.
Hi Sam. I always thought that an introvert and shyness went hand in hand so I liked your definitions explaining clearing that up. I can actually relate to everything you said as I feel I am an introvert (like my own space and enjoy being alone sometimes) and have had bouts of shyness throughout my life. I always feel it is the people around me that help the most. Some people are so much friendlier and easier to be around, although I guess you can’t live your life hoping to meet such people all the time.
One of things that gets me is how I can be completely at ease and unshy (is that a word) around certain people (family and close friends) but completely seize up and go shy around new people. Like I said my shyness seems to go in phases so sometimes I don’t seem shy and other times I can feel the fear a lot like you describe in the ego section.
First time I’ve commented here but I am a long time reader and really enjoy your work so thanks a lot.
I agree that some people seem friendlier by default, or at least make interacting with them enjoyable and never intimidating. You can’t anticipate meeting people like this like you say, although there are ways to bring out that side in people. Showing genuine interest in what people have to say is probably the best way to achieve this.
It also sometimes helps to do a role-reversal and imagine that the other person is feeling shy; it is often true after all. You can then be the one who portrays the friendly, confident person you describe! 🙂
The second part of your comment is a very common scenario. Even an exceptionally shy person will still usually have a core group of friends and family that they don’t harbour those same anxieties around. The fear of unknown judgement or criticism is not present around people that already know you well: they have already accepted you and your personality.
The main thing to overcome in those instances is worrying what other people are thinking about you when you first meet. There are many affirmations you can make to help you think positive during those times and push through any comfort zones you may have. If you start talking regardless of any shyness, you will soon realise that people genuinely aren’t judging you as much as you think they are.
I imagine that the intensity of shyness that you feel correlates to how much desire you have to not by shy at that particular time. This is true of everyone: the more value we place on an interaction, the more ‘shy’ we will become. A common example to illustrate this point is talking to someone we are physically attracted to, compared with talking to someone we have no sexual interest in. Most people would feel far more ‘shyness’ during the former.
The best thing to do is to take note of how you feel and act when you aren’t feeling shy. You can then try to replicate those characteristics at times when you are feeling shy, so you can barrel through that fear anyway. 🙂
Thanks for reading the website and for commenting,
This is a really great topic Sam and one that I’m sure everyone can relate to in some part. I have been shy in the past but I also feel that as I’ve got older and more mature even if I do still feel shy on occasion it is far less of a big deal and does not affect my life as much.
One thing I’ve noticed is like Greg says above how it affects us being around friendly people and unfriendly people. I like your advice in response about taking the responsibility and being the friendly person instead. What this got me thinking about was back when I was engaged. Although I was shy myself at the time, my ex-fiance was even more shy and at functions I would always be the one doing the introducing and talking. Something like that is what I am thinking when you say to barrel through that fear anyway as I felt that I had to and I am all the better for it.
After writing all that, I would be interested in your thoughts on how or why shyness is different for men and women and also for different ages in your opinion?
All the best and keep the great topics coming. Jen
There does seem to be a correlation between age and how much shyness affects us, at least to a degree. As we get older, the needs and desires to fit in and be accepted by society and our peers becomes less. Of course there are many exceptions to this but as you say, maturity and discovering your true self definitely helps reduce how much shyness affects us.
That’s an interesting example you give about having to compensate for your ex-fiancé’s shyness and how that actually helped bring out a more confident side in you. Whilst others may not have something that helps them break through that fear barrier in the same way, hopefully they can use what you have written as inspiration to still do so. 🙂
As for your question regarding shyness for different age groups and gender, there are differences but they are big generalisations. People of any age or sex can feel equally shy and also handle it in similar ways.
When it comes to dating and relationships, in many cultures the male is predisposed to be a lot more proactive, for example being the one to approach members of the opposite sex and to lead early conversation. This is why shyness is often more readily detectable in men, as well as having noticeable ramifications to a man’s love life. This in no way implies that men feel a more intense version of shyness than women, or that they have to go through unique processes to overcome it though.
Thanks a lot for reading and commenting, 🙂
I’m sorry I haven’t commented recently…I have been extremely busy! I have still be reading though 🙂
I am so pleased you have written this article. It has cleared a lot of things up for me. I wrongly thought that an introvert was a shy, unsociable person and an extrovert was outspoken and loud. I have been classed as shy before, but this may be because I am more of a listener and people may interpret this as shyness.
From now on, I am going to try hard not to worry about how people react to what I say. I guess I always feel people are judging me. Have you got any suggestions of how I can stop these feelings?
Thanks again for posting.
Great to see you commenting again and I’m glad you enjoyed this article. 🙂
Being a good listener is a great quality to have. There is a big difference between choosing when to talk or listen, and having a fear of saying what you want to. As I mentioned in the article, someone assuming or even knowing that you are shy is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as they are enjoying your company.
There is no simple solution to stop feelings of shyness but what you suggested is a great mindset to have. If you try not to worry about how people will react to what you say and concentrate on how they are actually reacting once it’s happened, you’ll soon realise that the two are rarely the same. Most people are too busy worrying what others think of them to put all their energy into prejudging people like we assume! 🙂
Thanks for returning to commenting here, 🙂
Hi Sam. I must say this was an excellent read. I guess I am both shy and introverted. My shyness has resulted out of childhood experiences, yet I’m an introvert by not needing to be the life of the party. I’m happiest when I’m having meaningful conversation with a couple of people instead of hanging out with a group.
I think the main difference between shyness and being introverted is that shyness is something that can be changed but being introverted is part of who the person is. It’s a great tip to remind shy people to be socially aware. It can be hard to read people and 90% of daily communication is through body language.
I’m actually less shy around strangers than people that I know because you can talk freely and not think about gossip or criticism. It doesn’t faze me to do karaoke in front of strangers because I don’t have to talk. Also, most people don’t like to get up on stage so I figure as long as no one is throwing tomatoes, it can’t be bad. 😀 But as long as I’m not having to talk, I’m fine. With close friends and family, it’s easy to be more myself too. It’s most difficult when I’m amongst acquaintances.
The hardest challenge for me is overcoming awkward moments because I’ve always been so cautious not to offend people. Sometimes, it’s fine, and other times, I wind up sticking my foot in my mouth. But I guess when it comes to being shy, it’s best to overcome it by being willing to try and approach others by having real conversation. Lastly, I guess when a person is shy, their conversations are more about quality than quantity.
Thanks for joining in the discussion. I like how you describe the difference between being shy and being an introvert. The more ‘learnt’ a particular behaviour is, the easier it is to unlearn. Having said that, some people actually like being shy, or at least it does not affect their life in such a detrimental way that they want to change.
You’re right about a significant part of communication being non-verbal, with body language being the most significant example. The only way to become better at reading and understanding body language and the like is to be around more people. You’ve also struck on another reason why we become less shy and more comfortable around someone we have spent a lot of time with: we become more intuitive at reading and interpreting their body language! 🙂
That’s an interesting perspective about how you feel less shy around strangers. A lot of people pre-empt negative opinions from strangers, whereas I like how you instead assume positive ones, such as your karaoke example. In fact, I’ve heard karaoke suggested as a great way to overcome shyness and realise that other people aren’t judging us as much as we assume. I’ve only done karaoke a few times myself but I can see how it would.
I can definitely relate to your point about being cautious not to offend others. I’ve always viewed politeness as a prerequisite for any socialising. This also relates to being socially aware; people will find different things offensive, especially across different cultures. As such, it is about finding the balance between not withdrawing from conversation or holding back things you would like to say but respecting the people around us at the same time. I still think in certain instances it is better to “stick your foot in your mouth” and deal with any aftermath, perhaps by making a joke of it, rather than worry too much how people might react.
I agree with your final point about the quality of conversation being more important to a shy person than the quantity. Quantity does have its uses in overcoming any initial fear of speaking to new people but after that it is about how meaningful those conversations are to the people involved. 🙂
Thanks a lot for commenting; I always look forward to reading your opinion here. 🙂
I’m an introvert and extremely shy. I also have approach anxiety. It is hard for me to leave a reply.
I want to overcome my shyness and approach anxiety when meeting new people. Like you said there are certain people I’m not shy around or have approach anxiety. It takes me a couple weeks to not be shy or feel anxiety towards people I meet and after that I don’t ever feel shy around them. I’m in college and when I have to give a presentation my anxiety kicks in even if I know everyone in the class.
I have been taking small steps to overcome it. A few years ago it was hard for me to even do “small talk” to people I did not know. I’m glade I can do that but it feels like it is moving slowly. Now I can have a small and short conversation with some of my class mates that start the conversation, if the person next to me is a male I find it harder to talk to females. Around females is when I am the shyest.
I never had a girlfriend because of my shyness and anxiety. I still feel that way to females that I am physically attracted to.
I believe my shyness and anxiety is a result of my dyslexia. Which would fall under your “Fear of danger” in your “Dealing with approach anxiety” article. It’s difficult for me to talk about this but it makes me feel better when I do.
It’s great that you’ve written your thoughts and feelings on this topic as the first step is being aware of any shyness you might have and believing that you can overcome it if you choose to.
Taking small steps towards being more confident in certain situations is exactly the right way to go about this, although make sure that they are always small steps away from any comfort zones rather than within them. For example, if talking to physically attractive females seems daunting, make it a goal to ask one attractive female a day for the next week a simple question without attempting to further the conversation beyond that. Some examples of what you could ask are an opinion on something you’re wearing, asking where the best clothes shops in town are or even just asking her for the time. The point is to become comfortable having short interactions with strangers, without worrying about where the conversation is heading.
You say you have done a similar process with classmates and that’s great and definitely a step in the right direction. The next step there would be prolonging the conversation with various conversational techniques such as asking open-ended questions. You know you can do this because I am sure you do so around the people you are not shy with.
Overcoming shyness and anxiety is a path with many variables but if you continue to build on small successes then at some point the reality of those positive experiences will start to outweigh the shyness predating the experiences.
Feel free to contact me directly via the contact page if you would like more specific and personalised advice… I’ve helped hundreds of guys with very similar issues and it really is easier than you think to start getting the successes you want. 🙂
Thanks for writing,