Anyone can master the art of having good conversations with others.

Those who are shy or socially anxious may see this as an unattainable goal, but with enough practice, and using the right techniques, it can enhance the quality of social life.

The first skill to acquire is making eye contact.

Shy people may avoid eye contact at all costs, but this perpetuates self-focus and anxiety. When you are listening to someone else, maintain steady eye contact with that person. If you are doing the talking, vary your eye contact – that is, have eye contact about half the time, and then look away for a few seconds. (Note, however, that different cultures have different rules for eye contact.) Also understand the value of smiling, which is a nonverbal cue that you are approachable and interested in talking to the other person.

Learn the value of good listening.

The other half of conversation, and it is perhaps as important as talking, is playing the role of listener. Allow other people to complete their thoughts. Encourage the other person to talk by maintaining good eye contact, using gestures such nodding your head in agreement, and making supportive comments or asking brief questions.

People who are shy frequently say that they cannot go up to another person to start a conversation. This represents avoidance. Start out by initiating as many brief interactions throughout the day as possible. Smile and say hello when you pass someone. Tell the postal worker or grocery checkout person to have a good day. Make a comment in the elevator, such as, “Isn’t this perhaps the slowest elevator in the world?” Before long, making the initial contact will seem easy.

Learn the value of small talk.

Many shy people say that they don’t want to waste their time on trivial talk – or they also say they don’t know what to talk to other people about. It is important to understand, however, that people need the small talk before moving onto heavier topics. Small talk can comprise anything from commenting on the weather to griping about the price of milk. In order to avoid conflict, however, it is best to dodge talking about religion or politics – at least initially.

Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D.,LMFT

San Diego Couples and Family Therapy provides counseling in the convenient area of Sorrento Valley Road.

We also serve the surrounding areas of La Jolla, UTC San Diego,  Del Mar, University City, Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Poway and Escondido.