It's been a number of years since the last time I would have labelled myself as really being “shy”, but I've been recently reminded of the feeling. In Montreal this summer, there would often be small groups of students chatting, and although I sometimes wanted to join the conversation, I felt the familiar pangs of shyness in my gut. My stomach churned with worries:
1. I don't want to intrude on whatever they're doing.
2. I probably don't have anything worthwhile to contribute.
3. These people probably don't want to talk to me anyway.
These statements are all illogical, of course. People tend to be extremely open to others in situations where everyone is new and feeling a little awkward. But, logical or not, these are real worries. This is the stuff that insecurity is made of. The good news is this: With a little observation and minimal effort, you can make someone's day.
Standing on the outside of an existing conversation, with shyness welling up, I'm craving a sense of belonging. A person in the group notices me standing there on the outside. The person takes a step back to open up the circle, smiling and gesturing for me to join in with them. The conversation doesn't miss a beat.
That one, incredibly simple act of noticing a person and inviting him or her into the conversation puts all his or her worries to rest. Without using any words, they are able to communicate:
1. I'm certainly not intruding on their conversation.
2. They don't care whether or not I have anything to contribute.
3. These people definitely do want to talk to me!
(Tip: Advanced group socializers will quickly ask a question to the new person. This a) introduces them to the group, and b) confirms that the group is, in fact, interested in the newcomer's contribution. Look for people who are inclusive like this, by the way; they would often be great choices for best friends!)
Whether it's a new language, new social group, or new school year, everyone has their moments of shyness. Help people know that they belong and are welcome. Include people in your group, ask them questions, and really listen to the answers. You'll make someone's day, just like people made mine.
September 9, 2008
“If you exclude anybody, you ultimately exclude part of yourself.”
- KokHeong McNaughton,
Los Alamos Community Volunteer
Joel Hilchey speaks and facilitates workshops across North America, empowering students, educators & business leaders who want to build stronger, more positive teams and communities. Contact him by phone at 1-877-487-5635 or check him out online at www.joelhilchey.com!
RIDDLE: I row well with four oars, but I act rather shy: I stay under my own roof; so who, then, am I?