Not all of us were raised on a stage, in and out of dance recitals, theater performances, or the like. It’s no good feeling as socially awkward as Bella Swan, especially since, unlike in the Twilight universe, shyness in the real world won’t necessarily attract the attention of every single person who crosses your path.
For ladies who are naturally inclined to have that bookworm-ish demeanor, you might find yourself tripping over your tongue and cursing the fact that you can’t feel cool. The good news is you’re not uncool, you’re just at a different stage in growing your conversation skills. We’re all striving to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be, which is why I rounded up five of the best strategies and pointers for you to feel your best when speaking with friends, family, colleagues, and even absolute strangers.
1. Practice Deeper Faith in Yourself
I know it sounds super cliché but listen to me. You need to stop doubting yourself! Though it may not seem straightforward, confidence can be learned. There are easy steps you can take on a daily basis that can help you “fake it til you make it,” but I promise you won’t be faking it long.
Do you feel like you have imposter syndrome? Do you regularly put yourself down or undervalue your worth? You’re not alone. Research shows that many people routinely underestimate how much people like them when engaging in conversation. The study, published in the Association for Psychological Science, evaluated this phenomenon of low social perception, which they coined the “liking gap,” in a variety of settings, from familiar college students in their dorms to strangers meeting one another for the first time at a workshop. No matter the case, the researchers found that through conversation, people are actually “liked more than they know.” Furthermore, the participants actually reported they liked their conversation partner much more than they perceived their partner liked them. Therefore, you may not be as judged as you initially thought.
If you, like many others, are self-critical about your communication and worry that your social awkwardness shines through more than your true personality, never fear: You’re unnecessarily selling yourself short, and your first impression was likely much more positive than you think! Relationship expert and counselor David Bennett shared with Elite Daily that these cognitive distortions we feel, like “I’m weird” or “They won’t bother calling me back,” are illogical thoughts that should be countered with logical, positive affirmations. Begin by making a concerted effort to identify these thoughts swimming through your mind as illogical and practice “shutting up all of those judgmental, self-critical voices.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be self-aware about how people may perceive you and throw all cares to the wind. Studies show that overconfidence can easily be associated with narcissistic personality traits, so you need to walk the fine line between confidence and arrogance.
2. Be the Most Authentic “You”
Humility can communicate to others how authentically human you are. This doesn’t mean that you have to treat yourself like a doormat, but rather that the way you communicate demonstrates how you recognize your value is equal to all other humans.
Dr. Robert Hogan, an American psychologist known for his research on personality psychology, pointed out that competent, effective leadership prioritizes humility instead of charisma. This principle can be applied to taking the reins in your conversational skills as well because humility through communication encourages mutual trust and a sense of understanding.
Another key to communicating as the most authentic “you” is to live out your values. If your personal values and convictions aren’t able to shine through in what you do and say, you might feel like you’ve got your shoes on the wrong feet. Ask yourself: Are you keeping certain feelings at bay and not expressing the thoughts that are on your mind? Whether you’re self-censoring out of respect or fear, not being able to express your values can make communication tricky.
Research shows people are actually “liked more than they know” by the end of a conversation.
Does the risk outweigh the benefits? Being clear on your views can feel daunting, but if you’re not living your values, then you’re simply acting instead of embracing real confidence. The worst that can happen is that someone will disagree with you or turn you down, and while rejection is painful, in the grand scheme of things, you really can’t win them all over anyway. No one is going to have perfect, positive conversations every time they open their mouth, but everyone will have plenty of chances in the future to have better interactions.
Lately, social circles have gotten deeply polarized in their core values. Building a support system where you can be your most authentic and unfiltered self is critical to confidence. It may hurt a bit if your own family members can’t be a comforting addition to your personal support system, but friends found in-person or online, coaches, colleagues, and neighbors alike can all help you feel rooted.
3. Use Grace As Your Marker for Respect
While I’m a firm believer that you need to speak your personal truths and not self-censor, this doesn’t mean that you should take an aggressive approach to conversation and go on the offense. Speaking from the heart could embolden you to appear passionate to those you’re communicating with, but you should always keep respect and grace at the front of your mind. Talking with someone who is respectful and kind is always a more positive experience for both parties than talking with someone who is brash or bad-mannered.
Conversation is a two-way street, so if you’re not communicating with courtesy you may not receive courtesy back. Stay aware of the way that your conversation partner may be perceiving the words you’re saying to them. Since you already feel socially awkward, the last thing you want to do is create any unnecessary discomfort from accidentally graceless comments.
So how can you incorporate grace into your conversational style? Experts recommend that you make purposeful pauses and slow down your pacing to sound cool and calculated, even if you’re a nervous wreck! You can also practice more graceful communication by being a better listener.
4. Master Your Listening Skills
When communicating with a friend, family member, loved one, colleague, or stranger, you should try to consciously remember that they want to be heard just as much as you do. If you practice active listening to draw out your conversation partner’s feelings, concerns, or values, they will feel more comfortable expressing themselves with you and will likely lower their guard. In turn, this can help you lower your own guard.
Think about it this way: On average, we spend 70% of our time communicating in one way or another. 30% of that communication time is dedicated to speaking while 45% of that time is spent listening. Proper listening could then be considered much more valuable when holding conversations.
Active, effective listening isn’t done by spending your entire conversation figuring out how you’re going to respond. You might feel anxious to find the best response, but you’ll come across as a better conversationalist if you instead listen to gain a full understanding of what is being communicated to you, sans distractions and preconceived notions. And before you start to psychoanalyze, keep in mind, you’re not their psychologist! You don’t need to solve all of the world’s issues – if you could, I’d suggest you run for political office immediately – you just need to respond to someone as a fellow member of the human race.
Don’t spend the “listening period” planning your response. Just listen to understand.
Here’s a method that I promise also doubles as a fun pastime: listen to podcasts and shows. Expert wordsmiths and conversationalists thrive on podcasts and talk radio shows. Have you ever listened to an excerpt from a podcast and wished you could sound like the host or guest when you spoke with people? Perhaps you should try regularly listening to podcasts and radio shows with the intent of borrowing their communication skills.
There is a wealth of information to gain from the spoken word as is, and luckily for you, there’s plenty of evidence to show that listening to podcasts helps with speaking skills and listening skills. Take language learners for example. Researchers were curious if students learning Chinese would perform better on their tests if they listened to podcasts. Turns out that podcasts improved their speaking test score, and participants reported feeling more confident in their Chinese language ability. This same type of study has been repeated many different times with different languages, like Indonesian students learning English, and each study has suggested that listening to podcasts improves vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, and therefore, speaking confidence.
5. Be Smarter about Asking Questions
Some people feel like their mind gets wiped blank when they enter a conversation with a new acquaintance or stranger. To prevent this from happening, build up an arsenal of questions that you can ask anyone. One excellent question to ask when you first meet someone is “What keeps you busy?” This prompts the other to tell you lots of information: their job, if they have kids or pets, if they have a hobby or a side hustle, and more. You now have a wealth of topics that you can ask even more questions about and keep them talking about themselves.
If you feel like you struggle with talking to people you know better, maybe even your friends, plan out some questions beforehand. Think about what you talked about last time or even what they’ve posted on Instagram lately. Did they go on a trip recently? Check out a new restaurant? What are they reading or watching right now? These are all topics that you can inquire after, get more details about their experience, and find inspiration for your next question. And don’t stop at asking what they’ve been doing – you can also ask why. What made you decide to check out that new coffee shop, or what was it about that book that intrigued you enough to read it? You’ll get deeper insight into your friends asking the why.
The thing is, there’s no one way to magically become a confident conversationalist. Not many people can manage to master a skill without putting in time and effort through purposeful practice. Things as simple as speaking are not excluded from this! So never fear, there are many steps you can take to develop your feminine confidence. It all begins with a bit of faith and trust in the process.
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