Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Hi, Carolyn: I’m naturally introverted and anxious, and I tend to overcompensate around new people by being a little … frantic? Too loud? A little weird? It’s not a choice – it’s just how I’m wired.
But I’d like to know how to rewire myself. Thoughts? I probably turn off people who could be good friends. When I know someone, I’m natural and funny and a really good listener, but not so with new people in social situations. At work I’m very professional – but in social situations the stakes feel higher.
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Actually, the stakes in social situations are much lower than with good friends and at work.
Maybe feeling good socially is key to your well-being, which makes sense, but: Each individual, social encounter with someone new constitutes a sliver of your life experience. A sliver of a sliver if you circulate and meet a lot of different new people.
Maybe if you recognize each of these encounters as extremely low-stakes, then they'll freak you out less – thereby nudging you a little faster toward your natural-and-funny real self.
Expecting to rewire yourself completely will set you up for disappointment, which could set you back. Instead think of the nervous stage as the obstacle you (and, truly, most people) just have to practice clearing until it gradually gets easier. Think of it more as practicing an adaptation than making a wholesale change.
In the meantime, train yourself to ask questions, and listen. It’s hard to say something weird when you’re not the one talking.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.