I struggle with social anxiety. It takes some time for me to warm up to people, and until I do, I’m incredibly quiet and decently awkward. This makes first impressions and introductions pretty painful—I’m talking job interviews, blind dates, work functions, meet-the-parents… I never know what to say, what to do with my face, where to put my hands… the brutality goes on and pretty much never ends.
Fortunately, however, I’ve gotten better with time and with practice. I finally acknowledged the fact that socializing is a part of life, and I can directly benefit from doing it well—which all starts with that crucial first impression. If you struggle like me with social anxiety or even just nailing that initial introduction, the following tips from Justin Lavelle, Chief Communications Officer at BeenVerified.com, should help you achieve your goal of impressing others and painting yourself in a positive light:
First and foremost, smile, Lavelle says. It’s something some do without even thinking about, but others have to put in the extra effort to paint a smile on their faces. “It’s so simple, but something people often forget to do when they enter a room,” he explains. “First, a smile invites others to approach you. In addition, it indicates a pleasant demeanor. Furthermore, it shows warmth. Finally, it also invites others to smile and puts people at ease.”
2) Pay attention to your body language.
You should also keep your body language open and friendly, Lavelle recommends. “Maintaining open body language conveys the message that you are open to communicating with others,” he says. “For instance, keep your head up, make eye contact, keep your shoulders back, and rest your arms at your sides. Walking into a room with your head down indicated a lack of self-confidence. Avoiding eye contact makes you seem untrustworthy and disinterested in communicating with anyone. Having your shoulders bent forward and your arms crossed indicates a closed person.”
3) Keep that cell phone away.
Lavelle’s next tip is to stay off your cellphone, as “nothing says ‘I am not open to communicating’ like walking into a room and being buried in your cell phone,” he explains. “If you need to have your cell phone with you—maybe you have children who are with the babysitter—put your phone on silent and designate a time where you can step away from the room and check your phone. Walking into a room while starting at your cell phone indicates a preoccupation. Checking your cell phone during a conversation indicates that you are not interested in the other person.”
4) Avoid negativity.
You should also ensure the conversation is light and positive, avoiding any negativity. “Remember the phrase, ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all?’ No one wants to hear you say that you dislike the music and the food at the party. No one wants to have a conversation with someone that uses a first meeting as an opportunity to unload all of their worries,” Lavelle explains. “Be positive. Look for similarities. For example, perhaps you discover you both have kids. Perhaps you both have recently seen the same movie. Keep the conversation light. This is not an opportunity to start a political or religious conversation.”
5) Actively listen.
And finally, be an active listener and contribute to the conversation in a real, meaningful way. “Being an active listener means not only do you hear the words the speaker is saying, but you also try to understand the complete message the speaker is attempting to convey,” Lavelle explains. “Active listening will convey the message that you genuinely care about what the other person is saying.” He explains the five steps: “First, pay attention to what the speaker is saying. For example, smile if they say something humorous or not to show you are in agreement with them. Second, show the speaker that they have your attention. For instance, lean in and make direct eye contact. Third, provide the speaker with feedback. For example, say things like, ‘I see. Sure. I can understand that.’ Next, don’t judge the speaker. Rather, show that you relate to them. For instance, you can share a similar experience with them. Finally, respond appropriately to what the speaker is saying. For example, respond to feelings rather than focusing on content by saying, ‘You are exhausted because of all the overtime you’ve worked this week.’”
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