Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Be More Outgoing?
“I’ve never been very conversational. I felt that if I said something, I would be shunned. My mother is very shy, and I guess that’s why I became the same way.”—Artie.
DO YOU sometimes wish that you were a little less shy—and a bit more friendly and outgoing? As our preceding article in this series pointed out, shyness is a common trait.* So there is nothing really wrong with you if you tend to be quiet, serious, or reserved. But extreme shyness can be a real problem. At the very least, it can hinder you from enjoying friendships. And it can also make it hard for you to feel comfortable or function well in social settings.
Even adults often battle shyness. Barry* is an elder in the Christian congregation. But he tends to clam up in a group. He admits: “I don’t feel that I have the ability to say anything that is meaningful.” His wife, Diane, has a similar problem. Her solution? She says: “I like to be with people who are outgoing because I feel that they can take over the conversation.” What are some ways for you to become more outgoing yourself?
Quit Putting Yourself Down
First, you may need to reassess your view of yourself. Are you constantly putting yourself down, telling yourself that others won’t like you or that you don’t have anything worth saying? Having negative feelings about yourself can only hinder you from being outgoing. After all, Jesus said: “You must love your neighbor as yourself”—not instead of yourself! (Matthew 19:19) So it’s healthy and proper to love yourself to a reasonable degree. It can give you the confidence that you may need in order to approach others.
If feelings of low self-worth afflict you, you may find it helpful to read chapter 12, “Why Don’t I Like Myself?,” in the book Questions Young People Ask—Answers That Work.* That information may help you to see that you have much to offer as a person. Why, the fact that you are a Christian demonstrates that God sees something valuable in you! After all, Jesus said: “No man can come to me unless the Father, who sent me, draws him.”—John 6:44.
Take an Interest in Others
Proverbs 18:1 cautions: “One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing.” Yes, if you keep to yourself, you will likely focus too much attention on yourself. Philippians 2:4 encourages us to be ‘keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just our own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.’ When you focus your attention on the interests and needs of others, you are less self-conscious. And the more you care about others, the more likely you are to be moved to take the initiative to get to know them.
For example, take Lydia, a woman who has come to be known as a symbol of friendliness and hospitality. The Bible tells us that after she heard the words of the apostle Paul and got baptized, she entreated Paul and his companions: “If you men have judged me to be faithful to Jehovah, enter into my house.” (Acts 16:11-15) Although a new believer, Lydia took the initiative to get to know these brothers—and no doubt she received many blessings as a result. After Paul and Silas were released from prison, where did they go? Interestingly, they went back to the home of Lydia!—Acts 16:35-40.
Likewise, you will find that most people will respond to interest that you show in them. How can you make a start in doing this? Here are a few helpful suggestions.
● Start small. Being outgoing does not mean turning into a flamboyant extrovert or a busy socialite. Work on talking to individuals, one at a time. You could make a goal of starting a conversation with at least one person every time you attend a Christian meeting. Try to smile. Practice maintaining eye contact.
● Break the ice. ‘How?’ you might ask. Well, if you really have an interest in others, it’s usually not hard to find things to talk about. A youth in Spain named Jorge says: “I’ve noticed that simply asking others how they are doing or asking them about their work helps you to get to know them better.” A youth named Fred suggests: “If you don’t know what to say, just start asking people questions.” Of course, you don’t want people to feel that they are being interrogated. If a person seems resistant to answering questions, try sharing some information about yourself.
Mary, the parent of a teenager, says: “I have found that the best way to make people feel comfortable is to have them talk about themselves.” Young Kate adds: “It helps to compliment people on their dress or something else. You make them feel that they are liked.” Of course, be genuine, and avoid empty flattery. (1 Thessalonians 2:5) People will generally respond to sincere words that are kind and pleasant.—Proverbs 16:24.
● Be a good listener. “Be swift about hearing, slow about speaking,” says the Bible. (James 1:19) After all, a conversation is an interchange—not a solo performance. So if you tend to be shy about talking, this may actually work to your advantage! People appreciate good listeners.
● Join in. Having mastered the art of one-on-one conversation, move on to talking in groups. Again, Christian meetings are an ideal place to acquire this skill. Sometimes the easiest way to get involved in a conversation is to join one that is already in progress. Of course, discernment and good manners are essential here. Don’t barge into what is obviously a private discussion. But when it is clear that a group is engaged in light conversation, try to become part of it. Be tactful; don’t interrupt and try to take control. Try listening for a while. As you get comfortable, you may be inclined to make a few comments.
● Don’t expect perfection of yourself. Sometimes youths worry too much about saying the wrong thing. A girl in Italy named Elisa recalls: “I was always afraid that if I said something, it was going to come out wrong.” However, the Bible reminds us that all of us are imperfect, so perfect speech is just not possible for us. (Romans 3:23; compare James 3:2.) Says Elisa: “I realized that these are my friends. So they will understand if I say something wrong.”
● Keep your sense of humor. Granted, putting your foot in your mouth is embarrassing. But as Fred observes, “if you just relax and laugh at yourself, the moment soon passes. You make a mountain out of a molehill when you allow yourself to get flustered, frustrated, or worried.”
● Be patient. Realize that not everyone will respond immediately. An uncomfortable lapse in conversation doesn’t necessarily mean that the person doesn’t like you or that you should give up trying to talk. Sometimes people are merely preoccupied—or shy like you. In such situations, it may help to give the person a bit more time to warm up to you.
● Try talking to adults. Sometimes adults, especially mature Christians, are quite sympathetic toward youths who are battling shyness. So don’t be afraid to try to start a conversation with an older person. Says Kate: “I can relax around adults because I know adults won’t judge me, ridicule me, or give me a hard time like kids my age might.”
Motivated by Love
While these suggestions may help, there is no easy formula for overcoming shyness. In the long run, it is not a matter of applying some clever technique or procedure. It comes down to ‘loving your neighbor as yourself.’ (James 2:8) Yes, learn to care about other people—especially your Christian brothers and sisters. (Galatians 6:10) If you have genuine love in your heart, you will overcome fear and insecurity and reach out to others. As Jesus said, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”—Matthew 12:34.
Barry, mentioned at the outset, observes: “The more I get to know other people, the easier it is for me to talk to them.” In other words, the more you practice being outgoing, the easier it will become for you. And as you find yourself making new friends and feeling more accepted by others, you will no doubt feel the results were well worth the effort!
See the article “Young People Ask . . . Why Can’t I Be More Outgoing?” in our October 22, 1999, issue.
Some of the names have been changed.
Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Picture on page 13]
Take the initiative and join conversations!