Dear Red: How to Get Over Social Anxiety

Dear Naked Redhead,

I need help with something, and since you seem a lot like me in some ways, I figured I should ask you. You don't seem to have this problem, at least as far as I can tell, and you seem to be honest and, well, pretty damn awesome! So you are the one I am turning to.

Also, my friends are all idiots and can't help me with this.

Anyway, I have two distinct personalities (I'm a Gemini, if that means anything to you); an online, outgoing, snarky, obnoxiously endearing, open and honest personality... and then my real life personality; closed, shy, quiet, wallflowery, not noticeable in a crowd, etc

Do you have any advice on how I can bridge the divide? I'm a lot less shy in public than I was a year ago, and I no longer suffer panic attacks forcing me to get shit-hammered just to go to social events. I've also started volunteering with a charity in order to improve my in-real-life people skills.

I would like to be able to strike up conversations with strangers, but I still find myself unable to do so. It doesn't even seem like I'm afraid anymore; it's more like I don't know how since I spent so long trying to avoid talking to people. I guess I am still a bit self-conscious about it, since most of the people who randomly start talking to me are freaky drunks and crazy homeless elderly people.

So my question is; How do you do it? How do you just talk to someone you don't already know, and to whom you haven't been introduced, without them thinking you are some sort of weirdo or that you want something from them?

I'm not looking for a "golden ticket" or for you to tell me to stop being a pansy and grow a pair. Just looking for a tip or two on how to talk to strangers without coming across as a jerk.

Thank you,

Clothed Brown-Haired Guy*

*name he gave himself. That's why you guys are awesome.

Dear Clothed Brown-Haired Guy,

Haha, I love this line: "Also, my friends are all idiots and can't help me with this."

OK, so. Hm. It sounds like you're doing just about everything right so least, as far as how I would suggest you go about things. You seem very self-aware, you're trying to be better, and you've gotten over most of the anxiety of being in public.

But here's the thing, if you're naturally a shy guy and are learning to be social, well...that's the operative word, right? "Learning"? Because that's how it was for me. I had to practice. A lot. I think I was pretty terrible at small talk for a long time. And I was pretty terrible at genuinely wanting to know stuff about other people.

So here's my advice:

1) Practice in, put yourself into situations more and more where YOU have to initiate conversation. For me, this meant that I tried to reach out for coffee meetings first. I didn't wait for people to contact me. I challenged myself, for a time, to meet two to three new people a week. Talk about a crash course. Also, talk about gaining 10 pounds from "casual drinks" with so many people (I now rarely do drinks and stick to coffee. Ha.)

2) Be Genuine

Figure out what you really want to know about other people. We all have our things we are personally curious about, right? For example, I sometimes like to ask how people would their peers would have described them in high school (so many people are different as grown ups from their high school selves), or what they think about Social Media, or even if they watch reality TV. All topics that are a starting point for more conversation, and I'm genuinely interested in hearing the answers.

3) Be honest (and humble!)

If I'm meeting someone new, and they seem a little awkward, I think it's totally refreshing to hear him or her say, "I'm naturally a shy person, so I'm learning to come out of my shell and talk to people more." Those kind of admissions allow the other person to help you out a bit with conversation OR to understand more why you might ask or answer something a certain way. I know for me, if I hear someone say they're feeling a little shy, I try to steer the conversation until that person seems more comfortable. Also, these kind of admissions are great for letting strangers know you're at least trying...and most jerks don't try.

Oh, one more thing, sometimes a "Hi, I'm so and so" followed by a smile can work wonders. Have a sentence or two "about me" ready to go, and the conversation will usually grow its own legs. At least, I've found that to be true for me.

Good luck! Seriously, I think you're on the right track. Just get out there more and you'll get it soon enough (PS--I still get some anxiety meeting new people. I've just learned to hide it better. :))