Meeting New People: Facing Fear
Halloween is getting close and we’ve been exploring the things that scare us and trying to understand them. For some of us, going out and meeting new people can be really frightening. We get nervous and anxious just thinking about it. We might even start to shake or sweat when we are standing in front of that new person.
Just like we talked about with public speaking, there are very real reasons we get anxious about meeting new people. Primarily, it’s important to remember that our human brains are wired for survival, not friendliness and in ancient times a stranger coming into our village could mean danger. Our ancestors wouldn’t have lasted long if they automatically completely trusted every new person they ran across. Sometimes we feel like we might be bothering or annoying someone if we go up and introduce ourselves to them. Also, we’ve all had some bad experiences that stick in our mind and make us nervous about approaching people. The good news is, that we aren’t stuck with these feelings and behaviors. Once we understand them, we can accept them and use that knowledge to help us reach out to new people.
Meeting New People Tip #1: Other People Like Meeting You!
Our parents have all warned us about stranger danger. That’s a very safe and prudent attitude to take in the right situations. There are times when it just doesn’t make sense for us to start a conversation with someone new. The flip-side is that there are definitely times when it’s appropriate for us to say hello and make a new friend. It’s all about doing it in the right environment. Work functions, networking events or even a friend’s dinner party are all safe environments to reach out to new people. Even though you don’t personally know everyone there, they’ve all been vetted to some degree by the host. You shouldn’t have to worry about protecting yourself from physical danger. You’ll still feel a some anxiety that comes from millennia of human evolution, but you can work with it. Recognize it, accept it and tell yourself it’s okay to feel that way. You’re in a safe environment where everyone came to connect and share with other people. This technique won’t remove all of your nervousness, but you can practice it to make meeting new people easier.
Meeting New People Tip #2: You’re Not Bothering Anyone!
Some of us feel like we might be bothering or annoying someone if we just walk up to them and start talking. I can tell you that this is something that holds me back from introducing myself sometimes. There are a few tips we can use to help keep this fear from holding us back. First, at social events, most people have a purpose of meeting others just by being at the event. In a public place, like a coffee shop or library, most people expect at least some interaction with others. They will probably not tear your head off if you speak to them. In either case, we shouldn’t plan any specific expectation in mind other than politely introducing ourselves. It would be nice to get to know more about them, but it’s important to read the situation. If we are respectful and open when we introduce ourselves and they are too busy to talk, they will most likely very politely tell us just that. That’s a great cue to thank them for their time and walk away. If they have time to chat, even better. Again it’s important to read the situation, and that can be difficult at first. With experience and practice we can learn to read the verbal and non-verbal cues that tell us it’s time to politely exit.
Meeting New People Tip #3: Forget Those Bad Experiences!
Like many areas of life, we’ve all had bad experiences when introducing ourselves to other people. It’s unavoidable and it’s hard to let go of the memories. If these experiences didn’t bother us, we wouldn’t be human. The experience is not as important as our reaction to it and what we learn from it. When we feel these bad situations creeping up in our memory and giving us doubts, we can do a few things to keep us from retreating into our shell. First, tell yourself it’s okay to feel this way. Don’t worry about why you feel this way or if you should feel this way, just accept that you do. Now ask yourself, what did you learn from that experience and can it help you with what you’re about to do right now. If the answer is yes, is there a way to apply it to your next introduction. If the answer is no, give yourself some credit for doing some self-reflection and remind yourself that everyone is different. The person you are about to introduce yourself to is a completely different being than the one you had the bad experience with. There is no reason to expect that this interaction will turn out exactly the same way things have happened in the past. This is a new, unique situation. Don’t take away the chance of letting that new person get to know you because someone wasn’t so nice in the past.
Meeting New People: Going Forward
There are folks who are completely at ease meeting new people and then there’s the rest of us who get a little nervous about it. That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with us or that it’s anything we should be ashamed of, it just means we need to accept that about ourselves and use the tools we have to help ourselves out. Human beings are social creatures and find relationships with others very rewarding on many levels and there are a lot of people out there who would love to get to know us. Understanding what makes us nervous about meeting new people leads us to clear actions that can help us take those first steps to introducing ourselves to someone new and starting a great new friendship.