Too shy to speak

November 09, 2019

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Illustration by Ahmed Amin
Illustration by Ahmed Amin

The teacher asks the class a question. A few children who knew the answer or thought they knew it, raised their hands. She noticed a hand hesitantly rise and then fall back. She ignored it, assuming that the child wasn’t sure of the answer and turned her attention to those willing to participate, giving them the chance to express themselves. Right or wrong didn’t matter. What mattered was that they were active participants in class discussions.

Shayan had begun to notice that throughout the lesson, the teacher’s attention was on those students who spoke up. On most occasions he knew the correct answer, but he would hardly ever raise his hand to answer a question. And when he did, he would quickly withdraw it as he was shy of speaking in front of the whole class. In group activities too, he would not step forward to lead, rather he would let others take the lead and do the talking.

This didn’t mean he didn’t want to work and was passing on the workload. He worked hard to prepare the presentation or assignment that the teacher asked a group of them to do. Shayan would do thorough research and most of the work, but he would let the group presenter take the credit. Because of this habit, he could not make it to the teachers’ good books. In fact, he could not even make friends. His only interaction with his classmates was work related. Teachers ignored him and peers laughed at his back.

Being ignored by the teachers bothered him and this not only made him sad, but the resulting frustration started to affect his grades also. On top of that, he knew the reason of being ignored by teachers, but could not do anything to ward off his shyness.

Shyness can prevent a person from reaching his or her full potential and being noticed, but there are ways to...

In the meantime, a new teacher joined the school. She encouraged all the students to participate in class discussions and often invited them one by one to speak up. In a few days, she began to understand her students. She noticed that whenever it was Shayan’s turn to speak, he would hesitate and try to avoid speaking to her in front of the class but once he began to speak, he came up with good arguments which showed that he knew his subject. She could see that he was not disinterested in his studies, but was shy and lacked confidence.

She couldn’t let an intelligent student suffer humiliation just for a simple reason. Shyness is not a cause for concern, but when it begins to limit a student’s participation in class, it becomes a concern. She knew that if things did not change, he would become an outcast as peers would perceive him to be unfriendly and disinterested.

She devised a plan and talked to his mother, who too was concerned because of his falling grades and depression. They had to help Shayan overcome his shyness.

Initially, it took some time for them to make Shayan understand that he was intelligent and could be among the top students in the class if he overcame his shyness. The teacher explained to him that when one is shy, one tends to keep a distance from others which people interpret as being snobbish. Others don’t understand that the person is afraid and doesn’t know what to say if someone starts a conversation.

When Shayan realised this, he decided that he had to change himself. But just realising this does not help, certain steps need to be taken to overcome shyness. The teacher gave a few guidelines in this regard to Shayan, who was willing to work on this.

If you are like Shayan, you too can benefit from these tips his teacher shared with him.

Make eye contact: Shy people find it difficult to make eye contact but it is an important tool in day-to-day social interaction. When you make eye contact, you show that you are confident; it also helps make connection with the other person.

Always remember that people who are able to look the other person in the eye are seen as friendly and honest.

Smile: Once you have made eye contact with a person, give them a friendly smile. This is a good way to acknowledge others and it shows that you are friendly, welcoming and willing to start a conversation.

Arm yourself with information: If you dread talking to people and don’t know what to say, prepare yourself by looking up some information about current happenings, trends or the latest movies and songs.

This will boost your confidence and give you substance and topics to talk about when you are at a social gathering. Also when other people are discussing these things, you will not feel left out and can give some input of your own.

Work on your strengths: Make a list of your positive qualities. See what you are good at and work on those skills.

Illustration by Ahmed Amin
Illustration by Ahmed Amin

For instance, if you have good observation, pay attention to that, it will help you understand people and your surroundings and, in turn, help you start a conversation when meeting new people.

Be positive: Being shy doesn’t mean you are weird. Accept that you are not like everyone, you are a unique individual. Just don’t think negatively about yourself or be critical of yourself.

Instead of feeling shy when meeting a new classmate and thinking that he might not like you, think of it as an opportunity of getting to meet a new person or a potential new friend.

Don’t expect perfection: Understand that nobody is perfect. You may have your shortcomings, but others too have some. So, instead of thinking of your shortcomings, focus on your strengths.

Don’t be afraid to talk: If you can’t come up with a topic to talk about, you can always start with what you have been thinking about or just talk about yourself. There’s no harm in talking about you.

To start a conversation, you can also show interest in the other person by complimenting them on their dress or hairstyle. It will help bond with other people.

Spend more time around people: Understand that avoiding all social interaction will only increase your shyness. If you want to become a confident person, you have to meet people and be in social gatherings. Try to talk to people around you, this will boost your confidence.

Join a class or group: Enrol in a class or group to learn a new skill with people who have similar interests. You will find it awkward to interact with strangers at first, but if you stick around and make an effort to talk with the group, you will find it getting easier. Think of it as an opportunity to make new friends.

Do something for others: If you don’t feel comfortable talking about yourself, shift your focus on to others. For this you can spend time with someone who is lonely or lend a helping hand to a friend.

If you find the conversation is focused on you, ask the other person something about him to divert attention from yourself. People love to talk about themselves and the subject will be changed easily this way.

Practice slow talk: One way to overcome shyness or nervousness is to control your tempo; you can do this by practicing talking/reading slowly by yourself.

Once you have set your tone, you can apply this in conversations with others. If you find you are losing your tempo, stop for a moment, take a deep breath and then continue.

Be yourself: Stop worrying about what others think of you. You don’t have to be the most outgoing person or a crowd puller; you can make an impression or express yourself in your quite and subdued way. If you don’t like large gatherings, interact in small groups.

Choose friends carefully: It is generally thought that shy people do not have friends. But that is not true. Though they have fewer friends than others, their friendships are deeper.

Since you do not feel comfortable in large crowds, choose your friends carefully, and give your time to those who are responsive and warm towards you.

Published in Dawn, Young World, November 9th, 2019