Authored by Tina Kapp
No matter where you are in life, at some point you’ll have to deal with people. Whether it’s your fellow students in high school or college, or the boss and colleagues of your future job, learning how to make a good impression and communicate is a very important part of life.
If you have a hard time talking to strangers, you’re not alone! It may surprise you that many people face the same challenges, and many find ways to overcome their shyness!
The former U.S. president, Teddy Roosevelt, was known for his charm and ability to make total strangers feel at ease. He admitted that he’d had a hard time with that at first and once said, “Everyone on earth is shy, self-conscious, and unsure of themselves. Everybody is timid about meeting strangers.” His advice to overcoming that gripping fear that we all get sometimes is to focus that first minute of meeting someone new on trying to make them feel comfortable. The result, he said, is that you’ll never feel self-conscious again.
While that sounds like a high claim, Roosevelt’s advice makes a lot of sense. Rather than spending that time worrying about what the stranger may think of you or wondering if you’ll accidentally “put your foot in your mouth,” you can instead occupy yourself with thinking of ways they may be feeling uneasy, and asking them questions about themselves to help put them at ease, and to help you get to know them better.
Some kids are naturally shy around strangers; however, a lot of children are relatively fearless because they don’t worry about what others think about them. They happily bounce into a room with hair standing on end and chocolate around their mouth and start chatting or playing without a care. While some sense of decorum and personal awareness certainly becomes more important as we get older, too much can cripple us.
I remember one time a new girl came to the boarding school I was attending. She was tall and pretty, and I definitely felt intimidated meeting her. I said a quick hi but was too shy to talk to her. She already knew some of the others there, so I just sort of avoided her, which in a big school wasn’t very hard to do. On a warm rainy afternoon a couple of weeks later, after school had ended for the day, I decided I wanted to go for a walk in the rain. However, I had to avoid a certain teacher who was convinced people will catch their death of cold if they go out in the rain—so I was sneaking out the back door to avoid her. Guess who I bumped into? The new girl, who was doing the exact same thing I was. We ended up going for our happy walk in the rain together and learned that our birthdays were only a couple of weeks apart and that we actually had a lot in common. She became one of my best friends. I realized then how silly I’d been, wasting those weeks not getting to know her just because I was too shy.
A friend of mine said recently that she was shy as a kid and wondered if she only seems outgoing now because she pretended to be that way for so long. Pretending to be outgoing and forcing yourself to take that first step and get to know someone is often all it takes to become truly confident and outgoing. You end up having so many good experiences of making new friends or having pleasant conversations with someone new that it becomes less and less scary.
Since I’ve started doing more public speaking and presenting on a local TV show, I often have to talk to groups of strangers and even entire crowds. Most people who know me now would laugh if I told them I was shy for many years, and that I still get that twinge in my stomach every now and then that I just have to mentally push through. When meeting a group of new people, I often have to remind myself that “strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.”
In social settings, introducing myself and getting to know people is now much easier and less embarrassing than hiding in a corner. The one thing that does make me cringe is that awkward silence, and I’ve found the easiest way to fill that silence is to ask people questions. In general, people like to tell you about themselves, so finding the right cues to ask appropriate questions helps to keep a conversation flowing. Hobbies, interests, studies, mutual friends, and even movies or TV shows you enjoy can kick things off and you might find something in common that will surprise you!
Some people seem friendly and are easier to approach, while some appear rather “cool” and distant. And, unfortunately, there are some people in the world who aren’t very nice, and to be honest, they’re simply not worth your time. If you made a step to greet them and they stay aloof, don’t take it personally. In my experience, a lot of people come across like that only because they feel insecure themselves, and that appearance is just a protective device. This unfortunately can keep people away, but all it takes is someone brave enough to approach them and show genuine interest in them for them to completely warm up and let their “nice side” show through. It’s a great feeling being that person!
Some of the famous characters in the Bible had issues with feeling shy and insecure. Moses argued with God, repeatedly trying to find excuses, before finally agreeing to confront Pharaoh. He asked, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”1 “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?”2 “I have never been eloquent … I am slow of speech and tongue.”3 Finally he told God straight-out, “Lord, please! Send anyone else.”4 Only after the Lord told him He’d send Moses’ brother Aaron along to help did Moses agree to go and save the children of Israel.
I don’t know about you, but I think you’d have to be pretty shy to argue with God Himself to get out of doing what He asked of you. So for him to have gone from that to fearlessly facing Pharaoh and leading his people shows you just what God can do. Deuteronomy 34:12 says, “For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”5
Gideon complained that he was the least in his family; yet he went on to save the Israelites, in spite of some seriously crazy circumstances!6
The mighty prophet Jeremiah also started out by saying, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!”7
Sometimes shyness can affect those we’d never expect. The Bible describes young Saul as “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the others.”8 You would expect him to have been a confident man; yet when he was chosen to be king, God had to tell the people where he was because he was hiding among the baggage.9
As with anything, practice makes perfect. The more you put yourself in social settings where you have to face your fears, the easier it’ll get. Plus, always remember you’re not alone. The Lord can help you have the confidence you need to face any situation—whether it’s addressing your whole school, going for a job interview, or just making new friends.
I’ll end this podcast with a fitting verse from the Bible which you might want to write down and read a few times before braving something daunting: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”10
1 Exodus 3:11 NIV
2 Exodus 4:1 NIV
3 Exodus 4:10 NIV
4 Exodus 4:13 NLT
5 New International Version
6 See Judges 6–8
7 Jeremiah 1:6 NLT
8 1 Samuel 9:2 NIV
9 See 1 Samuel 10:22
10 Deuteronomy 31:6
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright© 2013 by The Family International