“My first language was shy. It's only by having been thrust into the limelight that I have learned to cope with my shyness.” Al Pacino
Career success favours the most confident man or woman. If you find it difficult to approach people that you don’t know, at work or indeed in the process of finding a job, here are some useful tips to help you strike up a conversation:
1. Practice, practice, practice
Practice networking with people that you are already comfortable with such as family, friends, teachers or even colleagues. Practice will make you feel better prepared for any networking events including interviews and also networking on the job. Ask the person you are practicing with to give you honest pointers on how you can make yourself look like the better candidate.
2. Get introduced
If someone you know already knows the connection you want to make, they will probably be happy to introduce you. This way you don’t have to think of an ice breaker. More often than not this sort of introduction builds itself up into a conversation.
3. Fake confidence until you actually feel it
Hold your head up high and smile. No one else knows that you are nervous; you can successfully portray confidence without in fact feeling it. A little test for you: next time you walk into a full room, try to identify the confident from the shy and reserved. It’s dead easy to spot, right? Their behavior gives each group away.
The more you put yourself out of your comfort zone, e.g. by approaching strangers at networking events for a chat when you normally would not feel comfortable doing so, or by approaching a manager you’re a little scared of at work, the easier it becomes.
4. Be yourself and stick to subjects you are knowledgeable about
Don’t present yourself as something you are not; a little lie can spiral out of control especially if you tell different people different lies. Being yourself obviously extends beyond telling the truth: it’s about behaving naturally.
For instance, just because an interviewer is from a very different background, it doesn’t mean you have a lower chance of getting the job. To the contrary, you might be perceived as someone that will add a different perspective to corporate strategy because you are different.
5. Tackle your fear of rejection
The people you want to talk to are probably just as nervous as you are, maybe more so. What’s the worst that could happen: the person hurries off looking uninterested? If so, do you care that much? At least you tried. Think of it as their loss.
6. Get the other person talking to take the pressure off of you
You should find yourself getting less anxious as the other person talks. Hopefully, you’ll come up with questions based on what they say.
7. Google or get a book for more tips on tackling shyness
If you think you need more than the above there is plenty of material out there.
I will end this article by wishing a very special HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the woman that taught me confidence, my dearest mother, Agnes Katsonga-Phiri; you are the best role model in the world.
“I wondered how many people there were in the world who suffered, and continued to suffer, because they could not break out from their own web of shyness and reserve, and in their blindness and folly built up a great distorted wall in front of them that hid the truth.” Daphne du Maurier
For 2 years until early 2014 I wrote a weekly personal finance and business column for Malawi's leading media house, The Times Group. The target is middle-class, working African women.
This is a reproduction of the articles that appeared in the weekend edition of Malawi News.