This question is about how to overcome painful shyness.
Our ward who lives with my family, and who comes from Tibet, is excruciatingly shy. When we take this sweet 25-year-old to social events she hides behind my husband or me. She’s attractive, but her social skills are so awkwardly timid that she doesn’t have any friends.
I should add that my husband and I are professors and our Tibetan guest is very-well educated. She came to us through the college where I teach.
How do we assist this graduate student in having polite conversational skills?
–RW, Charleston, NC
- Ahead of time, prepare to have an opening gambit. A tidbit of information you read about or saw on the news whether it be the riots in St. Louis or the latest freaky fact on climate change.
- After you’ve been introduced to someone don’t wait for an awkward silence. Ask questions. Where are you from? What do you do? How do you know the host? How are you connected to the event? Do you go to school or teach here?
- Never be afraid of sounding boring. At first the other person will be relieved that you’re carrying the small talk. For a while, that is.
- Eye contact and a friendly smile go a long way in encouraging the other person to speak up.
- Once a conversation gets going give the other person a turn to talk: take turns listening and talking.
- During a one on one conversation, do not look over the other person’s shoulder because that’s a sign that you’re bored with what the person is saying.
- It is better to escape than stay in a boring conversation. Say that you’re going off to get something to drink (or eat) and ask if they would like to come. If they tag along, introduce them so someone else. Or simply say, “I’m going off to talk to someone I had hoped would be here.”
- Role play a simple handshake no longer that three seconds. both of your respective vertically positioned right hands come at each other, thumbs pointed up toward the ceiling, pinky down. With palms facing they come together for a gentle squeeze and quickly release.
- It’s polite to always shake hands and introduce yourself even if there is one person who knows you in a group. The act of shaking hands is a conversation starter.
- It’s always good manners to stand when someone comes into the room for the first time. She wouldn’t do so at home with you, but if you take her with you out for dinner, she would stand when an older person came on the scene and introduce herself if someone hasn’t already done so.
- All introductions should be made while standing. It would be rude to shake hands with someone if she was seated at the time. Of course the exception would be if the person was elderly or disabled.
- It is correct to stand when someone leaves the room and says good night.
- A host in particular should always stand to greet guests, so when you entertain at home she would participate in the hosting by standing when each new person arrived, and presumably introducing herself, if she didn’t know them.
- Making an entrance: Avoid turning your back on anyone in the room, so you would close the door behind you while remaining face-on and moving forwards into the room.
- Exiting a room: Try to exit through the door so that the last impression people have of you is NOT your rump.
- Seated, for instance, at a table she would talk to her neighbors on her right and left for equal amounts of time, but she would never fully turn her back to either of them. The cue to turn to talk to the other person would be with the change of courses.
Discussing these social graces with your Tibetan guest should help her feel less self-conscious about whether she is doing the right or the wrong thing. You would be giving her a pattern to follow.
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