Over the next few weeks, I will discuss several skill areas that socially anxious individuals can practice to begin feeling more confident in their ability to face anxiety-provoking situations (see Part 1). And honestly, these are skills we all need to remember and practice at times. Today’s topic is…
Before even beginning conversations, it is important that we practice listening and observation skills. We can learn a lot about social interactions even when not saying anything at all.
1. Listen: Anxiety is very tricky because it makes us shift our focus to our own thoughts and bodily sensations rather than what someone might be saying to us. Socially anxious individuals also spend more time rehearsing what they are going to say in their head rather than listening to the conversation. Effective communication requires both listening and speaking. If you aren’t listening you are going to miss what the person said, only hear parts of what they said, and ultimately respond inappropriately because you have no idea what is happening in the conversation. And this is exactly what you might have been trying to avoid in the first place. So the first step might be to practice active listening.
2. Observe: You can learn a lot just by observing others in conversation. This can be in real life or even when watching television. Look for good and bad examples of nonverbal communication, how people enter and leave conversations, what people talk about, how people handle silence, and how transitions are made.
3. Gauge Receptiveness: Before initiating a conversation, we want to make sure that the person we are trying to talk to is actually receptive to a conversation. One way to do this is to look for cues. What are they doing? Are they busy or in a hurry? Is their door open or closed? What is their nonverbal communication telling me? Do they look serious and focused? Or relaxed and casual?
So begin practicing your active listening and observing skills. The more aware you are of other people’s social cues, the better you will be able to respond.
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