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10 Things You Can Do To Improve Your Anxiety In Social Situations

10 Things You Can Do To Improve Your Anxiety In Social Situations

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    Everyone’s been there at some point—in a tense, uncomfortable, or unfamiliar social arrangement, forced to make small talk with people whom we share no common ground with. Maybe you’re the odd one out, the pacifist among soldiers, the chicken farmer among vegans, or simply a social fledgling trying to “fit in.”

    Maybe you’re an introvert who avoids parties, or a person who needs a few cocktails to deal with the uneasy feelings that come from being out of your comfort zone. In studying Chronic Social Anxiety, which can be crippling for millions of people, scientists and psychologists have discovered ways that the mind can be retrained with adaptive or constructive behaviors, things that you train yourself to do when your worry or unease is triggered.

    Instead of wishing you’d stayed at home, you can learn to use the time to open your mind, practice taking risks and stretching your mental habits a little bit. You might discover some of your inner resources, and create opportunities to grow and connect with other people, essential elements of mental well being.

    Here are 10 things to help you get through the evening, the hour, or the next 15 minutes, which don’t involve crawling out the window in the restroom or using the time to read through all your junk mail on your phone.

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    1. Take Your Self Out Of The Equation

    This is the simplest, and often the hardest thing to do because as humans we take our egos everywhere we go. Experiment with it anyway. First, don’t assume that people are judging you, or even focused on you at all. People are often caught up in their own impression-making worries and probably aren’t noticing what you’re doing or saying as much as you might think they are. Take your “self” out of the equation and try to focus on what’s in front of you—community, or food, or the reason for meeting.

    2. Consider Everyone’s Humanity

    Remove the label. People aren’t just conservatives or liberals, hipsters or drones, successes or failures. As Walt Whitman said, we contain multitudes. Avoid sizing someone up immediately or deciding that they’re not your type of person. Instead, listen to what someone has to say and use it as a learning experience. Remember everyone’s humanity and emphasize your own.

    3. Remember That People Aren’t Always What They Appear To Be

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    Many people avoid their own feelings of vulnerability by creating a tough, know-it-all exterior. Often the haughtiest people are the most wounded inside. Introverts can come across as uninterested when really they are good listeners who need more time to ease in to a conversation. Practice compassion by trying to see through the way a person acts in public. You never know what someone has been through, or what great or horrible things have shaped the person you see in front of you. We are all people with stories to tell, only some people don’t know how to tell them.

    4. Interview Someone

    When you are forced into small talk, ask questions. Pretend the woman or man next to you is someone you are interviewing for a newspaper profile. Connect in a one-on-one way. Ask where they grew up or how they ended up in the city you both live in. Geography is great way to connect with people. You can learn a lot about someone by finding out more about where they came from, and use it as an opportunity to find out about places you’ve never heard of or are unfamiliar with.

    5. Ask Questions About Who People Are Instead of What They Do

    Many people find it easier to talk about themselves one-on-one, so give them an opportunity to be heard. You don’t have to go directly to questions like “where do you work?” or “what do you do?” Remember that people are more than their jobs. If someone mentions a vegetable garden, use it as an opportunity to ask how the person got interested in gardening. Or find out more about their relationship to the person or event bringing you together. Sometimes you learn more about people you thought you knew well by talking to their friends or coworkers about the other parts of their lives.

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    6. Acknowledge Cultural Differences

    Cultural diversity in a social situation is a wonderful opportunity to open your mind and learn about unfamiliar experiences, customs, and opinions firsthand. If you are talking to someone whose lifestyle, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation is different from your own, you don’t have to avoid the subject. Our individual cultures or lifestyles are what make us interesting and have the potential for creating real conversations that change us.You don’t have to say, “I noticed that you’re gay,” or “Wow, your skin has so little pigment compared to mine!” but by listening you can notice how people refer to their own identity in conversations, and let it guide you to ask questions.

    That said, it’s also important to remember that there can be cultural differences in the way that people communicate and approach conversations. Some people grew up in families that listen to one another politely, others among people who interrupt frequently and get emotional quickly. Raised voices might look like a conflict to some people, and the same conversation could be intriguing and familiar to someone else.

    7. Let Neutral Subjects Subdue The Elephant In The Room

    Is there an elephant in the room? You don’t have to feed it. Don’t let an awkward experience or a thoughtless remark someone made suck all the air out of a room. If you encounter a person starting to rant about a subject that is obviously offensive or hurtful to someone in the group, steer the conversation in a different direction with more neutral subjects. Political arguments can easily get ugly if they are not diffused early on, and diatribes about that annoying neighbor with the self-righteous bumper stickers or religious views shouldn’t be what ruins an evening. Turn the talk to movies or the TV series you love, or go back into interview mode with someone you don’t know.

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    8. Don’t Let the Bullies Take Over 

    Sometimes there is one person who likes to stir the pot, who baits people with comments intended to start an argument. Alcohol can make some people more aggressive and give them the fuel they need to belittle others or put them on the spot with inappropriate remarks. Ideally, you come to the rescue of the person being bullied by showing your support as a fellow human. If you’re the one being bullied, try responding with a neutral dismissal such as “Maybe we can find another time to talk about this.” Or, alternately…

    9. Insert a Little Laughter

    Having a sense of humor can be of great service in awkward moments and can take the edge off of a too-serious moment that is making things hard for everyone. It can also help you quickly transition into other more neutral subjects. This doesn’t mean you have to tell jokes or start up your clown routine, it just means acknowledging that things could lighten up with a change of tone. If you’re the host, it’s your job to keep the peace if you can, and often you can encourage this with a little levity. Give everyone a chance to shake it off, as Taylor Swift keeps reminding us to do. A lighthearted nod such as, “Now that we’ve solved all the worlds’ problems, let’s have pie!” or “If everyone is ready for the cannoli eating contest, I’ll bring them out.”

    10. Show Appreciation

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    Take a moment to thank the person or people who brought you all together. This makes everyone feel gratitude and can move things in a positive direction. Make a toast, or reiterate the reason for gathering. Find a moment to celebrate something positive happening in the world!

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    Published on May 18, 2021

    How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

    How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

    We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

    The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

    Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

    Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

    Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

    There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

    Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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    Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

    We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

    Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

    A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

    The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

    Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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    Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

    Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

    Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

    While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

    Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

    These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

    Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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    Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

    Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

    Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

    Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

    Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

    Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

    As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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    This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

    Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

    Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

    These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

    Actions Speak Louder Than Words

    Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

    Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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    Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

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    Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

    Reference

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