Improving your social persona and gaining confidence: insights from expert Akshatha Hegde
It’s not unusual for many of us to stick to the walls at social gatherings and spend most of our time trying to muster up the courage to speak to someone. It can also be challenging to communicate clearly with someone we don’t know that well, and keep a conversation going without awkward silences. Some of us also deal with anxiety that makes it even more difficult to cope with social encounters.
In a Community Chat on the HerStory Women On A Mission Facebook group, Akshatha Hegde, the Founder of Psyqie shares her expert insights into effective communication and how one can build up their confidence while interacting with others. Psyqie conducts events related to emotional and social intelligence, and helps people cope with their struggles of social awkwardness by encouraging healing, growth, self discovery and confidence.
The 26-year-old, who is a designer by education, began her venture into the events space right out of undergraduate college, with 'The Human Mosaic Project' in 2016, which brought people together and helped them connect over their creative pursuits.
Below are a few edited excerpts from the Community Chat:
Q. How does one initiate conversation with a stranger?
Akshatha Hegde: Initiating a conversation with someone you don’t know is essentially step one to initiating a connection with them.
To give yourself a head start on a positive interaction, reprogramme your mindset to believing that this stranger you’d like to speak to is someone you’ve already known and liked for a long time, and that you’re just reconnecting with them now.
What this does, is:
- It automatically changes your entire demeanor - body language, posture, gestures - to become friendlier and more likeable in nature. This invokes a similar response from the person you approach, helping you both connect with a sense of pre-established rapport.
- It makes you come off as less of a threat.
Now, when you do approach them, you can strike up a conversation by:
- Starting with contextually relevant small talk to instantly match moods - “It’s getting pretty hot in this room! How are you feeling?”
- Starting with a simple question - “Are you from this city?” or “Hey, what’s that drink in your hand?”
- Or even starting with the classic compliment, but directed towards them - “Great choice of shoes! Where did you get those?”, instead of “That’s a nice pair of shoes.”
- And if you like a little risk taking, asking a mildly personal question right off the bat, with some situational relevance - “Headed somewhere interesting? Do you like to travel?” - at an airport, or “Are you into fiction?” - at a readers’ meetup or a library.
If you’re fairly confident, an easy “Hi, I don’t think we’ve met, I’m XYZ” always works.
The key is to not have any agenda so the interaction can take its natural course. Keep it simple and positive; get the first words out and go from there.
Q. For people whose social awkwardness stems from being self conscious, what can they do?
AH: Figure out what part of yourself you aren’t comfortable with or insecure about. While your insecurities might be very real for you, they aren’t always true in reality - such as believing you’re not good enough or smart enough or good looking enough, or that people may dislike you for whatever reasons. Work on overcoming these insecurities and getting to a place of complete self acceptance.
Here are some ways to quickly get past self consciousness:
- Remind yourself that everybody experiences being self conscious to some extent. Most people are also more focussed on themselves rather than on us.
- Mindfulness - practise being wholly present in the moment. Breathe deeply, wiggle your toes - this will help you get out of your head and into your body.
- Direct your focus externally - pay attention to your senses; what are you seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling? Who are you talking to? Give the people you’re with your undivided attention.
- Act deliberately to do good. Give yourself the task of doing what you can to make people feel good or help them, as needed. Keep yourself occupied with adding value and let the interactions flow naturally from there. Your focus is thus naturally away from worrying about how you’re coming off.
Q. How can one just bite the bullet and say something they're afraid will be met with rejection or judgement?
AH: Go for it.
To help make the courageous task easier, here’s a bit more:
- Recognize that your fear of rejection is only a fear. It may not materialise in reality. Don’t assume that it will be a definite outcome.
- Judgement will come. Expect it, accept it, but be careful about what of it you choose to respect or give the power to affect you.
- You allow other people the room to judge you where you are inherently judging yourself, pay attention to your own judgements of self and work through them first.
- Widen your horizons based off the core intentions behind what you’re about to say.
For example, if you’re asking for a job you want at a company you’ve always wanted to work for - the core intention here is finding a job you love, that gives you the benefits and career growth that you want. That is not limited to this job alone or this company alone or this opportunity alone.
Or maybe you’re asking someone out. In that case, you’re looking for someone who you connect well with and want to spend time with, and that is not limited to this person alone. The moment you realize this, you become far better equipped to cope with rejection if it comes, knowing that you’re going in the right direction anyway, going after what you seek.
- Rejection is, more often than not, not personal. We hear this everywhere but fail to internalize this belief. People reject us when we’re not a good fit for each other in that context, or because they were not coming from a place or mindset to accept what we’ve proposed, or sometimes simply because they had a bad day. Many things are possible, and many of these happen often. Do your bit and let it go.
- Build up your self esteem. Stop seeking validation outside of yourself, even the positive ones, so that the negative comments can’t affect you when they come.
- Compassion is the antidote to judgement and rejection. Make being compassionate your strength, be compassionate to the people that judge or reject you as well as yourself.
Q. What's the first step to get better at battling social anxiety?
AH: Begin with looking at what you’re trying to run from.
Anxiety manifests when your brain perceives something as a potential threat and triggers the FFF (fight, flight or freeze) response. Every individual suffering from social anxiety either has their own specific triggers or is generally anxious around people. In both cases, there are belief systems and behaviours involved that fuel the anxiety.
For instance, if you’re invited to a party and you’re too overwhelmed by social anxiety to go, you end up deciding to not attend last minute and your anxiety suddenly comes down. Here, you believe being around people in large numbers is a threat to you in some sense, it may be that you’re worried people won’t like you or that you feel socially inept and might do something embarrassing - there are many possible causes. These are the set of beliefs, which in reality may not be true at all, that feed your anxiety. So behaviorally, you lean towards avoiding situations like this one.
Before addressing the avoidance behaviour, look at these beliefs - they are your triggers. Working on trying to understand where these notions come from and putting these beliefs to test in the real world is the very first thing one can do to start combating social anxiety effectively.
Q. Do you have any tips for teachers with social anxiety who have to interact with students and other faculty all day long?
AH: Tips to help make the daily grind more bearable for teachers with social anxiety:
- Everyone has different situational triggers for social anxiety. Find your sweet spots around them. Figure out the right mix of variables like the core values of the institution, student demographics, teaching environment, subject matter, teaching methodologies, etc, to come up with the kind of teaching opportunity that works well for you.
- Avoid making assumptions about what people are thinking or feeling. For instance, if a student is distracted in the classroom, that does not automatically imply that they find your lecture boring - their distraction may have nothing at all to do with your work and everything to do with themselves.
- Build up your support group. Talk to your peers among the faculty about your struggle. When they are acquainted with it, they can help you navigate various situations as needed in your everyday professional life.
- Make a habit of countering negative thoughts & feelings that trigger your anxiety by acting against them outwardly. If you’re feeling nervous on the inside, deliberately respond to that feeling by acting excited on the outside. If you’re thinking that you’re not doing a great job, respond to it by shifting your body language to that of a confident person on the outside. Thoughts and feelings can influence our verbal and non-verbal communication, but the good thing is that vice versa is also true. This can help you achieve the positive within yourself, by enacting it on the outside.
- Use the ‘power pose’ to your advantage. When you’re anxious, the level of cortisol in your system is high. Take up more space by standing up tall with your head held high and shoulders pulled back, spread your arms and legs wide like a powerful, victorious warrior. This pose helps bring down the cortisol and increase testosterone levels in the body - the very combination needed to boost confidence. Do this before engaging in social situations that intimidate you, such as giving a seminar to a large number of students or attending PTA meetings, to increase your confidence.
- Give yourself a fixed pocket of ‘me time’ in your daily schedule to recuperate from stressful or draining social situations. Fill this time slot with activities that help you relax and get centered.
Q. How can one speak up without the other person feeling it's rude or out of place?
AH: Communicating politely and appropriately has to do with Emotional Intelligence as well as Social Intelligence.
- Practice empathy and compassion.
- Work on communicating intentions and reasoning along with opinions or requests.
- Build the habit of regulating your own language and thoughts, to rid them of extreme profanity and any biases formed by social conditioning over the years.
- Catch yourself when you’re expressing an opinion that’s subjective, as a ‘fact’. Aim for objectivity, or express personal beliefs as being personal beliefs.
- To address misunderstandings, come from a place of accountability, that you’re involved in it as much as the other party is.
- It is the responsibility of the communicator to make sure what they’re saying is understood as they intend it, and not that of the listener.
- Lastly, keep it authentic and make room to receive the other person’s responses so both parties feel heard and understood.
Q. Is it okay to decline to attend office parties outside?
AH: Not taking into account any underpinning obligations, it’s okay to say no to attending events you don’t wish to attend, unless you’ve previously committed to going and a cancellation can cost somebody something.
That said, office parties outside of the work environment are opportunities to get to know your workplace folk as human beings – you’ll have the chance to discover new facets of the people you work with in a brand new social setting, if nothing else. For someone looking to actively improve their professional connections or even just their social skills, attending these is a no-brainer.
If you’re only declining an invitation to go because the change of environment makes you uncomfortable or even the idea of partying outside with the people you work with is intimidating, that’s to be addressed from the social anxiety point of view. What belief systems are causing the discomfort or holding you back from showing up to a possibly fun evening, one that might even result in improving the relationship with your boss?
An easy way to decide would be to consider the consequences. What would you miss if you don’t go? Do you care to improve your human relationships with your colleagues, or not at all? Does not showing up affect you professionally, in any way? Knowing the answers to these should help make a choice.
To be part of more such conversations, join us on the HerStory Women On A Mission Facebook group.