This article was co-authored by Ashley Pritchard, MA. Ashley Pritchard is an Academic and School Counselor at Delaware Valley Regional High School in Frenchtown, New Jersey. Ashley has over 3 years of high school, college, and career counseling experience. She has an MA in School Counseling with a specialization in Mental Health from Caldwell University and is certified as an Independent Education Consultant through the University of California, Irvine.
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Many people are extremely shy. Shy people may feel uncomfortable being around people they aren't familiar with. In a room full of strangers, they may remain by themselves, away from the crowd, kind of in their own world. Once they feel more comfortable with others, they open up, and really can be a great deal of fun. When a shy friend starts to warm up, you may forget how shy they had been when you first met. Learn how to break the ice and become friends with an extremely shy person.
Part 1Part 1 of 3:Approaching a Shy Person Download Article
- 1Walk up to them on your own, not with a group. Have a nice, friendly smile on your face. Be calm and polite. Introduce yourself and ask for their name. Refrain from talking in an overly excited tone which can overwhelm a shy person. Talk softly and in a moderate tone. Don't ask them all of a sudden either---it could startle them.
- Be sure your approach is friendly and inviting, but not overly excited to the point where it seems insincere. You might say something like "Hey, I noticed you standing here on your own. I'm Jeff, what's your name?"
- Approaching the person on your own as opposed to with a group increases the likelihood that they will engage with you. Shy people typically feel overwhelmed and intimidated by large groups.
- 2Make minimal eye contact at first. Shy people tend to feel self-conscious or awkward in social situations. This feeling is intensified when they are subjected to intense stares. Staring at the other person nonstop can feel threatening. So, aim to avert your gaze occasionally to help your new friend feel more comfortable.
- Science has shown that direct eye contact increases self-awareness, which is an uncomfortable state for extremely shy people.XResearch source
- To increase their comfort level with you, aim to make eye contact between 30-60% of the time during a conversation. Generally, you should make eye contact slightly more when listening than when talking.XResearch source
- To further help your new friend adjust to you, stand beside them rather than face-on. This positioning can often feel less threatening. Just be sure to turn to face them slightly with your body to show interest and engagement.
- 3Ask open-ended questions. To draw out a shy person, you might start by asking a few questions. Open-ended questions, that is, those that require more than a "yes" or "no" answer are best. These types of questions allow the person responding to answer in their own words rather than offering limited response options. They also give your potential friend the chance to talk as little or as much as they would like.
- For example, if you are at a social gathering, and you want to strike up a conversation with a shy person who is hiding out in corner or leaning against a wall, you can ask "So, how do you know the host?"
- Other open-ended questions might include: "What brings you here today?", "What kind of things do you do for fun?" or "What was your impression of the film?"
- 4Learn to be okay with silence. Conversation involves a natural ebb and flow of speaking, listening, and silence. When you're outgoing, you may assume silence is a red flag that your attempt to socialize is failing. It's not. A few seconds of silence is typically okay, especially with a shy person. These individuals may require longer periods to process what was said and respond accordingly. After the silence settles in, simply choose to start a new thread in the conversation or take the opportunity to end the exchange.XResearch source
- If you want to continue talk, you might try to find a connection from something that was said earlier like "So, you said your brother works on cars?"
- If you want to save both of you from an awkward silence, you might say "Well, nice meeting you, Becky. We'll have to catch up again sometime."
- 5Keep the initial encounter brief. Even if an awkward silence doesn't threaten the conversation, it is still a good idea to keep the exchange short and sweet. Once the two of you have briefly interacted find a natural lull in the conversation to make your exit.
- Shy people take some time to warm up to new people and new situations. Respect that need by limiting the first exchanges, then gradually the duration of interactions as the person becomes more comfortable with you.XResearch source
Part 2Part 2 of 3:Enhancing the Connection Download Article
- 1Be prepared to initiate conversations. If you're serious about making friends with an extremely shy person, you will have to initiate. This means having quite a few conversation-starters in your pocket and often having to pick up the ball when the conversation starts to lull.
- Of course, in some cases, the shy person might warm up quickly and start engaging more. However, in the early stages of your friendship, you will have to be prepared to start and/or carry the conversations.XResearch source
- 2Talk about similar interests. When starting a conversation with a shy person, you may want to avoid small talk. In general, many introverted people prefer more engaging and deeper conversations about ideas as opposed to surface-level topics like the weather or weekend plans.XExpert SourceAshley Pritchard, MA
Academic & School CounselorExpert Interview. 4 November 2019.
- Try to stimulate your shy friend by observing what they seem interested in talking about and sticking to those topics.
- For example, if your friend seems to light up when discussing a certain television show, try to get her to go into more detail about it. You might ask "Who's your favorite character on the show, and why?" or "Tell me about the episode that officially made you a fan of the show."
- 3Demonstrate open body language. Shy people are often fearful of social interaction, sometimes responding to these circumstances with physical signs such as sweating, a pounding heart, or a red face. They often worry excessively about how others view them.XTrustworthy SourceAmerican Psychological AssociationLeading scientific and professional organization of licensed psychologistsGo to source Use your own body language to create a soothing and less-threatening exchange. When you are around your shy friend, be sure to:XResearch source
- Make occasional eye contact (don't expect any in return)
- Orient in their direction during conversation
- Lean in to show interest in the conversation
- Keep your arms and legs uncrossed and relaxed at your sides
- Smile and nod to encourage her to continue talking
- 4Share a secret to deepen the intimacy. Self-disclosure is a bold yet effective way to turn a casual acquaintance into a friend.XTrustworthy SourceHelpGuideNonprofit organization dedicated to providing free, evidence-based mental health and wellness resources.Go to source Friends know things about one another that the general public may not. If you're hoping to upgrade your relationship with a shy person, open up to them in a personal way.
- One of the main aspects of friendship is intimacy. You can achieve intimacy through appropriate self-disclosure. Be warned, however, that it's unnecessary to share your deepest, darkest secret. In fact, doing so, may scare your new friend off because of the sudden intimacy.
- Start with something rather small but that many people don't know. You might even disclaim your self-disclosure by saying "A lot of people don't know this but...".
Part 3Part 3 of 3:Respecting Differences Download Article
- 1Don't take it personally when your friend needs alone time.XResearch source People who are uncomfortable in social situations tend to become drained when they have to socialize for an extended period. Allow them time alone without getting offended. It's not about you; your friend just needs time for quiet to recharge.
- Although it may not seem like it, your shy friend may be terribly uncomfortable during the entire interaction. They may be anxious to get away to process the exchange.
- 2Avoid trying to make your new friend do things outside their comfort zone.XResearch source Outgoing folks might think all their shy friends need to become social butterflies is a little push. Shyness can be a serious social detriment that inhibits people's relationships and work lives.XTrustworthy SourceAmerican Psychological AssociationLeading scientific and professional organization of licensed psychologistsGo to source It's not something that will go away by challenging the person to take a risk.
- If you take this route, you can end up causing distrust and making your friend retreat from you. You might suggest a few "exciting" things to do with your new friend, but if they don't seem interested, don't force the issue.
- 3Try not to ask why the person is shy or acting a certain way. Another quick route to ruining the friendship is commenting on your friend's shy nature. Treat your friend just as you would any other. There's no need to point out their shyness.
- Asking why your friend is so quiet or introducing them as 'the shy one' can be quite insulting.
- This will probably annoy your friend and cause them to be even more self-conscious. As a result, your behavior may actually make them withdraw even more rather than getting them to open up.
- 4Understand their shyness. By doing a bit of research you can better understand and empathize with your friend's social behavior. According to science, shy people tend to feel awkward or fearful of social situations, particularly when around new or unfamiliar people. Your friend may experience a pounding heart or an upset stomach. They may think that everyone is looking at or judging them.XTrustworthy SourceAmerican Psychological AssociationLeading scientific and professional organization of licensed psychologistsGo to source
- You can be a better friend to a shy person by recognizing that all people feel shy on occasion. Your friend just appears to be extremely shy.
- They probably aren't being shy because they don't like people or even because they want to avoid them. They are simply uncomfortable in most social situations. They probably badly want to belong, but don't know how. Help them feel a sense of belonging by refraining from judging or labeling their behavior.
- 5Be patient. Whether it's sitting through awkward silences or waiting for your extremely shy friend to open up to you, you have to exercise patience. If you are genuine and kind, eventually this budding relationship will fully blossom.XResearch source
- Don't push your new friend to open up. Allow the friendship to unfold at its own pace. That way, you both will be comfortable with where the friendship is going, and your shy friend can be themselves around you.
- QuestionDo introverts have a hard time making friends?Ashley Pritchard, MAAshley Pritchard is an Academic and School Counselor at Delaware Valley Regional High School in Frenchtown, New Jersey. Ashley has over 3 years of high school, college, and career counseling experience. She has an MA in School Counseling with a specialization in Mental Health from Caldwell University and is certified as an Independent Education Consultant through the University of California, Irvine.
School CounselorSchool CounselorExpert AnswerIt really depends on the individual, but it's fair to assume that it might be a little harder to make friends if you're introverted. The important thing to recognize is that it's hard for everybody to make friends sometimes, even if it really doesn't appear that way. So, don't be too hard on yourself!
- QuestionWhenever I try to talk to this shy person they only give one word answers and won't make conversation. I'm always the one to extend invitations to get together. Is this friendship worth pursuing?Community AnswerIf you enjoy spending time with this person, it's worth pursuing. It might be a good idea to express your feelings to this person, as they may have no idea that what they're doing bothers you. Everyone has issues and limitations, and your shy friend may not be able to change his stripes.
- QuestionHow do I become friends with a shy person if I'm really shy as well?Community AnswerBe nice to each other. Compliment him/her. Try to talk. Talk about little things, such as the weather, an upcoming test, homework or the news. Don't be too pushy, and don't be scared to start the conversation.
- QuestionI have a good friend, but we only talk to each other over text. She goes to my school, but whenever we're standing next to each other, it's always an awkward silence. How do we open up to each other?Community AnswerStart the conversation! Explore your mutual interests, talk about shows you both watch, books you've both read, games you both play. You can even talk about school, ask her how her classes are going, what teachers she likes or doesn't like, etc. The more you talk in person, the easier it will get.
- QuestionMy stand partner in orchestra is somewhat quiet and reserved, and I am normally friendly, but I am very self-conscious in orchestra. It's been about a month. Any advice on making friends?Community AnswerJust be nice. Smile and say hello when you see them in the hall. Maybe invite them to sit with you at lunch. Chat about orchestra, and then bridge other topics. You could say something like, "So, what do you like to do when you're not playing [instrument]?" Don't expect anything to happen overnight, but you should be able to gradually bring this person out of their shell.
- QuestionHow could I be less awkward?Community AnswerJust don't be afraid. Communicating/socializing can be risky if one isn't careful, but but be bold and see where that gets you.
- QuestionI want to be friends with a shy person, but I also have a crush on her brother. What do I do so she isn't weirded out?Community AnswerTalk to her and be subtle about trying to become closer. Don't force the friendship or push her too much, and just be yourself.
- QuestionMy friend has a very shy brother who is a year older than I am, so I only see him at band practice. I've only heard him talk twice, and only about band. He seems nice, but how can I become his friend?Top AnswererNext time you see him, say "hi", and mention how you like band practice and ask if he likes it, too. It's a good idea to simply say you think he seems like a nice guy and you want to chat a little. Prepare a few topics in your head, but keep the first conversation short. End it on a happy note, say you liked talking to him, but you have to go. Better to have a good but brief than a long conversation. Let him know he can always come talk to you.
- QuestionHow can I be less shy?Community Answerhow to overcome shyness is a good resource for you.
- QuestionI'm very shy. At work people, don't know how do approach me. Why is that?Community AnswerIt can be difficult for people of different temperaments to know how to engage someone who isn't at all outgoing or talkative. It will help if you put yourself out there more, offer up a little information about yourself and ask your co-workers questions about themselves. Just a little initiative can go a long way.
- Make sure you don't approach them suddenly. Take it nice and slow instead of scaring them off.
- Instead of attempting the usual small talk, try to find a topic that lights them up. Shy people can be hard to talk to at first, but if you can get them started on something they love, it's hard to get them to stop talking!
- If they are really shy don't try to become friends with them in just one day - take it slow.
- Be yourself rather than trying to be "cool". People will most likely find you interesting when you are authentic.
- Just make friends, be calm, polite and interested in what they have to say.
- Take it slow. Don't bring them into a big group which will make them feel uncomfortable.
- Stand up for them! If you see your shy new friend being bullied or something like that, stand up for them. They'd appreciate it and are more likely to feel better around you and open up.
- Try not to approach shy individuals in groups of your friends, because many shy people find it very awkward and difficult to cope with so many new people at once and may be intimidated by you.
- Never put them in embarrassing, uncomfortable situations.
- Don't make offensive comments that include anything stereotypical, sexist, racist, etc. Or don't say anything that is directed at a particular group. Even though your new friend may talk about these things, be polite but not mention them yourself.
- NEVER ask why they are so quiet or shy as this is the worst thing you can say, since it embarrasses them as well as making them uncomfortable. If you ask or say this, they will end up hating you. You have to pretend they aren't shy, and treat them like there's nothing wrong or awkward about them being quiet. Eventually they will open up.
- Be careful with eye contact. Looking at a shy person for too long will make them feel like an insect under the microscope--like they are being scrutinized. Shy people will notice this very fast, if not right away, and will respond with a desire to escape.
- Don't say "Why don't you smile?", or "You look tired..". Most likely they are uncomfortable, and you would be adding to it. Instead try telling them a funny story or complimenting them.
- Most people are shy because of a fear that someone is criticizing or judging them. Be careful not to say anything judgmental towards their character or interests. For example, do not say "My friend said he thinks you're boring" or even say it behind their back, because chances are it will get back to them. As a result, they won't want to open up to you and have fun because they can't trust you. Do the opposite by finding ways to remind them every once in a while what you like about them.
- ↑Ashley Pritchard, MA. Academic & School Counselor. Expert Interview. 4 November 2019.