Social anxiety: How to rewire your confidence

If you want to avoid conversation dead ends, remember to "turn" the conversation more than you "take it," says entrepreneur and author Andrew Horn.

  • 60% of us are shy or socially anxious. But one mental exercise can change that statistic, says Andrew Horn.
  • Learn the metamorphic two-step: It's a hypnosis mental technique that can help you name and tame your social anxiety.
  • Awareness of your conversation dynamics can stop small talk from reaching an awkward dead end. Don't switch topics when the flow stalls; instead, go deeper and learn to "turn" a conversation, rather than just "take".

Andrew Horn: One of the most important aspects of meaningful conversation is listening. If you're asking important questions and not listening, you're not having a conversation at all; you are giving a soliloquy. So one of the easiest ways that we can practice active listening and avoid a conversation dead-end is to make sure that we are "turning" the conversation more than we're "taking" it.

So I'll give you a quick example. So my sister just comes back from Thailand and she says, "I had amazing trip. We went to the north and the beaches in the south." So here's what a "take" would sound like: it's like, "Oh I went to Thailand last year. We went to the beaches too." So do you see what you just did? You just directed that thing right into a dead-end, and now it's going to stop. So what a "turn" looks like is you get to say, "Oh wow I went to the beaches as well! What was your favorite part?" And so that simple turn shows them two things: that you heard what they said and that you care enough to ask a follow-up question. And I promise you that the best conversationalists always turn the conversation more than they take it. Because often times what happens is that it's not our first question that is going to get the answer or the depth that we desire, so if we commit to turning the conversation back three and four times we're going to peel off those layers and get more depth out of our conversations. So always remember turn the conversation more than you take it, and you're going to avoid those conversation dead ends.

When we move past asking better questions we move into the "metamorphic two-step". And this is all about presence. And presence is so important in conversation. You've all said this before, "She has such presence." "He has such presence." Presence is that embodied existence in the moment, it's when you're only responding and reacting to what's happening right now. There's no story from the past, there's no fear of the future, and it's a magical thing when we can create that in conversation. And one of the easiest ways to do that is something called the metamorphic two-step. And the metamorphic two-step is actually a hypnosis technique that will help you to identify how you want to feel in social situations. So I learned this from my friend Andrew who is a hypnotherapist here in New York City, he works with a lot of the Fortune 500 brands, the quickest growing startups. And basically what he talks about with some of these leaders is he helps them to identify where they have anxiety in their leadership roles and helps them to overcome that and really achieve peak performance. And so when I first met him, I said, "Okay so how would you use hypnosis to alleviate something like a social anxiety?" And so what he would tell me is he'd say, "Okay, so what I want you to do is think about a social situation where you might have some anxiety." And I would say, "Okay I'm going into a big tech conference with a bunch of really influential people and I might be nervous." And he'd say, "Articulate the undesired state of being. What is that?" And so I'd say, "I'm worried that I won't have anything to say, I'm worried that they won't think that I'm high up enough to actually care about what I'm going to say, I'm not going to add value."

And he'd say, "Great. Just by actually articulating the undesired state, you are naming it, and you're taming it. You're going to be more aware when those undesired states manifest and that's the first step." And so he said, "Step two is that you have to articulate the desired state of being." And our brains are really good at telling us what is going to go wrong in social situations because it wants to keep us safe; it wants people to like us. And this traces all the way back to caveman days where we were much more tribal, and if we were ostracized by the group we were going to get kicked out of the group and then it was a literal death sentence. And so our brain is still responding with that type of intensity to social ostracization. And so articulate the desired state of being.

One of the most common symptoms of starting out or being early in our career is shyness, is just these feelings of being intimidated, feeling unworthy. And we never talk about shyness because there's a taboo and we feel shame about it. Well guess what? The American Psychological Review just put out a study a couple of years ago, and they found out that 60 percent of all people identify as struggling with shyness or social anxiety. 60 percent! So if you struggle with that kind of intimidation, if you've had that self-critical internal dialogue you are in the majority, and so you need to be easy on yourself and say that those feelings are natural and they're ubiquitous. Everyone has those.

And so when we have those feelings we should notice that most times when we have that kind of intimidation factor, we feel unworthy, we're comparing ourselves to others, we're looking at other people and saying "Oh wow they're so much smarter than I am," or "Oh wow I'm never going to be that good." And so comparison is the thief of joy. If we're constantly comparing ourselves with other people we're not going to be able to enjoy the process, and it's going to be very hard to maintain the effort and energy that it takes to be really good at something. So what's more important, what's more effective to focus our energy on is what we want to be really good at and comparing ourselves with who we were yesterday.

If all we do is focus our attention on being better than we were the day before, we can live that process for the rest of our life. Because again, knowing who you are, what you care about and what you want to be is something that you'll keep defining for the rest of your life. But if you keep committing yourself to actually progressing, to getting better and if you can look at yourself a couple of years ago, a week ago, a couple of days ago and say, "Hey I'm smarter, I'm better, I'm learning," there's going to be fulfillment in that.

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