Suzanne Welstead, 24 Sinclair Street, Guelph, Ontario, N1L 1R6, CANADA
Please call (519) 994-3327 to schedule an appointment

Thought of the Month

July 2014: Navigating Social Situations With Ease

     As a sex, marriage and family therapist, I have worked with many individuals who struggle with feeling socially confident.  Sometimes, it is an issue that arises when other mental health concerns have become more intense.  It is not always easy to make a request of a stranger, or to walk into a crowded room.  Overcoming shyness and/or social anxiety requires certain skills, just like many other life challenges.  However, the more we practice social skills, the easier it can become to face such situations with minimal anxiety and maximum confidence.

     One way in which a person can increase his/her social confidence is by remembering that many other people also struggle with feeling comfortable in social situations.  Although several individuals may be able to walk into a room full of strangers, it is rarely a person's favourite activity.  It can be helpful to arrive early to a party, as the room will appear less intimidating.  You may also have more time to introduce yourself to a few people before the party is in full swing.  Another reason it is beneficial to arrive early is that you will have more time to become comfortable in your surroundings.  If you know where you will be sitting at an event or where the food and drinks are available or the location of the washrooms, you might find that you feel more in control of your feelings.  Furthermore, having some information that you can then share with other people at the gathering could be useful when starting up conversations.

     Authenticity is central to being and feeling socially successful.  When you can look people in the eye and truly listen to them, they will feel the difference no matter what you say.  In fact, the key to most social situations is listening to the other person. The skills of active listening, such as paraphrasing and asking for clarification of what has been said, demonstrate to the speaker that the listener understands on a consistent basis what is being told to him/her.  Asking specific questions from a standpoint of curiosity and genuine interest will be reflected in your tone, and you can use body language, such as a brief touch on the forearm, to indicate that you care about what the person is saying.  In addition, looking at someone directly in the eye shows the other person that you are present and focused.

     Patti Wood, a body language and communication expert, says that there are three parts to charisma: likablility, attractiveness, and power.  If we mirror someone's body language or pace of talking, we show the other person that we are similar to him/her and that makes us more likable.  If we apply an "up" posture by putting our shoulders back, opening up our stance and smiling, our attractiveness to others will be increased because this posture displays vivacity.  Finally, making the other person feel powerful by holding his/her gaze makes the person feel respected, which will then be reflected onto you.  Remembering what the other person says and referring back to it, will also help the other person to feel powerful.

     It is up to you to define your own social style, but starting with one or two small goals for change could help you to connect with new people, which could in turn add more enjoyment to your own life.  Learning about new perspectives, obtaining new ideas for your life, and taking pleasure in what people find noteworthy or interesting about you are all benefits of making new social connections.  Joining your own unique personality style with some new technical skills could help you to feel more confident in group situations, and set you on a very positive path for moving forward socially with ease.

Suzanne Welstead

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