What do these have in common?
– Starting a new job
– Learning to drive with your dad
– Talking to a complete stranger
You’re nervous in each one, right? You question your abilities. You lack confidence. You feel anxious.
(Although you just rocked it once your dad was out of the car, right? Sorry, beside the point…)
Unfortunately, if you feel anxious talking to someone new, they will too. They’ll link that discomfort to you and want to run far, far away.
It’s SO frustrating to feel you’re turning people off; I would know.
The good news is there’s an easy way to switch their feelings of anxiety to feelings of warmth. In this post, I explain how to do this so people want more of you instead of running the heck away.
The Secret to Reducing Anxiety… A Blue Dress?
In a previous job, I reluctantly attended dinner meetings with groups of high-profile people from my community.
I remember my nervousness talking to a member of our chamber of commerce. She was polite, but her eyes darted around the room as we talked. I tried to act “normal,” but only worried more about what to say.
Then I noticed her dress. Lace ruffles twirled like a spiral staircase around the sparkling blue gown. Beautiful. I suddenly admired how well put-together she was.
I didn’t mention this admiration, but immediately my anxiety decreased. She engaged more in the conversation and we chatted pleasantly for much of the meeting.
The blue dress didn’t improve my conversation; my change in focus did. This affected my mood, which in turn affected hers. I’ll explain this in a sec, but first…
What Every Nervous Talker Should Know About Mirror Neurons Right Now
So what’s the deal? How can our mood rub off on those around us?
Two words: Mirror Neurons.
These highly-developed cells in our brain allow us to feel what another person is feeling. What we’re talking about here is empathy.
For example, have you ever seen someone cut their hand deeply? Did you grab your own hand or “feel” that person’s pain?
This is mirror neurons at work.
Dr. Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies mirror neurons, explains it like this:
“When you see me perform an action – such as picking up a baseball – you automatically simulate the action in your own brain… And if you see me choke up, in emotional distress from striking out at home plate, mirror neurons in your brain simulate my distress. You automatically have empathy for me. You know how I feel because you literally feel what I am feeling.”
(from the New York Times article, Cells That Read Minds)
Your Anxiety Shows in Ways You Can’t Control
The same thing happens (on a more subtle level) when you anxiously talk to someone.
While nervous, your tone of voice might pitch higher or waver. Your facial expressions give you away and your posture suffers in ways you can’t consciously control.
As humans, we’re highly attuned to these non-verbal signals.
The other person subconsciously picks up these cues and mirror neurons zap into action. He begins to feel the discomfort you feel, even if he’s not sure why.
Bottom Line: People feel uncomfortable with you and don’t want to stick around.
It’s ok though, here’s how you change that.
How to Change Your Focus and Change the Vibe
- Stop thinking things like, “ok, I’ve got to be less nervous.” That just brings your anxiety to the front of your awareness and in turn, to theirs.
- If you want them to feel warmth toward you, you need to feel it first. The best way I’ve discovered to do this is by finding something you genuinely like about the person and focusing on that.
Examples of qualities to focus on:
- Nicely dressed, great accessories
- Hair well groomed or done-up
- Pleasant personality – fun, laid-back, quirky
- Passionately speaking about a subject
During the dinner, I noticed how well dressed and together the chamber member seemed. I admired her sense of pride. This shift in focus subtly reflected in my body-language and tone of voice.
She sensed the warmth of that admiration (or rather her mirror neurons did).
So, think of it as silently complimenting the other person. If you do say it out loud, fine. But the point is to focus on the quality in them you like, not your anxiety.
- Make sure you genuinely admire the trait. Otherwise you defeat the purpose of switching your focus at an emotional level.
- You still need to pay attention to what the person is saying. This technique doesn’t excuse forgetting the basics of good conversation etiquette.
By switching focus from your anxiety to a quality you genuinely appreciate in a new acquaintance, you create a warmth in yourself toward them.
Subconsciously, they’ll notice this and their mirror neurons do the rest, reflecting that feeling of warmth.
Now, instead of feeling anxious and uncomfortable when you’re around, they feel at ease.
Bottom line: They want more of you.
Now that’s more like it.
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