I once gave my friend Beth some unsolicited feedback during a cocktail mixer. The event was buzzing with entrepreneurial go-getters, and when I arrived, I expected Beth, who's an outgoing type and a business badass, to be mingling among them. Instead, she was standing in a corner, clutching her phone.

"You seem a little standoffish tonight, you know."

"I'm feeling shy, Susie!" she said.

But I know Beth. Based on other parties we've attended, she's not someone who I would describe as shy. Later, she admitted to having felt a bit nervous at that particular event because there was an author who was going to be there, someone she considers a big influence on her career, whom she wanted to meet and impress. Beth's timidity that evening was situational—in any other setting, she would have been more relaxed. Turns out that Beth's self-described moment of shyness was her excuse for retreating into herself so that she didn't have to risk messing up or making a mistake in front of someone she wanted approval from—not to be mistaken for social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, where a counselor or therapist can be of great benefit.

When shyness is selective and situation-dependent versus fixed, the good news is that, when we understand the temporary nature of it, we can consciously try to seek relief from it. The best way to determine whether you're experiencing situational shyness is to ask yourself: "Who or what am I putting on a pedestal right now?" Recognizing and reducing that means getting a little more comfortable being yourself. It means looking at yourself in a new, empowered light rather than being held back by a feeling that you give too much power to. It means making yourself vulnerable and facing a fear of disapproval or rejection. It also means opening yourself up to living more fully.

Here are some suggestions that have been successful for clients I've worked with, for situations ranging from going on a blind date to approaching an intimidating CEO:

  • Kick the pedestal to the curb. We all feel tense or unsure of ourselves at times, even your boss and "Rachel in marketing," who always seems to have it together.

  • Avoid thinking of yourself as shy if you truly aren't. Words have power, and holding on to the descriptor can disempower you.

  • In unfamiliar situations, take the initiative to be a generous conversationalist. Ask questions that open up light and easy dialogue, such as "How do you know the host?" or "How was your weekend?"

  • Let go of the pressure to be perfect. Whether you're going to a conference, dinner, work meeting or party, you don't have to rock the room or dazzle everyone. You can start by just being nice.

  • Lovingly push yourself to be more visible—you may end up uncovering hidden opportunities. If you're scared to speak up in the boardroom, come prepared to ask a question in advance or make the effort to speak up with that thoughtful comment during the meeting.

  • Remember that you are worthy and unique. Working on your self-confidence is the biggest situational shyness buster there is because, when we realize that we're valuable too, we're less inclined to put others on a pedestal in the first place.


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