5 Steps to Overcoming Shyness in Conversations

 Only a mediocre person is always at his best.

Somerset Maugham

In my capacity as a communication skills coach and trainer, I’ve met a wide array of people. What I now know for certain is that no matter how competent a person is, most of us have a fear (usually an odd fear) that trips us up and sabotages our effectiveness in strange ways.

Although I’ve had the honor of speaking at gatherings, associations and networking events, the truth is I usually head-off to a networking event feeling uneasy. Why? Well, I’m not sure I can give you a logical explanation.

While I have no problem speaking before hundreds of people, put me in a room where I’m supposed to strike up a conversation with people I don’t know and I become tense and uncomfortable. Weird? Yes!

Even though I coach professionals in how to speak in public, when it comes to one-on-one conversation, I don’t like to be the one to initiate a conversation; I prefer that a person come to me. It’s not that I’m a snob (really); it’s just that I believe the crazy talk in my head.

And what is that “crazy talk”?

Automatically I tell myself that “they” aren’t going to want to chat with me; that they’ll think I’m trying to sell them something or get something from them. I tell myself that the conversation will go nowhere and I’ll embarrass myself. In short, I self-hypnotize myself with this nonsense.

Earlier this year, I was at a networking event here in Los Angeles and after wandering around the ballroom for twenty minutes, I panicked. I decided to leave even though I didn’t feel happy about giving up so quickly. At the last minute, I decided to get a drink and just sit in the lounge area outside the ballroom. That’s it. My plan was not to leave – just sit and see what happened.

Within five minutes, Pat (names changed), a woman I’ve done business with and who has become a friend, walked by on her way to the ladies room. We hugged and she told me not to move, as she’d be right back.

When she returned, we played catch-up as we made our way back into the ballroom where she introduced me to some friends, who introduced me to friends and so the night went on. I ended up enjoying myself and would have missed out on some great conversations had I given in to my early discomfort and fled.

The night was a great reminder of what can happen when I stand (or sit!) my ground against irrational fear.

Here are my 5 tips for snapping yourself out of your self-imposed paralysis

  1. Monitor your thoughts. What are you saying to yourself to make you feel uncomfortable? Why are you reluctant to start a conversation? How realistic are your thoughts? Recognize the crazy talk for what it is.
  1. Put your smart phone away. No one will talk to you if you’re engaged with your phone!
  1. Be mindful of your non-verbal signals. Do you know what you look like when you’re alone and not talking with someone? Do you look stern and unapproachable? If so, you may be unintentionally shooing folks away.
  1. Take the initiative and strike up a conversation – at a social, on line or while waiting for the start of a talk. Keep an open mind and let curiosity get the better of you, knowing that everyone has a story!
  1. Have no expectations. While you might be at an event for work, don’t think of it as “work.” Enjoy. You can’t fail BUT, you can miss out on great opportunities if you don’t step out of your comfort zone and reach out to new people.

If you do find yourself panicking, do what I did –

Take a deep breath

Have a seat

Let yourself be surprised!

Do you struggle with not feeling “enough”?

Do you want to own the confidence that will allow you

to engage others without crippling self-consciousness?


To explore how one-on-one communication skills coaching can help you present you with enhanced confidence,

please contact me




How To Break Through “Learned Helplessness”

We’re just a week away from Memorial Day Weekend. And just a month later, in July, Hallmark Cards will unveil their 2018 Christmas ornaments collection! We’re quickly approaching the halfway point in this “new” year.

What about those New Year’s goals you set up for yourself?  Where are you in bringing them to life?

If you’re feeling frustrated because you’re not along where you thought you’d be in developing those goals, consider this. . .


If you want to change something in your life, it’s common to try to stop the behavior you don’t like. While seemingly logical, the plan seldom works.


As I explain to my communication coaching clients, the reason is simple – stopping a particular behavior actually creates a vacuum where that old behavior used to be. More times than not, we fill-up that vacuum with the very behaviors we’re trying to stop – because they’re so familiar!

Instead of stopping a certain behavior, I urge my coaching clients to focus on the new behavior they want and need to develop. Eventually – with practice – the new will replace the old.

Jessica (names changed), a senior VP at a financial firm, was brash and condescending with her direct reports. She heard the feedback and actually wanted to change how she interacted with them. She hired me as an executive/communications coach and in our first session asked for my advice – in what I thought was a condescending tone!

The first question I asked was, “Instead of coming off as superior and stand-offish, what do you want to be? How would you like to be perceived? What do you want to be known for?”

She looked at me blankly and said, “I’m not sure. I never thought about it quite that way.”

How do you want to be perceived?


There are five steps to help you answer that question and so help you set the right communication goals:

  1. Notice any pattern (in either your personal or professional life) where you want to stop communicating in a certain way.
  2. Think about the way(s) in which you want to start communicating in that arena.
  3. Why do you want to communicate in that way?
  4. Be specific. Write down the exact things you want to do – and why you want to do them.
  5. Experiment. Don’t be afraid of “messing up.”

In his book, Learned Optimism, Dr. Martin Seligman wrote about a psychological phenomenon that he discovered: virtually every one of us has one or more areas where we feel unable to do something that we really want to do.

We’ve developed habits of thinking that hold us back from reaching our full potential. Seligman called this “learned helplessness.”

He conducted dozens of experiments to demonstrate how animals can be trained to feel that they’re helpless. In one, he put a dog into a cage with a glass wall that separated it from a bowl of food. The dog was hungry and tried to get at the food by banging its nose on the glass. After several hours, Seligman removed the glass.

What happened then?

The dog, still hungry, sat only a few inches away from the food and never even attempted to eat it. The animal had become convinced that it was impossible to get the food. Even when the obstacles were removed, the hungry dog just sat there – feeling hungry.

Are you stuck in trying to name your communication goals?

Are you convinced you’re incapable of reaching a goal – no matter how important it is to you?  

Why give power to the lie?

Here’s the truth –

Negative thinking is nothing more than a bad habit you developed somewhere along the line.

And all dysfunctional habits can be replaced with smart, healthy and effective ones.

That’s what the Business of Confidence is all about!

Do you want to break through the negative thinking that is preventing you from being influential and heard?


To explore how one-on-one communication skills coaching can help you present you with enhanced confidence,

contact me at:



Being Confident = Being Daring In Unexpected Ways

Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight,

or any experience that reveals the human spirit.

e.e. cummings

For more than four years I wrote a weekly column in The Tolucan Times, a local SoCal paper. Recently, I reviewed those columns in prep for a book I’m writing. What surprised me (though it shouldn’t have) is that “Confidence” was the #1 topic I wrote about.  Maybe that’s why my website is The Business of Confidence!

I’ve just finished conducting an eight-week workshop at the Westwood campus of UCLA Extension titled, “How To Talk To Anyone.” Participants ranged from Millennials to Baby Boomers.

There was a lot of pain and confusion in the room the first night. Swirling about were all the issues of feeling judged and wondering,“what if I screw up, what will they think?”

There was so much self-doubt. Confidence was scattered about only in bits and pieces, as each of those first-nighters had only a vague sense of “self.”

Over the course of the eight weeks nearly two-thirds of the participants dropped off. On the last night there were only three people in the room.

Those three people – Michael, Sha and Keanna (names changed)– acknowledged they were qualitatively different from who they were on the first night of class. Each sensed feeling more comfortable in their skin, more trusting of their own voice.

While each recognizes that they need to continue to practice and hone their conversational skills, each knows that there is no going back.

The great truth each took away is –

You can’t talk to anyone unless you own your life. 

You need an “I” with which to engage people. 

Even though I weekly conduct workshops and seminars to businesses throughout Los Angeles and Orange Counties, during the eight weeks of the workshop I continually asked myself,

“What does it mean to be confident?”

Sure, I “know” what it means to be confident, yet there always remains an elusive dimension to confidence.

One day, mid-way through the course, while at a Starbucks waiting for a couple whose wedding I’m officiating later this summer (check out my bio for this aspect of my life!), I jotted down characteristics of a confident person.

Here’s what immediately came to mind:

A confident person. . .

  • Is not threatened by people of different beliefs and backgrounds
  • Does not retaliate over real or perceived injuries
  • Is generous with time and knowledge
  • Initiates conversations in unfamiliar settings
  • Acts with the guidance of having pride in the understanding of who they want to be
  • Does not live life based on “committee decisions”
  • Is able to laugh at themselves in their dopey moments
  • Can readily say, “I’m sorry”


Later, during the review of their ceremony, the couple told me they’d like read an excerpt from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13 – yes, the classic, “love is patient, love is kind.”

I’ll admit, when I heard they’d chosen that reading my eyes did a mental roll. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that reading. . .

BUT, later it occurred to me that ultimately confidence is a form of love – and, no, I’m not getting corny here!


If you take that classic scripture passage and switch out “love” for “confidence” then here’s a snippet of what you get:

Confidence is patient and is kind.

It is not jealous, is not pompous, and is not inflated,

It is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,

It does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.


 Confidence is a gift – to your own self and to the people with whom you engage.

 Why? Because being confident allows us to CONNECT in ways deep and genuine.

 So, yeah, confidence is an aspect to love!

Do you want to own the confidence that will allow you

to engage others without crippling self-doubt?

To explore how one-on-one communication skills coaching can help

you present you with enhanced confidence,

contact me at:



The Simplest Way to Becoming an Interesting Person

Boredom occurs when you fail to make the other person interesting.

Warren Bennis

Of all the communication skills workshops I give, my favorite focuses on How To Talk To Anyone.

I again offered this workshop last week and I began by asking the participants, “Who do you enjoy talking with?” Folks quickly responded with some version of, “I enjoy talking with interesting people.”

When I asked what makes someone “interesting” they offered a variety of answers including: well-traveled, educated, athletic, musical, artistic, etc. I pointed out that while those traits and abilities have the potential for making someone interesting, I’ve met MANY well-educated, traveled, talented people who I found boring and/or obnoxious. They simply laughed – in agreement.

Sure, we all enjoy talking with people whose life experiences are different from our own BUT what really makes someone interesting – for all the right reasons?

Here’s what makes someone interesting to me –

confidence + healthy self-esteem + competency + a keen interest in the “other”

A confidently competent person is of little value if they are not genuinely interested in the person(s) they are dealing with.

Simply put, an interesting person knows how to make the other person feel recognized and valued.

When I asked the participants if they considered their own self to be “interesting” most said “NO” or at best only half-heartedly thought they were interesting.

Jacob said he thought he wasn’t “enough” and so wasn’t interesting. He admitted no one has ever directly accused him of being boring or of not being “enough” BUT he knows that he’s not enough.

So, true confession, there was a time when I thought I was boring and not enough. I was heading off to college and didn’t know what to do in order to stop “being” boring.  Before I walked through the campus gates of Fordham University, I decided to be bold in reaching out to people who scared me.

Who scared me? The people who scared me were the people who I thought were living life.

I joined the college radio station (WFUV) and I interviewed all sorts of writers and artistic types hoping they’d give me some glimpse into what it was like to live an interesting life. The most interesting of these people was famed diarist Anais Nin.

With my trusty tape recorder in hand, I went to her Greenwich Village apartment to interview her. I remember how gracious she was when she waved me into her living room. She served tea and then, just as I had set up the recorder, she abruptly said, “Wait!”

She stood up, went over to phone jack and unplugged the phone. She smiled and said, “I don’t want anyone to disturb us.”

I was thrilled.

I was honored.

I was humbled.

I was totally under her spell because I felt recognized.

I didn’t feel boring. I felt enough.

And all these years later, I still cherish that memory.

Here’s the thing – was Anais interesting because she was a bi-coastal bigamist who had also been lovers with the great Henry Miller? Sure.

And was Anais interesting because she made me feel “enough”? Absolutely!

Anais gave me the gift that all interesting people give – she gave me her attention.

The origin of “attention” is in the Latin word “attendere” – to reach toward. And that is what all interesting people do – they reach toward the other person by sharing stories and insights and knowledge and inviting them to do the same.

The truth of the truth is –

you can’t talk to anyone unless you’re willing to be interesting –

which simply means until you are willing to be interested in the other person.

Trust me – being interested in the other person will make you a “more than enough” person!

Do you struggle with not feeling “enough”?

Do you want to own the confidence that will allow you

to engage others without crippling self-consciousness?


To explore how one-on-one communication skills coaching can help you present you with enhanced confidence,

please contact me