For reasons unknown (though most likely due to the fact that I currently have guilt-free free time for the first time in 7 months), I have had no motivation to write this week, and no inspiration when it comes to what I should write, so this week’s post comes from my trusty little green book of blog topics!
In an attempt to improve my communication skills to increase my likelihood of actually getting a job this year, I have been working on that impossible task, that scourge of the socially anxious: Talking to strangers. It’s a seemingly simple task which many people take for granted but for some, it is something to be dreaded and avoided at all costs.
Some things were pretty obvious. For instance, it is much, much easier to talk to people online than in person. It’s not a matter of being able to lie about yourself and pretend to be someone you’re not. For me, my main fears when it comes to talking to people face-to-face are making eye contact, stuttering, and the ever-terrifying risk of the person stabbing me, punching me, or worse. The last one isn’t all that likely, I’ll give you that, but it’s still something I struggle with every time I talk to someone, in many cases even if I know the person. Talking online solves all of these problems: There is no eye-contact to be made, the closest thing to a stutter is a typo, which everyone makes, and it’s pretty difficult to stab someone via the internet. I’m not talking about Omegle or any of those websites, I’m just talking about talking to people (even those that I meet every day) on Facebook or Twitter. Little smiley faces are an added bonus 🙂 🙂 🙂 😦 🙂 >:)
Surprisingly, in my case, talking to people over the phone is the most stressful experience. One would expect that the removal of eye contact and of the possibility of being murdered would be cause for celebration, but telephone conversations freak me out. The only person I can comfortably talk to on the phone is my mother, and this is a very rare occasion because it costs an arm and a leg to call the UK from Ireland, or vice versa. Sorting out bank details over the phone? Horrific. Student loans? Even worse. Take-away? Near impossible. The upside of this, of course, is that it means I don’t follow the student tradition of endless take-aways because for me, cooking a meal from scratch is much, much less stressful that calling for a Chinese or a pizza. Sadly, talking to shopkeepers is not much better for some reason. If I’m ordering something, I have to clarify with whoever I’m with exactly what it is I have to say, word-for-word. If I’m buying something, I am in a horrific state of panic until I’ve purchased the goods and received my change, because for some reason not having quite enough money and having to choose what to put back is a fate worse than death. And don’t even get me started on Subway.
A shocking discovery I have made, however, is that I can talk to people in pubs and clubs (without even drinking). While many people who go out stick to one extreme or the other – either staying glued to their friends and pretending nobody exists or else actively going in search for an attractive young man or woman whose throat is ready and willing to have a stranger’s tongue thrust down it in an act of pure romance – I seem to just go out and make friends. I think the reason I can talk to these people is that even if I’m entirely sober, the chances are that they are not and as a result will not be in a fit state to scrutinize and judge what I say. There are even people who I’ve met on nights out who I talk with on Facebook, or bump into time and time again in my more regular haunts and continue the conversation. Somehow, it’s a stress-free method of socialising which is not entirely centered around a screen.
The only other thing I’ve learned in my adventures is that when it comes to people with whom you will be in regular contact whether you like it or not, first impressions mean little or nothing. I made a pretty terrible first impression when I first met my flatmates back at the start of university, but they don’t hate me (I hope). While I’m sure many of them still think that I’m strange, or awkward, or backward, I have some very close friends among my flatmates, friends who probably did not expect to get along with me when we first met. I hope that with this knowledge, I will get over my fear of talking to people. Someday. Possibly.