With some people, making friends is comparable to playing a strategic chess game. The normal meet-and-greet, sit and eat rules don’t apply until you pass the first barrier: shyness.
Ever wondered why the shy, reserved kids in class were always the least popular? Perhaps even the most outcasted? The truth is, in the Western world, quietness has never been seen as a virtue. Instead, it’s perceived as a strange, unfriendly phenomena, and frequently misunderstood as being cold and aloof. It seems that most people just don’t seem to be up to the challenge of befriending and gaining the trust of a shy introverted person.
Our world is about quick fixes, instant gratification and speedy convenience. The shy introvert doesn’t deliver that. But for those who have glimpsed the pearl inside the oyster, the shy introvert is the source of intrigue and fascination, but also frustration. How is it possible to befriend such an insular, secretive and quietly mysterious type? Below you will find some tips, tricks, and do’s and don’t’s from the perspective of a shy introvert.
Befriending the Shy Introvert
The shy introvert is typically a loyal, thoughtful and worthy friend. Whether you’re pursuing a friendship with them to either develop a romance or gain a companion there are a few things you should know first.
The shy introvert can be understood as a highly reserved person who shows signs of sensitivity, cautiousness, distrust, fear and timidity in social situations. This can be for a number of reasons, for instance; upbringing, environment, culture, or genetic disposition. Yet it’s a great error to assume that because the shy introvert is not friendly, open, or willing to talk to you at length that they are:
1# Uninterested or indifferent.
2# Disliking of you.
3# Boring, dull, or rude.
In fact, many shy introverts harbour secret desires to know and be known, yet lack the confidence and skills to do so. This is not to say that they don’t try. As a shy introvert in school I managed to befriend multiple shy people, including a painfully shy schizophrenic girl who barely moved or blinked when you talked to her, out of fear. Whether you’re a shy introvert yourself, or socially uninhibited, befriending the shy introvert requires only persistence and patience. There is no fixed procedure or guide. But there are some essential no-no’s.
- Don’t single them out in front of a group of people (e.g. your cafeteria group) to talk to. This embarrasses them.
- Don’t talk very loudly and incessantly. This is overwhelming and embarrassing for them.
- Don’t make small talk about inane topics. Introverts generally dislike lots of small talk. Talking about something irrelevant will both bore and place pressure on them to talk.
- Don’t treat them like what they have (shyness) is a disease or affliction. Don’t take pity on them. They will sense it, and immediately withdraw from you with distaste.
- Don’t expect them to contribute as much as you are to the conversation.
- Don’t immediately extend social invitations to them, e.g. invite them to your house, group, or party. This places too much social pressure on them.
- Don’t follow them around. This is irritating and anxiety provoking.
- Don’t talk to them in a group or with another person. Too many people = too much social pressure.
- Don’t make too much eye contact with them. This is perceived as being intimidating and too dominating and scary for the shy person to deal with.
- Don’t look contrived in your efforts to strike up conversation. Let it be natural and flowing. Shy people hate awkwardness just as much and even more than you do.
- Don’t be otherwise intense or overwhelming in any way, shape or form. Shy introverts are sensitive and become mentally drained easily.
- Don’t force, pressure or encourage them to do anything out of their obvious comfort zone. This will quickly cause them to lose their trust in you and retreat.
- Do always approach the shy introvert by yourself. This is far more effective than in a mob of people where the shy person is social overwhelmed.
- Do talk quietly and in a gently manner at first. This is more attractive, soothing and encouraging to the shy mind than loud, frenzied voices.
- Do find and talk about similar interests you both share, or a similar problem. Introverts bond with others through intimate, personal or meaningful conversation.
- Do most of the talking at first, and be prepared to do so. Shy introverts can take a while to warm up to you. Expect on average 2-3 weeks, sometimes more, sometimes even less.
- Do keep your conversations and social encounters to a small time frame at first. Introverts need time to absorb you and your words, and their shy element causes them to cautiously evaluate you. Let them process you slowly.
- Do make minimal eye contact at first. Too much eye contact is seen to initiate the fear centers in the brain and the fight-or-flight response. It’s intimidating. The less you eye them like food, the more likely they’ll speak openly.
- Do let your conversations come naturally. Let them be spontaneous and don’t ever plan them. The shy introvert is aware and in-tune when this happens. They’ll wonder why you’re paying them so much attention, feeling suspicious, anxious and even paranoid of you.
5 Hepful Tips
Some additional tips and tricks you could use in your pursuit of trust and friendship with your shy introvert, are:
1# Increase your level of eye contact when you suddenly seem to click or mutually bond over something (e.g. similar music tastes, favorite book, etc.) This creates an unconscious association of intimacy and similarity when your shy friend looks back at you. Do this enough, and you’ll find your friend associating feelings of happiness with you whenever they look at you – these feelings are clear in the eyes.
2# Slowly increase the length and time of social interaction through the weeks. You could start with 5 minutes a day, at least once a week, to half an hour a day, every 2 days a week, and so forth.
3# It’s useful in any life situation to have knowledge of body language. If you haven’t any preexisting knowledge, try learning a bit about body language. Sol has written some excellent articles on the subject here, here and here. Knowing how your shy friend feels about you, as manifested in their body, gives you an amazing advantage. You can change your approach to them if it isn’t working, and become more likable and effective, increasing your chances of gaining a loyal friend.
4# If you’ve found yourself bonding over some similarity with your shy friend, chances are the topic will be brought up again. You can hook their interest and continue your mutual flow of communication by finding out something new to bring about the topic to the conversation. Try finding a piece of new information to add to the discussion that you don’t think they’ve heard before.
5# If you believe it to be wise or appropriate, tell your shy introvert something you’ve told few others before. Let them know this plainly so they can appreciate your trust in them. Sharing a secret is the perfect way to stimulate immediate intimacy, and may very well find you becoming close to your shy friend quickly.
Approaching, befriending and gaining the trust of a shy introvert can be like planning a strategic infiltration of foreign ground. But by following these suggestions you will discover a more thoughtful, patient and lively way of initiating friendships. Sometimes the most challenging things in life bring about the most meaningful results.