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Don't Let Shyness Spoil Your Holidays

Experts offer tips to overcome shyness, especially during the holiday season.
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Tips for Making Small Talk continued...

Step 3. Pretopical Selection: fishing for topics. Toss out a topic for discussion, such as, "I really liked this movie." If the person isn't responsive, offer another topic. The rule of successful small talk is that when someone throws out a topic, you should support it by asking a question or commenting.

Step 4. Posttopical Elaboration: expanding the topic. Associate the topic of conversation to other related topics. If the topic is vacations, say, "Speaking of vacations, we had some great Caribbean food. Have you ever had Caribbean food?" It's the give-and-take than makes conversing fun.

Step 5. Conversation termination: a gracious ending that creates the connection. Let the person know you'll be leaving soon, express gratitude for the conversation, summarize some of the major points, and set the stage for future conversation. You can say, "I really must be going soon, but I had a great time chatting with you. I really appreciate your comments about that new movie. Here's my card. Call me if you know of any other movies you think I might enjoy."

"Shy people often get stuck on 'setting talk,' or they have a favorite topic and dominate the conversation," says Carducci. "They talk at people, not with them. You don't have to be a brilliant conversationalist; you just have to be kind."

Social Anxiety Disorder

What's the difference between being shy and having a social phobia, more commonly known as social anxiety disorder (SAD)? People with SAD have an almost ever-present anxiety. Physical symptoms include blushing, sweating, trembling, nausea, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, and headaches. SAD affects about 7% of the adult population -- men and women equally -- at any given time, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America.

"People with SAD have so much apprehension about meeting new people, they will do anything to avoid others," says Ross, who is spokeswoman for the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA). "They're preoccupied with fear that others are evaluating them and will think they're stupid. People have told me they'd rather die than order from a waitress. Or as soon as they wake up in the morning, they worry about situations in which they have to talk to people."

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