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November 27, 2014 - Welcome Guest!

Advice » Relationships

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Lack of Communication Skills

Question:

Hi,

I feel tense when I speak to new or unfamiliar people. My voice gets lower and I can't express my views clearly, especially if the person I am speaking to is older than me. I want to overcome this problem. Please help me out.

Are there any websites that provide information about communication skills and personality development?

Sainath, 20-year-old man

Answer:

Dear Sainath,

Many people have this problem. Some feel awkward and unsure of themselves when speaking to anyone at all. You feel particularly anxious with older people. When I was a young man, my problem was with girls. I guess this is a question of culture more than anything else.

The basic reason is a feeling of being judged and the fear, even conviction, that we will not be considered good enough. It is a kind of stage fright.

After I completed my first bit of research as a student, I was asked by the professor to talk about it for an hour to about 300 first year students. That went wonderfully well. I got them interested, they followed my explanations, and there were a lot of questions at the end. I answered these questions very well.

Three weeks later, I had to talk about the same research to about 50 psychologists, all of whom were senior to me. It was terrible. I couldn't remember the opening sentence I'd planned. When I tried to read my notes, I could hardly do so because my eyes were blurry. I stammered and mumbled and made a hopeless mess of it. And yet, it was the same material I had presented to the first year students.

The difference was of course that when I was talking to people I considered at the time to be superior to me, my attention was focused on me. I was distracted by thoughts about how well or badly I was performing instead of simply doing the job. And these inner messages to myself were all negative. They predicted failure, and so brought it about.

Nowadays, I have had lots of experience in talking with audiences of all sizes, made up of all kinds of people. I feel no anxiety at all and know in advance that I will do a good job - and therefore I do. I still have some anxiety before, but that is good because it motivates me to prepare well.

What are the lessons in this for you?

1. Prepare well. Think up things you are going to say when the need arises. Have a well-learned set of things to talk about, so when you are in a situation where you need to talk to someone you find intimidating, you already know what you have to say. You can practice to yourself, in front of a mirror. Then you can practice with kind friends you trust, who will be delighted to help you.

2. Once you can hold a conversation in a safe situation with people who know and are kind to you, then seek out and practice in more and more scary situations. You can now be confident, entertaining and interesting with members of your family, for example. Then seek out young people who know you quite well, and practice with them. Then look up old school friends you have not seen for a few years and practice with them. Then go to a situation where you will meet new people of your own age. Then start doing the same thing with people maybe 5 to 10 years older...by the time you start practicing on strangers who are much older, you will have formed a new habit: of being confident when talking with anyone.

3. When doing something scary, focus on the job, not on yourself. Talking with somebody is just a job. Watch how good conversationalists do it, and copy them. Your job is to stand, have facial expressions, tones of voice and content of speech like that of a confident speaker. You are an actor, acting like a confident person. That is your job - do it. Focus on doing it, not on how somebody may be judging you.

4. Know that you have many good qualities. Make a list of these, and put that up on the wall for you to see. Of course, these need to be true, but I am sure you can find many good things about yourself. When you believe yourself to be a good person, you will have less of a tendency to think bad thoughts about yourself, such as "I am useless. I always fail at everything." Such thoughts will get in your way. If they come, that's OK, but they are just noise. They are not true, and not false, just thoughts that come to you. You can ignore them.

So, you have a lot of learning ahead of you. All you need to do is to learn some new habits. That's hard work, but you have been learning habits all your life.

Bob

This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 31 years experience as a psychologist and is registered with the Australian Psychological Society. He practices in Australia. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith".

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