We live in the age of sharing. On Facebook, your news feed is a stream of opinions on everything from who you should vote for to whether a hot dog should count as a sandwich. At work, it seems like those who speak up the most also get the furthest ahead. In a culture where constantly expressing your opinion is not only expected, but valued, it’s easy to feel out of place if you’re socially anxious.
Social anxiety can make you feel like the only quiet person in a deafening room. While it seems easy for others to shout their opinions with confidence, you brim with self-doubt, terrified you’ll say the wrong thing and be humiliated. When asked for your thoughts, your mind goes blank. Even if you’re an expert on the topic, you question the validity of your own opinions if they differ from anyone else’s. If social anxiety prevents you from expressing your opinions, it can impact both your career and personal life. You might feel pressure to always agree with your boss and coworkers, and be unable to share your wishes with friends, family, and significant others. If this sounds like you, here are a few strategies to help you feel more confident sharing your opinions:
- Remember your qualifications. If you suffer from the imposter syndrome at work, you might struggle with speaking up in meetings–especially if you have a different opinion than your boss or people you feel are smarter than you. However, remember you would not have been hired for this job if you weren’t qualified. Besides, even if you’re the youngest person in the room or have the least experience in the field being talked about, there is value in a fresh opinion and you may see new perspectives that others who have looked at the problem for too long may not notice.
- Frame it as a discussion instead of a debate. You might worry that if you express an opinion that others disagree with, they will interrogate you and try to pick apart your argument. This is especially true when talking about divisive issues like religion or politics. Instead of thinking about your conversation as a debate where there’s a “winner” who is “right” and a “loser” who’s “wrong,” frame it as a discussion meant to be a mutual learning experience. For example, instead of saying “John Doe is definitely the best candidate,” you can say “I think John Doe is the best candidate because of his economic policies–what do you think?”
- Practice articulating your opinions. People often hesitate to express their views because they’re nervous about how they’ll sound. If you’re worried that you’re “bad at communication,” remember that the ability to speak eloquently isn’t an innate talent— it’s a skill like any other that can be learned and honed through practice. Join a club like Toastmasters or go to a discussion meetup where you can practice articulating your ideas in a safe environment. If that feels like too big of a jump, start smaller by writing your opinions down in a journal. Even writing your ideas down can help you learn the best way to articulate them!
- Take a moment to gather your thoughts. If you struggle with freezing up or stumbling over your words when asked for your opinion on the spot, try pausing for a moment before you answer. Often, we get flustered because we feel pressure to come up with a perfect answer immediately. We worry that if we hesitate for even a second, others will think we’re incompetent. However, if you say something like “that’s a great question— let me take a minute to think about it,” people will usually respect you for taking the time to think through an answer instead of responding off the cuff. This is especially true in work environments.
- Understand that talking about disagreements can strengthen relationships. You might hold your tongue because you’re worried that if you express an opposing opinion to a friend, spouse, or coworker, they will get mad at you and it will hurt the relationship. However, remember that disagreements and the ability to communicate through them are a sign of a healthy relationship. Talking through opposing opinions can often help rather than hurt a relationship because it helps you understand the other person and their beliefs better.
- Remember that memory is short. A common fear people with social anxiety have is that if they say one wrong thing or mess up one time, everyone will remember it forever and they will always be thought of as incompetent. In reality, people have pretty short attention spans, and are too absorbed in their own thoughts and worries to dwell on a single mistake you made. It’s likely that even if you do say something incorrect, the conversation will be forgotten in a matter of minutes!
Social anxiety can make you feel trapped in your own head. Despite being an opinionated person with strong beliefs and ideas, you can feel like a people-pleaser, unable to express your true personality. Don’t let your fear of expressing an opinion prevent you from being assertive and speaking your mind. See how Joyable’s online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) program for social anxiety can help.