How can I overcome the phobia of talking to people?

My Quora Answer to “How can I overcome the phobia of talking to people?

Warning: Pretty Damn Lengthy!

Came to this question through Dhakshitha Rao‘s answer in my feed. As always, she gave an almost perfect answer to the question.

But when I read through the question details, I almost felt like I was having a deja vu. Let me explain: I was also an IITian a long time back, with no real experience in any extra-curricular activities; the only hobby I had when I entered IIT was reading (and following cricket a bit, not much); I was (and still am) really naturally-bad at any sport I played; and I was basically an introvert, with maybe 3-4 close friends from school – finding it difficult to open a conversation with people I didn’t feel close enough to. Even some relatives – aunts, uncles, some cousins – were among those I found it difficult to talk to, even though they were the ones who started the conversation and even when they were really good at talking. I am not saying I didn’t talk – I did have loads of fun just shooting crap with that small group of close friends, or close cousins.

Then, I get into a hostel, in an IIT, with people I didn’t ever know, not even from the coaching classes – well, I’d seen one or two guys in my institutes, but never spoke much to them… as you can imagine, I had no clue what to do! Apart from the fear of what the seniors would do in the usual senior-junior introduction sessions (no “ragging” in our IIT, not even back in 2000), I was also wondering about how to get to know one-two guys well enough each in the hostel and in the department. That, I thought, should be enough, comfortable, to get through these four years.

What happened was that the group of guys in the rooms near mine, including one of my first-year room-mates, were of the more social, funny types who were great chaps (I hate writing this “great chaps” openly – what if one of them reads it all the way till here? ūüėõ ). Some of them knew one another, some of them knew some of the preceding batch seniors in the hostel… well, whatever combination of events happened (I don’t remember much now), I just went along for the general group-ish hangouts, and sat there without saying much – I was still too scared to talk thinking, “What would they think of me if I opened my mouth?” They just started to ask me point-blank for what I thought about things, and I started opening up… and soon, I made yet another group of friends for life! More importantly, I finally got to a place where I can now start a conversation with people I don’t know!

So, why did I stick with this group, and why did I start opening up to them? It was simple: Like I said, I wanted to make one-two close friends, max! There were these guys from similar backgrounds, who also seemed seriously social and actually wanted to get to know new people… that was the reason I got going along with them in the first place. Then, I realized some of them shared my interest in reading (nowhere near my almost-crazy level, though), so we had something to talk about… Then, they got me interested in other things that they were interested in: football (what some idiots call “soccer”) being the main one, movies by genre, GK in general, etc., etc. Basically, the reason I started opening up to them was not only because they were asking me for my opinion, but also because I sensed an opportunity to widen my range of interests/hobbies. This same thing later on led to me making good friends within my department (where I was exactly in the mid-tier of the class – basically, average), and other departments/hostels as well.

I know I have written a rather lengthy synopsis of my life in IIT. I wanted to basically give the full context of my story, and not just say that I know where you are coming from. I have been where you are now. I’ve gotten over most of it. I still don’t go talk to new people by myself, but that’s not because of fear anymore – I know that.¬† The basic points I want to highlight for when you want to overcome your phobia of talking to new people are the following:

  • First thing you have to do is, explore yourself: find what interests and hobbies you have. It is not a question of whether you are doing the things or not, or how good you are at them currently. About the football I mentioned above, I started playing it, even though I sucked at it. I improved a bit, but remained bad at it over all the four years – and yet, I played it because I love the game.
  • Second, keep yourself open to try new things. Yes, I know it is scary to get into something new, especially when you are an introvert – not just the fright of failing at it, but the far bigger fright of having to interact with new people in the beginning phases of trying these things out. But, you have to force yourself into this mindset. This is something I am telling you from deep personal experience. There is nothing that can help you in “overcoming” – or rather, working around, as Dhakhsitha put it – your fears.
  • You say you have two-three friends on campus, right? What do you do with them? I suppose, just hangout and talk? Stop that! Take the help of the friends you already have to expand your fields of activity. Join them in stuff that they do without you – this way you get to know other, new people.
  • Maintain a cheerful exterior. It doesn’t matter how scared or worried or negative you are feeling inside. Keep smiling, and show off a positive face to others. That way, the social people might approach you for conversations. And you know what? Having a nice, pleasant talk with someone, especially about general bullshit, actually helps alleviate your fear of being an introvert and might get you out of that zone – at least into the ambivert level (not a bad place to be at all, let me assure you). Who knows, it might be that your tension of approaching others is actually showing off as “don’t talk to me” to others
  • As Dhakshitha (and some others) pointed out, use common interests to start conversations with people, and to keep them going.
  • As for making more friends, start in your hostel. No better place. Just start with the group of people that sit and hangout in your corridor. Be honest, and tell them that you want to just make friends, and that you were an introvert & scared to join them till now. Be prepared to take insults, though. Trust me, that is how engineering students talk to each other for fun – no harm intended or even meant.
  • As for friends in the department, the best place to start would be your lab-mates. I am pretty sure there would be a few people who are usually along with you in almost all the labs. You already have something common to talk to them about. Take it slow – start with one-two of them, casual remarks in the lab, and then, more than casual conversations outside. Once the others (if there are more than 3-4 in the lab-groups – I come from mech., we had 7-10 people in each lab group) notice that you actually talk, and others talk back not-in-a-stiff, to-the-point manner, they might open up too. This is a long process, though – lasting at least the whole of a semester.
  • The main thing you have to remember is this: When someone approaches you, to talk, for help, for anything… don’t get nervous and run away. Even if you are nervous, talk to them like you’re perfectly normal. If they need help, help them out, and you can fret over your tensions later on. Doing this will make them want to come back to you. And it is such repetitive interactions that lay the foundations for friendships.
  • As for interviews, I already covered that in two points above: maintain a positive exterior, and the preceding point.

Phew! A rather lengthy answer, even by my standards – and I DO write very long ones! Hope I did not bore you to death, and I do sincerely hope that this answer does something to help you out. All the best! ūüôā


What are some cool WhatsApp group names? – About A Group I Created on WhatsApp!

YET Another Answer by Me on Quora:

What are some cool WhatsApp group names?

Well, this is a group name I coined – I created the group, so am the Group Admin…

Basically, this is a small group of close friends from my days in college. We graduated out of IIT-Madras, and I wanted a group name that would abbreviate to IIT. Those from IITM will tell you that we are used to referring to our college as “insti” – a short for Institute (the lazy bums that we were). Hence, Insti.

Now, being a close-knit group that has always maintained contact through the 10+ years since our graduation, we are still as open, frank and candid with each other as we had been throughout our four years in college. In fact, it was this ease for frankness with which we could connect with each other that made us a great group of friends within the first two months of college! Now, what can be a synonym for such frank, candid people? Here comes Ingenuous.

As candid as we are, we also know each other too damn well. We know each others’ strengths, but more importantly, each others’ failings. Yes, we DO support one another through all the rough patches in life. But also, once those are through, we never fail to immediately start reminding each other of the foolish things we did that first led to those rough patches – all in a playful manner, of course. I had a collection of fools to name (myself included, obviously). Who is the most foolish person that Indian history tells us of?¬† So, who better than Tuglak?

So the group that I created for my closest college friends is named:

Insti’s Ingenuous Tuglaks

The IIT Brand… is it that necessary to us?

A female friend of a friend of mine who’s at IIT:
“You know, you are ideal boyfriend material : XYZ caste boy, smart, intelligent, and more importantly, from IIT!!!

Well,¬† as flattering as it may sound that gals think we are “ideal boyfriend¬† material” and may even consider taking us home to the folks, I don’t¬† take kindly to the “more importantly, from IIT” bit.

Admittedly,¬† most of us have dreamt of being in that club which theoretically¬† includes the best brains in India. But once reaching there one thing¬† that most, nay all of us have realized is that though we may have¬† cleared one of the tougher entrance tests and ‘proved’ our mettle, what¬† really matters in the end, on campus – and for most, off it – is not the¬† fact that we had a better education, but that we made some memorable¬† friends that stay for life. Ask any IITian what he remembers from¬† his/her campus life, and I am willing to bet my hand (forgive the¬† cliche) that they’d refer to some anecdote of hostel life or the various¬† hang-out spots present on every campus.

Though IITs do play a¬† great part in how we shape up as individuals, what we are is not¬† determined by IITs, but by what we choose to take out of them… “more¬† importantly IIT”… well, it ain’t that important to us, if anyone is¬† bothered to know. Apart from the pressure to keep up a front of¬† superiority, which none of us feel, being branded is not what we want.¬† Most of those who come into the IIT system are already highly¬† individualistic people who are each unique in their own way, and I think¬† that branding them all is not just an insult to the individuals, but¬† also to the system that made them unique in the first place.

It¬† was not just this girl’s comment that made me write this down. Sometime¬† back, I was reading an article about IIMs and how nowadays a majority of¬† the students there are from an IIT background. The author goes on to¬† write “the IITians no doubt would be circulating this article in email¬† forwards patting themselves on the back… blah blah blah”… Do people¬† really think that we are such egotistical idiots who take the first¬† opportunity at “blowing our own trumpets” as a former prof of mine was¬† fond of saying? Well, no doubt that we are immensely proud of our being¬† alumni of such great institutions, but we value the fact that what we¬† learned most from that place is that we are not special because we got¬† in, or survived 4/5 years in the system, as may be the case. The place –¬† and the system, even – is special to us because of the people who made¬† up the place with us, and what we all shared. I think this is something¬† that people see in almost all other educational institutions. I don’t¬† know why people tend to glorify us – well, I can’t say I have a problem¬† with that. My problem is that in glorifying us, people tend to¬† concentrate on things that are not special to us, this special set!

I¬† really didn’t know what I would write when I started this… just¬† pouring out on the keyboard whatever is coming to mind, and so the post¬† may look logically unrelated to the start. This is just what I felt as I¬† sat down and this post just came onto the keyboard without much¬† intervening thought process. So in the end this post is really a¬† rambling, but I don’t care. The “more importantly IIT” specification¬† leaves as bad a taste in my mouth as does the “XYZ caste boy”, though I¬† perfectly understand the importance of the latter specification to many¬† in India.

Finally, yes, we are proud of what we were, what we¬† are, and we know that our time at IIT did indeed help us become what we¬† are. But – and I think almost everyone else from IIT would agree with me¬† here – we would have become as special anywhere else if we had this¬† same set of friends and companions-in-misery as we had in IITs. So¬† please, we may indeed be ideal boyfriend material, but its more¬† importantly because we are smart and intelligent, and not “more¬† importantly, from IIT”…

Update:¬†Well, I¬† don’t think I made myself even remotely clear as to what I meant in the¬† whole rambling above… Well, all the IITians I have known – seniors,¬† juniors, my batch-mates, people from other IITs – are special in their¬† own way. My problem as such is not that people make us out to be a¬† special set, but the reasons they give. I mean, saying that we are¬† special just because we made it to IITs is a gross injustice to all of¬† us – we all are special indeed and we are special in our own personal¬† way. I believe we all made it because we are special, and not the other¬† way round. I may sound very conceited, but that’s how I feel. This is¬† not to say that those who haven’t made it are less special or anything –¬† just that we had some extra luck favoring us that fated day as well…

Originally written – November 14, 2004.