I’ve always been puzzled be being yourself. What does it mean to be yourself? Are you someone if you just ‘be’, and don’t do a thing? Can you be a being, without doing? It’s a question that many others puzzle too, and something that may keep you occupied. And what if being yourself is not so important after all? Funny enough, there is even a WikiHow on how to be yourself.
Nevertheless, you may encounter many situations in which you wish you’d be yourself more. From meeting new people, dealing with fear, listening, asking questions and so forth.
In this article, I will share some practical tips and questions for about 14 different situations. This may help you to reflect, and also be yourself better in various situations. All of the situations come with questions you make answer individually, with a beloved one or in a group setting.
You and Other People
Let’s start of with some questions to reflect how you relate to other people. You may want to decide to do these questions together with some you trust or held dearly.
- What is going well in your contact with other people?
- What is going bad in your contact with other people?
- What do you think people think about you?
- What do you think about yourself?
- What do you take into account in your judgement? Your own thinking, what others say, or what you think others say? What is the wisest?
Now that we started with some questions, you already may have a good idea where you stand.
Dealing with Fear
When dealing with other people and being yourself, you may feel fear. Usually, fear can be driven by the following two cases:
- You’re anxious for not being good enough. As a result, you are going to demand a lot from yourself, making your more anxious in the process.
- You are afraid of the reactions of others. As a result, you are going to avoid others (or certain problems).
Let’s reflect on these cases for a bit:
- Think about both cases. Do you have an example from your own life for the two?
- How could you find a better way than demanding a lot from yourself?
- How could you avoid ‘avoiding people?’
- Is every form of fear bad?
In another article, I talk about dealing with failure anxiety in depth.
From network events, to starting a new job, to being in new social situations or making new friends: many people find themselves in awkward positions, and often dread situations as such. However, getting acquainted is a very important skill, and the perfect situation where you can be yourself and show who you are.
Here are a few tips for nailing the acquaintance process:
- Be the first to walk to someone else (instead of waiting for someone to come to you)
- Look at the other
- Give the other a firm handshake
- Pronounce your name clearly
- Listen carefully to the name of someone else, and you may want to repeat the name of the other.
- Start by asking a conversation starter, or an interesting question.
From a personal perspective, there is a very good book on this topic: never eat alone.
The key to being yourself is also listening well. If you listen well, it easier to understand the other and also reflect from your own view. Listening well also signals you are interested in the other.
- Take notice of your body language and posture. Maintain a straight, interested and open posture (if you plunge down like a bag of potatoes, it will not signal interest!)
- Look at the other regularly, but don’t stare (freaks stare)
- Confirm you are listening by nodding, small gestures our sounds.
- Ask if something is clear, and summarize what the other have said to confirm your understanding.
- Share your honest opinion on what the other is communicating.
Listening is a skill, but asking questions is also a skill. Be sure to ask questions in friendly and clear manner, so it’s easy for the other to understand you.
- Before asking, think about what (and how!) you are going to ask.
- Do not be afraid to ask questions, most of the questions are not dumb (I do not agree that a question is never dumb, in some contexts and situations it is better not to ask certain questions).
- Clearly signal that you want to ask something (for example by raising your hand).
- Watch your intonation and clarity, so the question is clear.
- If needed, clarify the why behind your question.
- Listen to the answer and react on it, also if you don’t understand the answer.
Social talking is an important aspect for getting to know someone else, and also to show who you are as person. But what do you do if nobody is starting to talk with you? Here are a few tips that could help you out:
- Don’t stand apart from a group, even if you don’t know a good conversation starter. The longer you remain apart from a group, the harder it’s going to be to blend in.
- If you don’t know someone, you can try to start by introducing yourself, or ask the other to do so.
- It’s tempting to move over to someone you already know, but try to start conversations with people who are standing or sitting close to you.
- Don’t overthink talking, which makes the real conversation much harder to start. Just try if you find something in common, and start talking about it.
- Listen well to the other, and ask questions.
- If you don’t feel the chemistry, do not keep talking for an hour. It’s perfectly okay to move on and start talking with others. Other people also do that.
Likewise, refusing is also an important skill in indicating your own boundaries and stressing what you find important (and thereby communicating who you are!). Maybe you are not in the mood of talking, you feel tired, or you don’t want to do the thing someone is asking. Saying no is a skill, and here are some tips:
- Listen well to the question from someone.
- Ask questions if the request is not clear.
- Take a small pause to think about it (or buy yourself a pause by communicating you need some time to think about it). If you’re going to do it, decide with all your heart. If it’s a yes, it should be a big yes. If you feel an hesitation somewhere, you’ll end up tiring yourself down the road.
- Just be honest if you’re not able to do the request, and don’t find excuses or make big explanations. Just say, sorry, I’m not going to do this. Or: “I won’t be able to do this”. If you are going to make excuses, people will find you another time for the same question.
- Depending on who is asking and what is asked from you, you may first start with thanking for the request, but then clearly communicate you are not going to do it.
- Explain why you are saying (without resorting to overly big explanations)
- Remain calm and friendly, also if someone is persisting with the request
- Always remember to remain polite. Saying no is not rude, but you can communicate it in a rude way.
Next to social talk, there may be situations where you need to talk about some serious matters. Problems that need to be solved, things that need to be arranged, difficult circumstances that need to be mentioned. Serious talking is an important skill too, and here are a few takeaways:
- Don’t be ashamed to share your own troubles, ideas, problems, proposals or thoughts. People can’t smell the troubles you have, so share them!
- Arrange a time with the persons you want to talk, and indicate you want to talk about something (serious). Make sure you both have time.
- Explain what you want to see, don’t cut corners but don’t beat around the bush either.
- Ask for the opinion of the other and listen, and continue talking or close the conversation,
Giving feedback is also an very important skill, and helps you to communicate what hurt you, what you think could be better and what you think about certain situations. It can be very hard to give feedback, as you may be afraid of the reaction of someone receiving feedback, or you may have pity for the receiving party. However, always share your feedback. It’s honest, and it may help someone a lot. Take the following into account:
- Before sharing feedback, think about what feedback you exactly want to give.
- Don’t gossip with others (it is not feedback either), but talk to the respective person directly.
- Before giving feedback, indicate you want to talk.
- Give feedback calmly and friendly.
- Do not phrase sentences with a judgmental tone, such as “You’re always the one”, but try to phrase it from your own perspective or ask questions. Otherwise, someone may feel attacked. A good example is: “I did not like the way how you approach me.” Or: “What do you think from your perspective how this would come across?”
- Listen well to how the other reacts.
- Don’t feel sorry or responsible for the bitterness, anger or sadness of someone else. The other one is responsible for his own response (unless you are very mean, cynical or aggressive of course).
- Ask how the other is going to implement your feedback.
Now giving feedback is one thing, but receiving is another, and it is equally if not more important. But how do you receive feedback well?
- Listen very well to the feedback and remain calm. Remember that usually, feedback is not criticism on who you are as a person, but ideas to help you do certain things better). Good feedback usually helps you to grow!
- Ask questions if the feedback is not clear.
- Be honest if you don’t agree with some of the feedback, and explain why with good arguments (not only resorting to emotions).
- Don’t swear or immediately bounce back feedback to the other person, or blame other persons. You may have good feedback for the other person, but if someone is giving you feedback you have to wait before sharing your own feedback.
- Explain why you did certain things (the things you’re getting feedback on), but don’t make excuses.
- Explain how you are going to improve your behavior with the feedback you received.
Sharing Your Opinion
Sometimes someone asks from your opinion, and it may be hard to say. What am I going to say? What is my opinion actually? What will the other think? What will be tactical to say? There are many questions where you can ask from your own views and taste, but sometimes you don’t want to disappoint others. And sometimes you don’t have an opinion about something. So what do you do?
- Remember that anyone is allowed to ask you anything, and that you are free to answer with any answer. That’s the risk of asking questions!
- Don’t use vague sentences which can’t be criticized, but phrase your sentences clearly and use your own opinions (and not someone else’s).
- Start with phrasing the positive things, and close with the negatives.
- If you are afraid to disappoint someone, share what you are feeling. “Do you mind if I say that…?”
- You don’t always have to wait before someone ask a question. Don’t be afraid to share your opinion freely, but don’t be a nitwit.
Sharing Your Feelings
If I’d vote for one topic to be really important, it is sharing your feelings (and also being aware of your feelings). Sometimes, you may feel happy and content. Sometimes you may be sad, disappointed, unhappy, angry. Both happy and unhappy feelings are important, and can be related to your work, your projects or your relations. But how do you deal with feelings?
- Talk about your feelings, especially with the people involved. If that’s not possible, share your feelings with other people.
- Don’t be ashamed of your feelings. Everyone has the right to share feelings, and it is not weird to share your feelings.
- If you are feeling angry, don’t put them away, but give some room and share them. Putting them away will only increase the anger.
- Don’t gossip and share your negative feelings you have for someone to other people. Share your feelings with respective person.
- If you are sharing negative feelings, also ask for feedback of the receiving person. “Does is surprise you I am angry?”
- If you have shared your feelings, such as feeling indignant, you can always ask if the other is open for change (or evaluate if you’re the one responsible).
- Never forget to share positive feelings as well! People love happy people, and obviously receiving compliments. Obviously your happiness should be authentic and not be overdone.
Not sharing your feelings may result in frustrations being cropped up, which in turn will result in outburst of angers or disappointment.
Reacting on Anger
Sometimes, someone may react with anger. Sometimes it is expected, and sometimes it isn’t. But what can you do?
- Obviously you need to remain calm. Walk away when someone is in fury, and the situation is getting dangerous.
- Ask what is wrong, why someone is angry.
- Ask what you did wrong, and what should be done differently.
- Ask what you want to do differently.
- If the anger is unreasonable, calmly state your views on the situation, and what behavior from the other needs to be changed.
- Make agreements to prevent situations like this to happen again.
Dealing with Bullies
Unfortunately, whether you are in school, college, sports or work, people tend to bully. What do you do in situations and such?
- Remain calm and if possible, try to ignore the bullies and retain a firm body posture. Don’t make it fun for others to bully you.
- Examine who is leading the group, and talk to this person directly.
- Remember that bullies often act from a position of insecurity, past trauma, incomplete education, being incomplete, being dumber, feeling threatened, being jealous or hurt themselves, having bad parents, wanting to feel better about themselves in a very easy way. Bullies may look like strong persons, but they usually aren’t (deserving some love too!).
- Ignore bullies and spend time with people who are not bullying, or oppose the bullying. The are usually much better, friendlier, smarter and honest company.
- If bullying persists, try to remove yourself from this toxic environment, if possible. If you feel the leadership (at school or work) is strong and just, you can also escalate the situation.
Remember, it’s not about you. Most of the people are occupied with thinking about themselves. Why should you be afraid of what people think of you? If it’s not about you, it doesn’t matter. And you’ll be more interested in others too.