If You’re Shy, Then The Bystander Effect
Is Stopping You Dead In Your Tracks!
How scary or uncomfortable would it be to go start a conversation with a stranger?
What if it was an attractive stranger?
For most guys, starting conversations with strangers, especially attractive women is pretty anxiety provoking. That’s why so many of them tend to avoid doing it.
What makes starting conversations virtually impossible though is when you’re held back by the “bystander effect.”
The Bystander Effect
I’m using this term differently from the social psychology use. You can watch the video above to learn about that meaning. It means something totally different when it comes to social confidence:
The “Bystander Effect” is the fear that when you initiate a conversation with a stranger, if other people can see you or are within earshot, they’ll observe the interaction and harshly judge you.
If you’re in a bookstore or a coffee shop and you want to start a conversation with someone, if anyone else is around, it can make it WAY more difficult.
- What if they see me?
- What if they hear me and think I sound nervous or awkward?
- What if I get rejected, then they’ll think I’m a pathetic loser.
- They’ll think I’m…
This is the essence of the bystander effect: “They’ll think I’m…”
Can you see how this might be holding you back?
What if you notice someone who has a similar interest as you and you want to chat with them about it? What if you’re looking to make friends and build up your social network? What if you’re single and looking to find a fun, sexy, smart girlfriend?
The likelihood that this person will always be alone and that no one will be within earshot is pretty low. So as long as you’re HELD BACK by the fear of what “they” might think of you, you’ll never be able to go after what you truly want.
As your Confidence Coach, I will not let that stand! Let’s talk about how to break free of this nonsense.
Who Are “They” Anyway?
The first step to breaking free from the bystander effect is to question who are “they” anyways.
If you want to start a conversation with someone, and there are a few people nearby, you might be convinced that the bystanders will judge you negatively. We’re often so certain of what other people are thinking, aren’t we?
First off, this is NOT coming from “them.” We actually don’t know what they’re thinking. That’s mind reading.
What we’re actually doing is called “projection” in the world of fancy-pants clinical psychology.
This means YOU are criticizing yourself – those negative thoughts are your own mind attacking you – but it USES other people as the source.
Your critic says: Those people over there are thinking that you’re a pathetic loser and nervous and creepy and unusual and…
The criticisms and harsh judgments aren’t coming from other people, they’re coming from our own minds.
In order to break free, we have to first realize that they’re projections. This allows us to deal with them at their source – in our own heads.
The Feared Fantasy
One powerful technique to break free from the bystander effect is to actually imagine a conversation with a critical observer.
I learned this technique from Dr. David Burns, and it’s been extremely useful for me and dozens of clients I’ve used it with.
First, take a moment to imagine the scenario in which other people might hear your attempt to start a conversation with someone. What are their criticisms? What would they think about you?
Write these down on a sheet of paper. Some examples are:
- He’s so nervous and socially awkward.
- He’s trying to hit on her (which is inappropriate and wrong).
- He’s making a fool of himself.
- He’s a pathetic loser.
- He’s coming across as so desperate.
- He shouldn’t start conversations with people he doesn’t know. That’s weird and wrong.
- He’s such a weirdo, I’m going to tell everyone I know about this guy.
- He’s trying to look confident, but he’s really just awkward.
…and so on.
You get the point, there are hundreds of ways that “they” (i.e. you) can criticize you.
Now that you have this inspiring, uplifting list, what do you do with it?
Have a conversation with this imaginary stranger. Let’s say it’s the worst case scenario – not only did someone observe and think all these terrible things, they also feel COMPELLED to come tell you about it. What would you say in response?
Take the time to actually write out the conversation, or have a friend play this critical stranger.
Don’t just read about it – actually DO IT. That’ll produce the emotional shift which will give you the courage and confidence to go talk to that beautiful woman when it counts.
Stranger: Um, excuse me, I just saw you try and talk to her a minute ago in the isle of this bookstore.
Me: Oh, you saw that?
Stranger: Yes, and I feel compelled to tell you that you were so awkward and weird.
Me: Heh, well, not my finest work. I was actually pretty nervous to go talk with her. She seemed so beautiful and confident.
Stranger: Way more confident than you. I just think it’s pathetic that a guy would hit on a woman in a bookstore.
Me: So you would never start a conversation with a stranger in a bookstore?
Stranger: Certainly not. That’s so inappropriate. No one does that.
Me: Hmm, I disagree. I think it’s perfectly natural to be friendly with people out in public. That’s how you’re able to meet more people. In fact, that’s exactly what I’m working on now.
And so on…
(To learn all about The Feared Fantasy, and dozens of ways to beat your inner critic, check out my book – The Solution To Social Anxiety – available on Amazon.)
The point is to get into a dialogue with this critical part and to realize two things:
1. No matter what anyone says to you, you can handle it. If someone were oddly outspoken and critical of you, you’d be able to respond to them.
2. It’s HIGHLY unlikely that anyone would actually think all of these things about you, let alone come say them to you.
One final thought on someone being critical of you for just being yourself out in the world. If someone were critical of you for starting a conversation with a stranger, is that your problem or theirs?
If someone thought that it was wrong to meet someone in public, that starting conversation with compelling women is inappropriate, and that it’s pathetic to be nervous, would you want THEM to determine your life?
Good God no! That person must be absolutely miserable.
Start by freeing yourself. Do this exercise. Then go start that conversation!
“Don’t let someone else’s opinion of you become your reality.”
– Les Brown