The stress of conversing


Tomorrow I have to do something that scares me.  Maybe scare is a strong word.  But I can’t think of a better one.  I won’t be confronting any of my more tangible fears: Heights, Spiders, or Fish. Nope, tomorrow I have to talk to a stranger. I’ve been asked to be a part of a sort of mentoring program where I work, taking a new employee under my wing so-to-speak for the first two weeks of their new job. While I’m thrilled to be asked to take on a leadership role such as this, my stomach is already working itself into knots.

I don’t like talking to people.  It makes me anxious and nervous and a host of other icky emotions.  I’m a great conversationalist with people I know, I have wit and (I think) a way with words.  I make my friends and family laugh and can speak with some degree of intelligence on a number of subjects. I don’t know if all of that disappears when I’m speaking to someone I don’t know, or a casual acquaintance, but I certainly feel as if it does.  I struggle to find the right words and I worry almost constantly that I’m not making a good impression or expressing myself clearly. I sound disjointed and hesitant to my own ears. And hearing that disconnect, knowing I’m not speaking to the best of my ability, just amplifies my discomfort and anxiousness.

As you might have surmised by the fact that I write this weekly column for The Equals Record, the same dilemma does not plague me with the written word (although this particular post has been more of a labor than most).  I love to mail handwritten letters or type a note on my typewriter. I don’t reach near the same level of anxiousness in an email, blog post, or online chat.  I guess because I can take the time to think about word choices and sentence structure instead of being on the spot.

I don’t actually freeze up while giving speeches in front of groups or in one-on-one conversations; in fact I’ve been told that talking to strangers is something I do quite well.  I guess that’s a sign that I’m the only one aware of the discomfort and sheer amount of effort required to carry on a simple conversation.  That should make me feel better, knowing that it’s in my head, but I’m still dreading the phone call.