“Hi. My name is xxxxx. It’s nice (hard?) to meet you.”
I find that many young people today are uncomfortable with eyeball-to-eyeball, adult-to-adult conversations that last more than 5 minutes. And they get really anxious about exchanges in which they would be pursuing specific “adulting” outcomes — like initiating a networking relationship or advancing a professional opportunity.
They have no confidence in their ability to “perform” in those conversations when the time comes — and they are sadly sure it will be a torturous experience for all as they verbally stumble and suck their way to pathetic, embarrassing social failure. (check out this recent post on helping young people to manage their anxieties)
When coaching hesitant young people, we have to help them to consider and overcome this challenge. Their ability to have comfortable and effective conversations with people is just foundational for connecting with life’s opportunities. So we need to pull this right out onto the table and work on it as a life skill.
Conversation role playing is a great way to put the topic in motion. I smile in advance, knowing that early in the first role play, most young people will blow up the exercise with an outburst that goes something like, “OMG I hate these conversations! I suck at this! This always happens! I never know what to say!” And then the dialogue begins.
I have observed a couple of underlying mental models that are common among the young people I work with. The first is that when they see their peers engaging with confidence and/or ambition, those people are dismissed as likely being self-centered or shallow a-holes. (“We hated those people in high school.”) These young adults want to position themselves as earnest and thoughtful – certainly not as chatty a-holes. The second is that they simply have a cavernous lack of confidence in who they are or what they have to offer, and they fear that after just a few minutes of dialogue their clumsy banter will only lay bare how incapable they are.
I am quite optimistic, though, that we can help young adults to overcome this challenge. The first step is to talk honestly about these feelings and to help them build out their mental models a bit. Then we develop intentionality for how they want to navigate these situations – what success would look like and how to get there. After that we do repeated role playing, finding the right words, along with body language and other nuances. Then it is time for real adult encounters – but seeing each one as practicing a skill and getting better every time out.
It can be embarrassing and awkward work at the outset. But over time, these thoughtful and articulate young people can find that they are actually quite good at having consequential conversations with people who can help them on their journey.
Anyone who would like to connect with me or explore these topics more is invited to visit my website at www.otoolecoaching.com.