Tongue Tied?: The Reason For Conversation Inhibition

bank cartoon

Recently I was at the bank and stood before a bank teller. I had just functionally communicated that I wanted to deposit and withdraw some money.

While I waited for the bank teller to complete the task, I noticed that her fingernails were not only artfully decorated but very long. Just a moment before, I vaguely noticed also that she was typing on a keyboard.

Since I wasn’t paying close attention when she was typing, I wasn’t sure how she was able to type because of her very long fingernails.

So I thought about asking her about it. 

I found myself thinking about it and rethinking about it–what I might say, how to phrase it, how my voice would sound, how to deliver it so it sounds “right”, and last but not least, how she might react to me.

The final result is I didn’t say anything.

What Held Me Back?

Mooch the cat
Mooch, my cat, didn’t get my tongue, but something else did.

Being tongue tied means that you DO know what you want to say yet are somehow blocked from saying it. It’s a kind of social inhibition.

As my experience above indicates, overthinking is often the culprit.

Sean Cooper, the Shyness and Social Anxiety Guy states, “When you try to rehearse conversations in your head, and you try to plan out how it’s going to go, and you try to think of the right thing to say to make the other person respond to you well, that’s going to make you immediately become disconnected from the other person.”

Let’s see, so in order to prevent overthinking from happening in the future, I’ll need to acknowledge it whenever I become aware of it, then stop such thinking. If I stop thinking, then it will make it easier to take action, i.e., start a conversation.

But overthinking is just one culprit. Let’s look deeper.

detective with magnifying glass
Have you uncovered the culprit or reason why you sometimes get tongue tied?

According to David Morin of SocialProNow, we feel uncomfortable making conversation because of the following reasons:

  • We don’t know what to say.
  • We’re afraid to say the wrong thing.
  • We have irrational feeling people just won’t like us.
  • We think we’ll bore people or be uninteresting.
  • We’re afraid others will question or criticize what we say.

As someone with social anxiety, I can vouch that the above reasons are insightful and accurate.

In the situation with the bank teller, the reason I didn’t start a conversation with her was because I have irrational feeling people just won’t like me. I also have a tendency to feel like a misfit or odd person out.

Although the reason may not always be because I have irrational feeling people just won’t like me, that’s the reason probably about 95% of the time. (On the other hand, I know I’m never afraid others will question or criticize what I say.)

painterly manicures
If you see someone with an interesting manicure, it’s a nice topic to start a conversation. This conversation starter likely works better if you’re female.

I didn’t think at all that broaching the topic of the bank teller’s long fingernails and how in the world she could type with them would be offensive to her.

But I did have irrational feeling that she just might not like me and possibly look at me in a weird way. I suppose I wasn’t sure if I could emotionally handle it if she gave me a weird look or if I came across awkward.

Now that I’m aware of the REASON behind my conversation inhibition, in the future I’ll be more likely to start a conversation in spite of some concern.

So this is the SOLUTION: Whenever I feel hesitant about saying something, I’ll just acknowledge in my head what it is that’s holding me back. For example, I might think to myself, “Well, I’m having an irrational fear that the other person doesn’t like me and that I might get a weird look or negative reaction when I say something.” By simply acknowledging my concern, anxiety will abate and then I can say what I actually really want to say.

Indeed, having pinpointed the cause of my fear and being able to acknowledge and accept it makes it almost completely solved.

Dealing With Human Fear

Having some social fear or inhibition more or less is actually a part of human condition.

As Peter Murphy recognizes in his book Conversation Ignition, “From the time human beings first begin meeting new people, usually at some point in childhood associated with schooling, it’s a commonly shared fact that we all feel awkward or fearful in first approaching someone new. What if they won’t participate in conversation with us?…”

But it doesn’t matter if we get rejected as long as we hold our own heads high.  “Finding the courage to be yourself regardless of what anyone else may say or think is an empowering first step in learning to be a great conversation starter,” Murphy adds.

Do you get tongue tied sometimes? What reason, do you think, is the cause?

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