There are plenty of ways you can try to grow a thicker skin, but here's the good news from science--you may not have to (at least to the extent that you think). Study after study shows people are way more willing to help others than most of us think and that many people miss out on valuable opportunities because they misjudge how likely others are to say yes to requests.
People want to help you way more than you think they do.
I've written about similar studies before, but if you missed them or weren't convinced, another paper along these lines just came out from researchers out of Stanford. The research involved some 2,000 participants across six studies, all of which compared how willing people were to help others with how much those asking expected them to help.
Here are the bottom-line findings, according to the New York Times: "Across all of the experiments, those asking for help consistently underestimated how willing friends and strangers were to assist, as well as how good the helpers felt afterward. And the researchers believe those miscalibrated expectations might stand in the way of people's asking for help in ways big and small."
You can read all the details in the Times article, but the results are clearly good news for entrepreneurs: People want to help others way more than you think they do. In fact, they mostly get a kick out of it.
These results are encouraging but they shouldn't be wildly surprising for anyone who has been following this area of research. A treasure trove of studies show we are terrible at judging how others will react to us, and not just when it comes to asking for favors. Research shows we overestimate the awkwardness of saying thank you, worry excessively about looking dumb when asking for advice, and underestimate how much people appreciate feedback.
Science is equally clear people fear talking to strangers, but both parties enjoy these conversations way more than expected. Along similar lines, having deeper, more probing conversations than many of us initially feel comfortable with has been linked to greater happiness.
Stop being so self-conscious and engage more.
In short, we're all a little awkward and self-conscious. Starting in middle school, most of us stress incessantly about what other people think of us and never really stop. Each interaction is viewed first and foremost as an opportunity for humiliation or miscommunication. But science is clear--that's nuts.
Human beings are social creatures who thrive on interpersonal interaction and personal connection. The vast majority of us get a buzz from helping others, or even just sharing some pleasantries with them. Even if you're jaded about human nature, you can at least take comfort in the truth that everyone around you is just as self-absorbed as you. The majority of the time when we're worried they're thinking about us, they're really thinking about themselves.
In just this short column, I've referenced a half dozen studies all pointing in the same direction: If you're the type to fret about what other people think, you really should reach out and connect more, even if you fear it will be uncomfortable or embarrassing. The science couldn't be clearer. Whatever you're imagining is almost certainly way worse than what's likely to happen in reality.