Psychologist, Harvard Business School researcher and etiquette columnist Robin Abrahams says societies have become filled with shrinking violets.
"In the past, only about 40 per cent of people reported being shy in social situations,'' Ms Abrahams said.
"It's now a significant problem affecting about half.''...
"Society is changing so rapidly it's becoming difficult to navigate. There's no longer a set of rules for appropriate behaviour,'' she said.
"At the same time, technology is enabling us to opt out of difficult situations and causing people to become more insular.
Ms Abrahams said the answer was in developing a new approach to teaching social skills.
"It can't be about the memorisation of customs as it was in the past, because there are too many potential situations and too much social change and cultural diversity.
"It needs to be more like chess, based on strategies and general principles.''
Ms Abrahams recommends two key strategies: communication and practice.
"Communicating with others about their expectations is a huge part of feeling comfortable socially,'' she said.
"And so is practice. Social interaction is like anything else: the more you do it the better you become.''