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This year so far has been an enlightening one for me. I’ve learned a lot about myself, my values, and my priorities. I’m learning more about what I need to make less of a priority in my life so that I can make room for more fruitful experiences.
One of the things I want to make more room for is cultivating new friendships.
To be honest, up until very recently, I’ve actually avoided that idea. As an introvert with relator strengths, I lean very heavily into the few close friendships I have formed over the years.
Maybe you’re like me where you crave those deep and meaningful conversations and avoid making new connections because the initial getting-to-know-you-on-a-surface-level small talk is just too awkward and painful to go through.
Knowing we have those one or two people who we can have deep, heart-centered conversations without fear of judgment or feelings of awkwardness makes it all too easy to give up on the idea of forming new friendships.
But sometimes, we get to a season of life where seeking new friendships is less of an option and more of a necessity.
- Maybe you’ve moved to a new area and are no longer able to see your close friends as often as you would like. They’re a quick phone call away but finding the time to meet face to face is more difficult, or even impossible if the distance is too far.
- Maybe you’re the first one married in your group of friends and have realized that you long to have someone to share the experiences and struggles that new wives can face.
- Maybe you’re a new mother and feel totally lost and clueless and you want to connect with other moms who can be a source of wisdom and experience.
- Or maybe you’re just feeling called to connect with that woman you see alone with her child at the park every week who looks like she could use a friend.
But yeah, let’s get back to that introvert thing and wanting to avoid small talk like the plague.
The problem is, initial conversations with new people kind of have to start with the small talk.
I mean let’s be honest, if you go to the deep-let’s-contemplate-what-makes-the-world-go-round topics right off the bat then you’re just going to be on a whole new level of awkward.
Probably not your best bet when awkward is what you’re trying to avoid in the first place.
So what’s an introverted girl like you to do? It kind of feels darned if you do, darned if you don’t, doesn’t it?
But actually you aren’t!
The truth is, you don’t have to be awkward with small talk.
You can actually get to a point where you feel competent at it!
The secrets to more comfortable small talk are seriously some of the most simple, borderline ridiculous “secrets” ever.
But first, let’s briefly play through the scenario that likely occurs more often than we’d like to admit when engaging in small talk.
Embarrassing Small Talk Scenario:
You: “So what do you do?”
New Person With The Potential To Be A New Friend (NPWTPTBANF):
*starts talking but sounds muffled…as if underwater because…*
You: *thinking to yourself as she’s speaking*
Okay, she’s talking…
I don’t have much time to think of what to say next…
I have to come up with something…
no awkward pauses…
fill the space!…
I need to immediately fill the space with words the microsecond she’s done speaking…
crap! she’s done talking!…
Or maybe you’ve strung a longer sentence together with the hopes that it mildly pertained to whatever she just said.
Either way, that awkwardness you were trying to avoid has clearly made its presence known through the confused expression on NPWTPTBANF’s face.
“Okay, nice talking to you!” is usually my go-to before I shuffle off to find a corner to hide in.
I then dial my close friend who reminds my ego that I’m actually a good conversationalist in the right conditions.
That scenario has played out more often than I would like in my life.
In the past couple of months however, I’ve been in multiple situations where small talk was unavoidable and even required A LOT of it.
I went to my first ever blog conference where I spent 3 full days in the company of HUNDREDS of complete strangers.
So let’s just say that for an introvert like myself, putting myself into that situation was the equivalent of throwing someone with arachnophobia into a bin of spiders.
And while I have no idea what kind of strategy someone who’s terrified of eight-legged creatures would have upon finding themselves in the presence of their beady-eyed counterparts, I knew I needed to have one for myself to network and make the most of that conference.
By shifting my mindset and learning a few tricks, I not only felt more confident in myself, but also had great conversations with others which led to great connections to women I now chat with daily.
Here is my simple three-step guide to getting better at small talk!
The Introvert’s Guide To Avoiding Awkward Small Talk
1) Recognize that you’re talking to a person
Yes, unfortunately this bears mentioning.
When you make a new acquaintance, it’s easy to compare and assume that they have it all together while you feel like a total hot mess. You’ve just judged the playing field, so you assume she’s doing the same.
Who knows? Maybe she is. (This doesn’t really matter.)
Regardless of that fact, rather than making assumptions, recognize that she is a person with her own triumphs and struggles, just like you. In the end, it doesn’t matter where you feel like you measure up.
What matters is that you focus on extending grace to yourself and to others. Look for commonalities and the good in her nature instead of comparing looks, accomplishments, financial status, or anticipating when you can be by yourself again and you’ll already be a step ahead of where you used to be.
2) Give Your Full Attention
This goes back to the scenario I laid out above. When small talk makes you nervous, it causes you to focus on figuring out what you want to say next so that there won’t be any awkward pauses.
I know it sounds a bit ridiculous/obvious, but when you give the other person your full attention and actually listen to what she has to say, you’ll find that the conversation will flow much more freely and naturally.
You will automatically have a response because you’ve allowed yourself to listen and process what she said.
The more I thought about this and why something so simple was so effective, I began to see that it was very similar to what I learned to be true as a music major in college during performances:
- When I focused on the desired end result (i.e. a performance free from mistakes) instead of the process immediately at hand (i.e. artistically expressing the musical phrase), the performance was subpar and littered with errors.
- However, when I did the opposite and focused on what I was playing at that moment in time, the end result took care of itself and my performance was one I was proud of.
The same holds true regarding small talk as well.
- When you focus on the desired end result (i.e. avoiding awkward small talk) instead of the process (i.e listening to what the other person is actually saying), the conversation is going to be awkward.
- But by doing the opposite and listening to what’s being said in the moment, the end result will be a conversation that is engaging and flows freely.
3) Embrace the pause
If you come to a pause in the conversation, you don’t have to blurt the first thing that comes to mind to fill the silence (does anyone else do this?). Instead, remember that pause in conversation is natural. Plus, it likely feels longer to you than it actually is.
When this happens, give yourself the time and space to make a thoughtful comment or to graciously exit the conversation altogether.
Keep things in perspective. You’re not shackled to the person for goodness sake’s and you don’t have to force anything.
Sometimes you click with a person, and sometimes you don’t and that’s okay!
I remember approaching and speaking to a woman at the conference who seemed a bit on the timid side and honestly looked like she’d rather be anywhere but where she was. Knowing how she was possibly feeling, my hope was to help her feel more at ease.
She was super nice but in the end, we didn’t hit it off.
When those situations occur, it’s okay to move on!
Try it out
Next time you find yourself in a situation where small talk is necessary, I hope you’ll think about these tips and try them for yourself.
- Try not to put so much pressure on yourself and remember, conversation happens between people. You’re talking to another human just like you, not some freaky monster with two heads and spiky teeth.
- Don’t assume what the other person is thinking and instead focus on how you can help the other person feel welcomed. For all you know, she might struggle with small talk as well.
- Instead of letting your mind focus on what you’ll say next, listen to what’s being said so that you can respond in an engaging way.
Just like I was, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much easier the converstation will flow.