“And this is my second girlfriend”
The big biker gestured to a cute blonde 30-year-old. ‘Well played Mr. Biker.’ The 6 feet tall, 120-kilo-something guy, he was pretty cool. That was an awesome way to start small talk.
Introducing me to his second girlfriend,… after I tried chatting up his first one. Hahaha,… oops!
You compliment a woman on her rad tattoo. Before you know it, you are having beers with a polyamorous trio. We had some pretty interesting talks after that. Discussing love, drinking, life and other stupid shit. Never fancied I would talk so open to people so,…so unlike me. What was that all about?
It is can be pretty hard to approach and connect with strangers. But even if it’s not your nature. You can learn to do it!
I learned it, and many others have. Once mastered, you’ll do it on auto-pilot. Listening to amazing stories of people you would’ve never met otherwise.
You can learn this, even if you are shy.
So why would you want to? Maybe you want to make new friends. Or learn to have deep conversations. Maybe you just want to feel a little less lonely. If you want to learn this skill. It’s time to ask for advice: “Howto small talk?” and “How to make friends?”
Friends, family, and Google give you a strange look, and mutter: “go out there and, and,.. uuhmm meet new people, make friends,.. put yourself out there, … fake it till you make it,…uuuh, it’s not that hard.”
… Yeah, that doesn’t really help.
It is still fucking hard!
Because how do you conquer your anxiety? How do you stop negative thoughts? Your inner voice keeps hamstringing you:
“you are just a simple quiet guy, don’t go acting cool”
“shit, I forgot ALL of their names!”
“what am I going to say next?”
Thanks a lot brain! Nope, simply ‘putting yourself out there’ doesn’t work. Every time you try you hit mental walls. It scares you, leaving only one option: bail!
End of story? Nope, I want to present some more effective advice. So making friends will be enjoyable! Let’s start:
Why do we even small talk.
Well, we are extremely social animals. We are born social. The first thing you do when you’re born is communicating. Screaming your lungs to full potential. Bluntly announcing your arrival.
The majority of your social skills are hard-wired. Most of the basics you pick up when you are young. But somehow, when we “mature”, we bury these skills beneath mental complexes. Our skills decay from disuse. After a while – small talks seems like this nonsensical practice,… “Nice weather right?”
Why would we ever talk about mundane shit like the weather? In a seemingly(!) rational culture, it looks weird. But we evolved for a different context. We used to live in tribes of around 30 people. You would know everybody! You’d know your social status, your relationsips and who to ask for help. Need to slay some sabertooths, call Tim. Make some fire, hotline to Susan.
Imagine only knowing your tribe. Thirty people for years and years. And then,….BAM! You meet another tribe!
Your social circle just doubled! That’s pretty fucking awkward… you don’t know these people! What is your relationship to them? What is your social status compared to that buff dude? How do you cooperate? What’s going on!?
As a social animal, you want to re-establish the social order again. So you explore how everyone can relate. You look, touch and smell. Grunt a little dialogue. You get to know each other. Slowly you define your relationships.
Nowadays we leave out a lot of this practice. Less scratching, sniffing and more cultural layers. But we still have this social ritual,… and part of it is small talk! I always imagine that it is the human way of butt sniffing. Like how dogs get aquainted. Getting right in there. Having a good whiff. Feeling how to fit in the pack.
Like dogs, we gauge and manage how to relate to one another. Who is the pack leader? Who is submissive? Are we alike? Who is useful in a team? And how intimate are we going to be?
If you don’t get this ritual – of course, you freak out! Your instinct says: “Find out how you relate to these unknown people!” But you don’t know how! Your nerves kicks in overdrive, social anxiety sets in. In contrast – charismatic people are experts in this ritual. Putting people at ease and making them feel important and appreciated. This is what great small talk does.
So small talk is important to manage new or ambigious relationships. This is not necessarily achieved by talking about the weather, sports or Kardashians. No, it is mainly achieved by
How we small talk
The way we present ourselves is what counts. The How is key in connecting effectively. Whether it is meeting people, making friends, networking etcetera. Through our communication style, we determine how we relate to one another. As said, in small talk you try to find your relative social status. As well as the correct amount of intimacy.
Most people have a fairly consistent self-image. Determined by self-esteem, confidence, beliefs and context. When meeting someone new, an image and value of the other is estimated immediately. The infamous first impression.
If you are sure about your own value, you convey this. You are confident. It is in your body language, voice, and demeanor. Little influenced by others and context. Same goes for your sparring partner.
When someone else sees how confident you are. Also, knows how sure he is of himself. You easily establish a strong social balance.
The healthiest and most natural conversation occur between confident people. If one person is unsure of where they stand, establishing a social balance is more precarious. Are both people insecure, it is even harder, awkward even.
When you establish a balanced relation – you bond and connect more easily.
So when you are confident– determining how you relate is easier. Confidence makes you connect more easily.
Little problem, you don’t feel very confident yet.
Luckily everyone can become more confident. Temporarily or on the long term. You can learn how to communicate confidently. Developing social skill and lasting self-confidence in the process. There are two significant processes that paralyze your confidence.
Your inner critic and your anxiety.
Handling your inner voice
Mr smarty pants, the big narrator, el wittiness,… however, you want to call your negative voice; it can be pretty nasty. It stops you from taking action! No matter how motivated you are! You keep hearing negative stuff like:
“Why are people looking at me like that?”
“Hope people don’t think I am annoying.”
”I can’t talk to her, I am not cool enough.”
Not really helping brain… Let’s not get into how you got stuck with this self doubt now. But lets look at how to handle this unconstructive critic? Well, there are a few tactics to minimize its effects.
One technique to negate negative self-talk – is rephrasing your thoughts. Whenever a negative scripts arise, notice it, and actively rephrase it in your head. For example:
“I am so weird for doing that.”
Hey! Ding ding! You noticed negative self-talk. Accept it, and reiterate it in a more constructive manner:
“The thing I did was weird, next time will be different.”
You separate the ‘I’ and ‘Weird’. Instead of associating those concepts, you split the relation. The action was weird. Not you. By not making it about you, and adding “next time will be different”, you allow yourself room for to improvement. This actively reprogramming of your thougts is hard. But changing your negative thoughts to positive is worth it.
So, become more conscious of your thoughts. Rephrase them consciously. Slowly but surely creating a positive narrative.
Mental Habit hacking
Our thoughts are mostly mental habits. For most people, around 90% percent of thought, is the same negative pattern as every other day. A compelling reason to start hacking it. A (mental) habit consists of three parts:
Cue – action – reward
To change this habit loop, you’ve first start to notice your patterns. Search for the cues that initiate negative self-talk. Then deduce the ensuing actions and rewards. Having analyzed the if-this-then-that procedure, you can change the input and output.
Next time, try to pause when you notice a cue. Consciously PAUSE – and consciously initiate a different action. Really catch yourself. Cultivate this moment of pause and choice.Do this so often that you create a new positive loop. An existing habit pattern may look like this:
Cue – A new situation with new people
Action – thought: “I am too afraid to talk to these people”
Reward – anxiety and excuse to flee
Next time you recognize the cue, pause! And insert a different action. So:
Cue: – A new situation with new people
PAUSE –>’I was going to think about my fear – instead –I will think more empowering’
Adjusted action: – thought: “I CAN talk to a few people, despite my shyness”
Reward: – More calmness and a reason to talk to people.
Notice how this can help curb negativity. Keep doing this until this is your new thought pattern! Although no real life action has been taken. This subtle change of heart, is a great way to slowly shift your mentality. A hard but rewarding process.
For long-term peace of mind, meditation is a proven strategy.
It is linked to many benefits. One is the awareness of your inner verbal tempest. And learning to accept and disassociate from this process. By focusing on your entire being, you notice that your consciousness is largely involuntary. You learn to distance yourself, making less meaning of the randomness. Finding more balance and positivity.
Build a meditation ritual – and in the long run, you will create a great sense of mental ease.
The anxiety barrier
When trying to talk to people, there always seems to be this invisible wall. An anxiety barrier. As long as this mental wall (anxiety) is higher than you can jump (motivation/drive), you won’t take the leap. For most people, will always be there. But it can be lowered by managing anxiety. Or you can get mbetter at jumping it!
To make meeting people less daunting, let’s hone your technique. Since what you say matters little compared to how you say it. For instance; use your voice to your advantage. Talk clearly and well-articulated. Trouble pronouncing? Try talking slower, slow is good. Take a few deep breaths before saying anything. Talking is not a race. Nobody will care if you stutter a bit, or jumble up a few words. Avoid monotony and learn to use all the tools in your vocabulary!
Look people in the eyes. Especially when first meeting someone. You acknowledge your own and other’s importance through eye contact. Don’t dart away, or stare people down. Train for the right gaze.
Of course smile! Be the first one to do it! Smiling puts people at ease. Displaying friendliness. Opening people up instead of putting them on guard. Seemingly simple, put somehow very hard. Try practicing this, a good genuine smile does wonders and can be very infectious! Think of why you should feel great, or about an awesome experience you had. Use that feeling to boost your smile!
Furthermore, consciously deploy an open body language – instead of a closed one. Open body language shows you are open to connect. As well make you feel more confident. Wane of the use off little ticks like fidgeting and scratching.
Don’t only actively apply positive body language, also learn how other people are conveying themselves non-verbally. Having a hard time with that? Try this or that bookon body language. You can learn when people are open to conversation. And recognize when people are enjoying themselves. All pretty useful. As first you will notice these things very cognitively. But over time you’ll find your instincts for body language.
A key element to high jump? The run-up. You use momentum to make the jump. Same for jumping the anxiety barrier, use momentum. Enter a room, don’t take the time to think. Just dive head first into a conversation. If you are doing a Fosbury flop, you don’t walk up to the pole, stand next to it, look it up and down, wait and ponder how to jump…..
No, you do a run-up and jump!
Same for conquering your anxiety, use your momentum. Enter a room, see someone open to conversation. Don’t think, move in and say hi. No hesitation. 3 second rule for the win. Just finished a dialogue, use your social momentum to immediately start a new conversation. Momentum is your friend!
Boost your Confidence
Imagine confidence as the power to jump. It is crucial in conquering your anxiety. But we don’t always have the luxury of feeling confident. Try using some of these tactics to boost your confidence in advance of a social challenge:
So you’ve prepared – you take the leap of faith. There you are, face to face to a stranger and:
BLANK! Shit, what to say!? Yeah, we forgot that cover part, hahaha, because there needs to be some input as well. So:
What actually to say.
Let’s start with some easy ways to start a conversation. You can practice these in front of a mirror. Try them out. The opening can be very simple. You don’t have to start witty or elaborate. If you are used to blanking or bailing in social situations. Practice these so often they become second nature. You just blurt them out. Look in the mirror, “hey how are you?” Hahaha, allright practice and use these simple openers:
“Hi, how are you?”
“Hi, who are you?
“I don’t believe we have met”
And introduce yourself as well.
“I am [insert name player 1], nice to meet you [insert name player 2]”
Shake hands, deploy three kisses, head-butt each other; whatever is appropriate in the culture and context. Other ways to start a chat are through:
Thoughtfulness – somebody forgot something, or someone dropped something, pick it up, hand it over do. Or do something else that is thoughtful. Use this action to start a conversation.
Compliments – If you see something you like. Hair, shirt, shoes, car,… whatever. Compliment it! Give a heartfelt compliment. “Hey I like your this” or “hey I like your that.” People love compliments!
Ask for a favor – ask someone for help, it may seem odd, but asking for help shows some vulnerability that makes it easier for each other to engage in conversation.
Notice something – use the context to your advantage. Something odd happens, or maybe something is remarkably normal. No matter; state your thought. Say it out loud to someone, comment on life. Use your unique observation to start a conversation.
How to keep a conversation going
So you are in. Now what? You want to find out if both of you are cool. So you can connect. Make others feel good talking to you. You can put others at ease by; letting them talk about themselves, finding common ground or sharing interesting stuff about yourself. But with all of these tactics: listen with an open mind and genuine interest. Listen more than you talk.
First people have to start talking. So ask good questions. Try avoiding clichés like: where are you from? And what do you do? Kind of boring shit. You don’t engage people that way. Instead, ask questions that stimulate emotions:
- So tell me, what is your story?
- Hey, I love your [genuinely compliment item], where did you get it?
- What was your highlight of the week?
- What passion project are you working on?
Try these or any other question that appeals to positive emotions. To follow up you can ALWAYS ask: “why?” Use the power of that little word. But ask it out of interest! Not out of judgement. Be open to their personal view on life.
“Why do you feel that way?” “Please elaborate, why was that your highlight?” “Why are you passionate about that”
Dig deeper – mine people’s emotional drives. Not a really clear answer initially. Ask HOW people felt about things. If a subject is depleted – you can move on using this awesome tactic. Keep on talking by zooming in/out or stepping aside to relating subject. Zooming in on the subject – to go into the nitty gritty detail. Zooming out for a bigger scope – going to the more conceptual level. Or look for tangents of the subject.
If someone is telling a story. Encourage them with little nudges. Don’t be a mute. Use small remarks and gestures to show you are listening: “aah yes” “ahaa” “I understand” “mmmm mmmm”; agree, disagree, nod, groan. Simple words, sounds and cues to stimulate someone’s narrative. Show you are are interested! This way I keep my mother-in-law satisfied for hours!
If people tell you something; don’t immediately repel their statement. It can be important to them. Instead acceptant it as it is. You don’t have to blatantly agree to everything. But accept how people think, feel and communicate. Take their feelings into account.
So suppose you are opposed to knitting. Because the knitting lobby is ruining the textile industry, or whatever. When someone tells you: “In my free time I like to knit sweaters for my kittens.” Don’t immediately go like: “I hate knitting, couldn’t stand to do it for 5 minutes.” That would be like smacking the door in their face. Be more acceptant and considerate.
How about reacting like: “Ooow cool, what do you like about knitting? Personally, I never felt any appeal to it.” This way you can convey your own feelsing and opinions. But you accept that they like it. You show interest and ask them to elaborate because you don’t understand them.
Common ground is the best place to bond. Actively search for subjects you two can relate on. Then exploit the shit out of it. Does someone like gaming? And you too? Why not have a passionate discourse about how modern games neglect storyline in favor of graphics. Ask questions to find someone’s interest, passions, and backgrounds. Or share what you enjoy. Look for the overlap. You will find easy conversation – and easy bonding.
When people tell a story or answer. Don’t instantly jump in with a follow-up remark.
Just wait a few seconds.
Consider what they said,… and react deliberately on their statements. Got an unsatisfying answer? Or think there might be more hidden layers? Wait a bit longer, just have a pause of 10 seconds. People usually want to fill the void. A little trick to keep people talking. Don’t worry about “awkward silences”, those only exist if you acknowledge them.
Share stories and vulnerabilities
Don’t only rely on your conversational partner. You too can add a lot of value. Use your stories. Why not remember and practice a few go-to stories? Stories that are funny, exciting or maybe even sad. Something to emotionally engage with. We are hard-wired for stories – once you master this, you can have amazing interactions.
You can also share emotional aspects of your life. Give trust by exposing yourself a bit – and gain trust in the process. Displaying vulnerabilities shows confidence and openness. Making people more willing to bond.
Well, that’s it for the 101. It is a lot to take in. But hope you got a better insight in conversation, and why it’s important. And how to apply them properly. Start using these tips! Tomorrow, start by smiling to one stranger. Just one! The next day to two people. Then three. Then four. Until after ten days you’ve smiled to ten new people in a day.
The next day – say “Hi” to one stranger. Then to two, three,… etcetera. Use this training regiment with:
– Asking people for the time
– Inquiring directions
– Asking how people are
– Introducing yourself and having a small conversation
Slowly but steadily get your social skills in top shape. Use these little exercises so you can more easily apply all of the lessons above. By all means, start applying this, nobody is going to do it for you. But I hope these tips will give you the courage to start. Let me know how it goes!
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