Overcoming Anxiety is a series where Cat shares tips for balancing a desire to be social with various phobias/fears. If your life is severely impacted and/or limited by your own anxiety, please consult an actual mental health professional. She is not one.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably here for one of two reasons (possibly a third – HI MOM!):
1) You feel like life has been duller than you’d like lately, and you want suggestions on how to spice it up.
2) You already know you’re interesting, but you’re not great at getting that point across to other people in social situations.
For problem #1, the solution is pretty simple. Do things.
I’ll elaborate: do interesting things. The easiest way to feel or become genuinely interesting is to get out into the world and interact with people, places, and things. Engage actively.
If you’re on a budget, you can start small – join a social meet-up group that gathers in person (there are thousands of these groups and many of them are discoverable online), start a new physical activity, Google cool things to do in your area and DO THEM (sounds easy, but you’d be surprised at how many people daydream about doing neat things and never leave the house).
If money is less of a concern, take a class that’s out of your comfort zone – ballroom dance, cheese making – just look up things that are offered in your area. And when you go, make sure you talk to the people there with you. You never know when and where you may meet a new best friend.
For those who are on an extremely tight budget and perhaps have some health issues, the internet is your playground. There are amazing communities online – pick a few topics that interest you and Google like crazy. Then reach out and start interacting.
What you do is less important than just doing it. You’re obviously craving something new in your life and it’s unlikely that something will just show up on your doorstep. Gather together the emotional energy to try out new things, places, activities, interests, etc. Re-examine hobbies you may have written off in the past. Travel, if you’re able.
Now, for those of you struggling with awkward social situations – I completely understand. I’ve self-identified as a shy person for my entire life…a social shy person. Introverted extrovert, extroverted introvert – whatever you want to label it, I understand feeling terrified in group situations (or even one-on-one).
Chances are that you are a perfectly fascinating human being (I don’t care what Fight Club said, we ARE all special snowflakes with unique experiences, insights, and talents). You just don’t feel terribly comfortable engaging in conversations with other people.
It’s okay and you’re not alone.
The hard part, however, is that there’s only one real way to get better at these things. You gotta dive in and talk to people. Lots of people. The more people the better.
Here are ten tips for better small-talk:
1) The best way to start a conversation with someone you don’t know? Ask them how they’re doing. A simple, “how’s it going?” could be the gateway to your next great friendship.
2) Ask open ended questions – things that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. “What do you for a living?” works better than, “Are you having fun?”
3) Spend some time reviewing current events (global, national, media & entertainment, etc.) before heading into a social situation. You’ll want this in your stash of things to talk about if a conversation isn’t flowing very well.
4) Speaking of current events, it’s okay to discuss them. And comment on the weather! And how your day is going! It may feel trivial, but it’s a great way to keep a conversation moving.
5) Prepare some questions ahead of time in case there’s a lull in the conversation.
6) Speaking of lulls, they’re okay! Don’t get intimidated if there is a silence. There are natural pauses in any chat. There’s no need to race to fill the void.
7) Try and stay upbeat. For casual conversations, attitude can be everything. If you’re smiling and peppy, the people around you are more likely to enjoy themselves.
8) Make sure you are emoting with your facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language. Your energy level can set the tone for how someone responds to you.
9) Pay attention to how much you are speaking and how much you are listening. If you’re doing more than 50% of the talking, you might not be asking the other person enough questions or the right kinds of questions.
10) Read through My Social Upgrade. Geoff is a former shy guy and has spent years observing the techniques of great conversationalists. He frames things brilliantly and no element of engagement is too small for him to examine.
Why did I shift from “how to be interesting” to “how to have better conversations?” They’re essentially the same thing. You’re ALREADY interesting – the trick is just letting other people know about it. Get out there and start talking to people. It’s really as simple as that.
(Featured image via Veer)
Other articles on Overcoming Anxiety:
She lives in the Bay Area and cites her diverse background as her biggest influence: her visual artist mom is half-Chinese, half-Greek, and from Hawai’i; her film-loving, world-music curating dad is from Montana; and she lived in both California and Montana while growing up. She loves at least a little bit about virtually everything (Pokémon Snap included) and aims to be a Jane of all trades. By day Cat is a multiple-hat-wearing media person.
She is also allergic to felines.