‘Don’t talk to strangers!’ you were told as a kid. That’s all very well, but now that you are all grown up, you actually have to talk to strangers all the time, be it in a social or professional context, when, really, you wish you didn’t have to!
Human interaction is part of our everyday life, and avoiding it is not only about not going to parties. Professional networking plays such an important role nowadays that not being able to cope with social situations can potentially hinder your career.
‘What if they don’t like me?’, ‘What if they think I am boring?’, ‘What if I say the wrong thing?’. Nobody wants to be rejected, and for people who suffer from social anxiety, the prospect of walking up to someone for no other reason than striking up a conversation is about the most stressful thing.
Although you will have to address the underlying reasons why you feel so worried about conversations, here is, in the meanwhile, some practical advice which can help you.
Social Anxiety Conversation Skills Tips
- If you are suffering from social anxiety, conversation planning will provide you with a safety net by removing the pressure of having to think of something on the spot when you are already nervous. It doesn’t have to be complicated, a simple ‘Hi, My name is…’,’Did you have to travel far?’, ‘How was your day?’ will be absolutely fine.
- You may find that talking while sharing an activity with someone is more manageable as silences won’t feel as awkward.
- Remember that you are not responsible for carrying all of the conversation. You may have started it, but after that, it is as much up to your partner to make it work.
- If you are affected by social anxiety, conversation topics may seem hard to come by. To keep the discussion going, you could mention a recent piece of news, ask your interlocutor about recent films they have watched, their jobs, etc… The key is not to sound as though you are interrogating them, and to ask open questions rather than yes/no questions which will give you little chance to find out more about the person you are talking to.
- Knowing when to stop talking is also a useful skill! Conversations do come to an end naturally and this should be respected, so be mindful of verbal and non-verbal clues which signal that it is time to go and talk to someone else.
If a conversation doesn’t go as well as you would like, don’t take it personally. Remember that nobody is universally likeable or dislikeable, interesting or boring. The success of a social interaction has a lot to do with compatibility, shared interests and the indefinable chemistry between two people. If you have little in common with your conversation partner, not even the most seasoned conversationalist would manage more than a polite, reasonably short exchange. Just move on to the next person. As the old adage goes ‘A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet’.