3 Ways to Overcome the Dread of Small Talk

small-talk-title-photoImagine you’re in a place with people that you don’t know but have to talk to. It’s awkward. It’s uncomfortable. Maybe it’s at a wedding reception, a new church, work get-together, or your spouse’s high school reunion. I found myself at a couple of the abovementioned situations in the past few months. And as someone who is more introverted, small talk is something I can endure… but would gladly avoid if possible.

But meeting new people is inevitable, and a big part of starting to build relationships with people. Even if you’re an expert at small talk or not, take a look at my three tips, and let’s overcome the dread of small talk together!

1. Prepare yourself, then reward yourself.

Sometimes I have mini-pep talks with myself before walking into a situation where small talk is necessary. It’s like psyching yourself up for a game or test. You know it’s coming. You know you’ve gotta get through it. Might as well get through it prepared, right?

And while you’re in the situation, take a few short breaks from conversations to recharge yourself, especially if you’re an introvert like me! As you feel a conversation coming to a close, kindly excuse yourself, take a breath outside (or in the bathroom!), have that pep talk again if needed, and get back out there.

The second part of this might sound strange, but I believe that you should reward yourself after you’ve actually met new people and had small talk with them. Again, as an introvert, this is not always so easy! Your rewards might look different than mine. But I usually treat myself to a TV Show, or a sweet treat, or a mini-spa night where I can relax and recharge. Rewarding yourself will also motivate you to do it again in the future. 🙂

2. It’s not about you.

Just like networking, having small talk isn’t always about you. If you go into the conversation thinking, “What do you have to offer me?” or “What common interests do we have that I can relate to?” then you might be disappointed quickly. The goal of small talk should be to learn more about that person. Think about the questions you tend to ask during small talk. Do they have an ulterior motive behind them? Are you asking questions that lead to a story or one-sentence answers? Secondly, ask follow up questions. This shows that you are interested in what they have to say, and that you want to know more.

Next time you find yourself in small talk, try asking some of the following questions/prompts:

  • Tell me about your hometown.
  • How do you like to keep busy or relax?
  • What’s the best/worst part of your job?
  • What was a highlight of this past week? What are you looking forward to in the coming week?

At the end of it all, the other person will remember how you made them feel, and not all of the stuff that was said. When you show genuine interest and make the conversation about the other person, it makes them feel special. Now, only if everyone walked into small talk with the same mindset…then no one would ever feel left out!

3. Believe that one encounter can make a difference.

One of the reasons I dread small talk is, “Why bother? I’m never going to see them again”. But this is, inherently, a narrow-minded response. It may be true that you’ll never see this person again. But the impact you leave behind will last.

Remember when you were the new kid in school/church? How did people treat you? Or what about when you felt alone at a party or crowd? Did someone approach you and have a decent conversation? How did that make you feel?

I remember when I was the new kid at church. I was in 8th grade, and I was already upset that I had to move homes, schools, and now church. I was not happy to be in youth group, and just wanted the day to be over so I could go back home and read. As soon as I entered the sanctuary, I sat down in the last row in the far left corner, crossed my arms, and stared straight ahead. About 5 minutes later, an older sister came up to me and introduced herself. “Ugh, why is she here?”, I thought to myself. But she was kind and caring. I don’t remember the details of our conversation, but I remember how she made me feel. She made me feel welcomed and wanted. She made me actually want to come back to church the following Sunday because I knew that she would be there. She probably didn’t think that meeting me would mean anything. But I’ve told her repeatedly as we grew up, that if it wasn’t for her, I probably wouldn’t have stayed at that church.

Friends, no matter who we speak to, as Christians, we have the opportunity to be Christ in other people’s lives. The conversation might seem superficial, but even in that, you can make an impact in someone’s life. Believe that your encounter can  make a difference. And that will make small talk all the more important and valuable.

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