Small Talk That Gets You to More Comfortable Talk

09.03.2017 |

Episode #8 of the course Overcoming social anxiety by Eileen Purdy MSW, M.Ed.


A few skills up your sleeve will not only help you avoid running from social interactions but might even make them, dare I say, enjoyable. Try these out at work functions or social situations.

1. Smile. This one little behavior will make you feel better inwardly and send a positive message outward. A study from Penn State University found that people who smile appear to be more likeable, courteous, and even more competent! Next time you are feeling a tad on the uncomfortable, anxious side and you have to be in a social setting, do your best to put on a smile. Even a fake one works!

2. Small talk is a two-way street. Small talk is a social tool intended to show your willingness to engage with another person. Even if you initiate the conversation, it doesn’t mean you are responsible for carrying the whole thing. Do your best to hold up your side politely and remind yourself that it takes two to tango. When answering questions, remember you can also circle back and ask them the same question.

3. Start simple. There’s no need to blow the other person out of the water with how clever or funny you are. Opening up with small talk is simply the way to gauge whether they’re interested in talking in the first place. A comment on the weather or situation you’re in (waiting for a bus, standing in line for the photocopier, getting food at a party) is a nice place to start.

4. Prepare ahead. It’s nice to have a few conversation starters ready when you enter into a situation where small talk is the gateway to more meaningful connections. “How do you know the host?” “How do you like this area?” or “Have you tried the ______?” can get you started. Sometimes just having a question on the tip of your tongue gives you the confidence you need to hang in there.

5. Share enough positive information about yourself for the other person or people to be able to frame a response. “I work in HR and you wouldn’t believe how many applications we just got for that new productions position!” If you don’t have a positive conversation starter, remember to keep your conversation on the positive side in general. Nothing is a bigger turnoff than negativity!

6. It’s okay to stand by yourself. Sometimes this is actually a helpful thing to do in social situations. Let’s face it—most people in small talky situations are just as uncomfortable as you. Being by yourself gives another person the opportunity to come up and talk with you versus them having to try to break into a well-established cluster of people talking.

7. Lastly, according to therapist Kyle MacDonald, “Small talk is exactly what it says it is: small. There’s no need to turn the conversation into a great debate and, equally, it’s perfectly fine to break off the conversation when you need to. Just be mindful of how you end the engagement: first of all, announce your intention to go and say how you enjoyed the conversation (‘I’m going to have to be going now, but I enjoyed talking to you—I’m so glad I found someone else who hates The Hunger Games as much as I do!’) and give them an opportunity to respond and break away too (‘Anyway, I’m a friend of Tom’s, so I might see you again at another of his parties; hopefully there will be more films we hate out by then!’). The overall trick is to be kind and open with the other person, listen to what they say, and respond honestly.”


Tomorrow we will continue along this topic. We’ll take these strategies and add some more to help you if you are single and wish you weren’t.


Recommended book

“Overcoming Anxiety: A Books on Prescription Title” by Helen Kennerley


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