work-life balance

This spring finds many of us returning to social events and navigating scenarios we haven’t encountered in a long time. Although the return to dinner parties and the like can be exciting, it’s also left many with a heightened sense of social anxiety.

We first ran this piece with Darling Magazine’s Arianna Schioldager years ago during holiday party season, but it’s never felt more relevant! 

As with most things in life, good conversations often start small. We happen across “small talk” constantly — at the bank, the movies, when we get into an Uber ride. We ask first-tier, ‘easy come, easy go’ questions and make light conversation — the kind we don’t expect to have consequence. These kinds of conversations have some value; you never know when a simple smile or brief conversation might drastically change the course of a stranger’s day.

Many of us try to avoid the introductory interactions and light chatter of small talk.  Just “chatting” makes some us uncomfortable. Stuttering our way through awkward early dialogue, what we really want to do is run away.

Why should such a necessary part of social life be something that gives the majority of people a general sense of unease? Why the butterflies that arise during the compulsory work cocktail hour where you don’t know anyone, or the trepidation when you sit down next to a stranger at a dinner party?

Here are a few helpful tips to help you loose the anxiety and breeze through light conversations with more ease…

5 Things To Remember About Social Anxiety + Small Talk

01. Ask a question that you’d want to be asked. Start with where you are comfortable — a question that you wouldn’t mind answering — and let a mutual discussion grow from there. For instance, what part of your childhood did you like the best?

02. Don’t be afraid to be honest. | It is incredibly easy to feel disconnected and misunderstood — especially given the pace of our digital lives lately. Honesty requires that we slow down. We must allow our thoughts the space they need to be voiced. If someone asks you about your day, they’ve given you that gift in asking. If you have the ability to be honest, the conversation that could follow might just change your whole day, week or month. Whether it is because you form an exciting new bond or because this person has a unique take on something you’re dealing with, honesty allows space for fresh perspectives. Don’t run from this.

03. Be a good listener. | We can allow ourselves to get so worried about awkward silences that we spend half of the conversation thinking about what we are going to say next. Don’t plan; participate. To be a good talker, you have to be able to be quiet and tune into what someone else is saying.

The art of small talk lies in our ability to be present. What you are listening for is common ground, a way to build an unexpected bridge. You will find that if you’re actively listening, it makes it easier for the conversation to ebb and flow naturally.

04. Focus on non-verbal communication. | This can sometimes be more important than your words. You want your body language to be open, leaning in, your eye contact strong. The more welcoming your body is to another person, the more you can get out of a chat. Everyone likes to feel safe. We talk with our bodies without knowing so. Make sure yours is open.

05. Take your time. | Don’t rattle off questions you think someone wants to be asked, or get caught in the anxiety in your head.

The art of small talk lies in our ability to be present, and each conversation should be unique to that person. It is important to stop, think and ask pertinent questions. Where did you grow up is a fine place to start, but base the next question on the individual answer. For example, I love San Francisco. What made you decide to leave there?

In short, to excel at small talk you have to think about what is directly in front of you: a real person looking to connect. Don’t move mindlessly by. Conversation that is slow like honey leaves the sweetest taste. So let small become big, and big become a beginning. Because in life, one conversation may unveil another, but you’ll never know until you give the first one a shot.

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