Tips to Improve your Conversation Skills
One of the biggest challenges for someone with social anxiety is starting conversations and keeping them going. It is normal to struggle a bit when you are trying to make small talk, because it is not always easy to think of things to say. This is especially true when feeling anxious. On the other hand, some anxious people talk too much, which can have a negative impression on others.
Step 1: Identifying your trouble spots
Below are some questions that you may want to ask yourself to identify the areas you want to work on:
Do I have trouble starting conversations?Do I quickly run out of things to say?Do I tend to say “yes”, nod and try to keep other people talking to avoid having to talk?Am I reluctant to talk about myself?
Tips for Starting a Conversation:
- Start a conversation by saying something general and not too personal, for example talk about the weather (“Gorgeous day, isn’t it?”); pay a compliment (“That dress looks great on you”); make an observation (“I noticed that you were reading a book on music, do you play any instrument?”); or introduce yourself (“I don’t think we have met, I’m…”).
- You don’t need to say anything extremely witty. It’s better to be sincere and genuine.
- Once you have talked for a while, especially if you have known the person for some time, it might be appropriate to move on to more personal topicse.g. relationships; family matters; personal feelings; spiritual beliefs; etc.
- Remember to pay attention to your nonverbal behaviour–make eye contact and speak loudly enough so that others can hear you.
Tips for Keeping a Conversation Going:
- Remember that a conversation is a 2-way street – don’t talk too little, or too much. As much as possible, try to contribute to about one-half of the conversation when speaking 1-on-1.
- Disclose some personal information about yourself, such as your weekend activities, your favourite team, or a hobby or interest. Personal information does not need to be “too personal”; you can start with giving your opinion about movies and books, or talking about things that you like doing.
- Try to show a little vulnerability: it can even be OK to admit that you are a bit nervous (for example, “I never know what to say to break the ice”, or “I’m always so nervous at parties where I hardly know anyone”). However, take care – sometimes disclosing too much too soon can put others off.
- Ask questions about the other person but when you are first getting to know someone, take care not to ask questions that are too personal. Appropriate questions might be to ask about their weekend activities, their preferences, or their opinion about something you said. For example, “How do you like that new restaurant?”
- Try to ask open-ended questions rather than close-ended questions. A close-ended question is one that is answered by a few words, such as yes or no, for example, “Do you like your job?” In contrast, an open-ended question invites much more detail; for example, “How did you get into your line of work?”
- Do I talk too much when I’m nervous?
Tips for Ending a Conversation:
- Remember, all conversations end sometime – don’t feel rejected or become anxious as a conversation nears its end. Running out of things to talk about doesn’t mean you are a failure or that you are boring.
- Think of a graceful way to end the conversation. For example, you can say that you need to refill your drink, catch up with another person at a party, get back to work, or you can promise to continue the conversation at a later time or date (e.g. “Hope we’ll have a chance to chat again,” or “Let’s have lunch together soon.”)
Step 2: Experiment with and practice your conversation skills
The next time you have an opportunity to practice starting or ending a conversation, try breaking some of your normal patterns. For example, if you tend not to speak about yourself, try to share your thoughts and feelings a bit more and see what happens. Or, if you tend to wait for the other person to end the conversation, try a graceful exit yourself first.
Below are a few suggestions for some practice situations:
- Speak to a stranger: e.g. at a bus stop, in anlift or waiting in line.
- Talk to your neighbours: e.g. about the weather or something going on in the neighbourhood.
- Interact with co-workers: e.g. chat with co-workers on your coffee break or in the staffroom at lunch.
- Have friends over for a get-together: e.g. invite a co-worker or acquaintance over, meet someone for coffee, or throw a birthday party for a relative. Make sure you interact with your guests.
- Try giving a compliment: Resolve to give at least 2 compliments each day – preferably ones that you would not normally give. But remember to always be sincere: only pay a compliment to someone if you truly believe what you are saying.
Azhar Ahmed (Director-Training)