Making small talk and responding appropriately has always been difficult for me, so years ago I developed a system for making conversation. By going through a few simple steps, I’m able to have a back and forth which is both socially appropriate and positive. I don’t maintain eye contact, and I’m not good with facial expressions that indicate that I am reacting positively, so sometimes people have trouble reading me. I also have severe anxiety, and because of that I like to rehearse things in my mind and have a system. This helps me tremendously by making it almost like a checklist. I’ll go through these points and go over why I believe they work for me:
1. I greet the person. Many people like shaking hands. I shake their hand, but not too tightly. I ask them how they are doing, or what they’ve been up to, or how they have been, or what they’re up to now. This shows that I am interested in how their life is going. I care a lot about people, and I’ve found that asking questions like this lets them know that. I used to take for granted that people understood my appreciation or positive feelings toward them, but I’ve learned it just doesn’t come across, so I make it as clear as I can in conversation. If they ask me something along the lines of what I recommended before I do, I respond with the same question if it pertains to them, or, if not, a similar question which does. I assume that whatever they ask me is important to them, and so I respond in a similar way.
2. If there is a lull in the conversation, I try to remember something about that person that I can ask about. “How’s your job” or “how’s your family” are good, and the more specific, the better. I focus on their response, and then try to respond to that positively. If things are difficult, I’ll tell them that I hope they get better. Whether you are a positive person or not, which I am, being positive and friendly helps when interacting with others. If they are interested in something that I am interested in, I will talk about that subject, but I will do my best to focus on not perseverating. This isn’t always possible, but I’ve found that keeping an eye out for it usually helps me avoid talking about something to the point that it bores the other person.
3. Through trial and error I’ve learned that I don’t need to try to fill every space in the conversation. It seems to me that sometimes there are just natural silences in small talk, or a conversation can kind of trail off. When that happens I just go back to focusing on my thoughts until the other person wants to talk again. If they don’t say anything, then I try reengaging a few times by bringing up other topics of conversation. Sometimes, though, the other person just doesn’t want to talk to me, and that is totally okay. Everyone has the right to talk to or not talk to whoever they want to.
4. If they continue talking to me, I continue engaging their topics of conversation. I ask questions about the things they’re talking about, focused around what I consider to be the key points. I don’t ask too much, by which I mean I do not ask highly personal questions of people that I am not close with. Even if I am very close to someone, I’ve learned that some questions are still considered to be socially inappropriate, so I always keep that in mind and don’t ask anything that seems like it might be questionable.
5. When the conversation wraps up, I say something positive about the interaction like “it was nice talking to you” or “it was nice seeing you”. Of course, I do not do this if it was a negative interaction. I don’t lie, but I also try to avoid being rude or negative, although if the other person is being negative then I consider that an invitation for me to be negative as well. I do my best to keep things positive, but of course, I am not perfect, and if I feel strongly about a subject, I tend to react by saying things in a very blunt manner that may hurt feelings or offend people. Sometimes, in life, things like that happen for everyone though. If I later feel like I was in the wrong, then I’ll apologize.
These steps have helped me in making conversation, and hopefully they’ll help others too, so I wanted to share them. Thanks for coming by and have a nice day.