Whether you suffer from social anxiety or the past few years of isolation have made you a hundred times more self-conscious of your conversation skills, there is nothing unusual about feeling anxious in social situations. Especially in social situations where you are surrounded by strangers — like the bus or in line at the grocery store. And the thought of actively seeking out conversation or making small talk with the people around you is enough to stop many people right in their tracks. But, just like any skill, you’ll never get over that social discomfort without trying.
Here, we will address some of the most common challenges people with social anxiety face when it comes to making small talk as well as some tips that can help you to start making small talk of your own!
Before diving into some tips for making small talk, let’s address some of the biggest challenges that people with social anxiety face when it comes to this “pleasantry.”
The first pitfall that we can fall into is avoiding the experience outright. Unfortunately, while this may seem to spare us some awkwardness or discomfort, if we keep avoiding conversations, we’ll never get better at them.
Think about it this way, if you never learned how to ride a bike and you always deny an opportunity to go out and learn or ride with your friends, you’ll never learn how to ride a bike. Small talk is exactly the same — it is a skill, just like riding a bike.
Thinking Too Much
Overthinking is another one of the most common challenges that people with social anxiety face when trying to make small talk. There can be this feeling of needing to be prepared for a conversation — like it is a test in school — but oftentimes that feeling leads us to being over-prepared. Conversations are fluid, whether we’re talking about small talk or an hour-long conversation.
Making a Script
Speaking of “being prepared,” another major challenge we might face is creating a small talk script in our heads before speaking with someone or a group of people. But the truth here is that conversations are spontaneous — you may be talking about your favorite breakfast food and then all of a sudden the conversation has wheeled into a review of the latest movie someone saw.
Making a script for yourself (and the other people in the conversation) is extremely likely to cause more anxiety and stress when the conversation inevitably goes “off-script.” Remember, we can’t predict what other people will say and the fun bit of small talk is letting the conversation flow naturally.
Turning what would have been a normal conversation into an interview is an incredibly common problem that happens for a lot of people who are socially anxious — either intentionally or unintentionally.
What happens is when we’re feeling uncomfortable in the conversation we try to shift the attention off of ourselves by asking our conversation partner a barrage of questions. Essentially we start interviewing them about their life instead of letting the conversation be a balance between ourselves and the other person.
Negative Internal Commentary
The last big challenge that we’re going to talk about here is that voice in your head that just refuses to leave you alone. Now not everyone has this voice, but a lot of us do. Whether you hear it commenting on something you said being weird or outright telling you not to talk to someone because they “wouldn’t want to talk to you,” this negative internal commentary is a huge challenge that so many people face — socially anxious or not.
Alright, now, without further ado, let’s get into some tips for making small talk when you have social anxiety.
Tips for Small Talk
Whether you’ve been trying to work on improving your social interaction skills or not, here are some tips that can help you get more comfortable with small talk.
Set Small Goals
Speaking of starting slow, try making small goals for yourself. Maybe focus on smaller but more frequent small talk experiences — for example, maybe try to interact with three people each day. This doesn’t have to be a big interaction, maybe just a “hi, how’s it going?” to the cashier at the grocery store.
Opting for shorter but more frequent conversational experiences will help you to get more used to the idea and practice of talking with people. Practicing hour-long monologues might get your vocal cords all warmed up, but it’s not going to be as helpful for getting you used to talking to other human beings naturally.
Adjust Your Attitude
As we mentioned in the first tip, social interaction can be something as small as “hi, how are you today?” You can make the rules for your “small talk challenge” based on your own comfort level — just be sure to push yourself a little bit each time you are beginning to feel really comfortable so you can keep getting better.
You define your success — maybe for you that is saying “hi” or maybe it is moving more towards having a small conversation with at least one new person per day.
Big crowds or groups are scary — and oftentimes more difficult to speak in. So, don’t try to start there if you are anxious about small talk. Try starting with small groups or even just one person and move up from there as you get more comfortable.
Your body language tells the people around you a lot about you. If you are speaking too fast or too quietly, are slouching or crossing your arms, or are always looking down, people may feel like you are distracted or disinterested.
Instead, try to practice good posture, making eye contact, and smiling a little. This will help people to know that you are actually interested in speaking with them and it can help you to feel more confident as well.
Let Out Some Energy
Try doing some exercise before you try engaging in some small talk. This will dissipate some energy from your body that could have otherwise been used to fuel your anxiety about the conversation.
Small talk is an opportunity for you to learn more about someone else. Let yourself be curious about them, ask them questions about themselves.
Keep the Conversation Balanced
While it is important to ask them questions, make sure that you are not falling into the “interviewing” pitfall that we mentioned earlier. Try to keep the conversation balanced — you ask some questions, they ask some questions.
You will get better at keeping this balance the more you practice small talk, the important thing is just to try and not be upset with yourself if you notice that a conversation wasn’t balanced. Take note of it and try to work on that for next time.
Sometimes we feel like being ourselves isn’t enough in a conversation — that we need to pretend to be something or someone that we aren’t just to “fit in.”
The truth is though that people value authenticity and a conversation is going to be much more interesting and worthwhile if both you and your conversation partner are being true to yourselves. After all, wouldn’t you want to learn more about the actual person you’re talking to rather than a persona that they put on for the conversation?
Be Gentle with Yourself
There is no place for that negative voice in your life. It is challenging to learn a new skill, forgive yourself for any perceived “mistakes” and know that you are already succeeding because you are making the effort to try.
When we have social anxiety, a lot of us have a tendency to agonize over every detail of a conversation and figure out what we did “wrong.” But that isn’t going to help anything, all it does is encourage that negative internal commentary that we are trying to get rid of. So, after each conversation, focus on the positives — take note of something you did well or something you’re proud of. Did you say hi even though you were scared? Did you meet your goal for the day? Learn something new?
Whatever it is, let that positive note be your takeaway from the conversation.
Talk to a Therapist
Therapy is an incredible resource that you can use to both practice your new and evolving small talk and social skills as well as use to reflect on your progress in advancing your social skills. You can focus sessions on check-in on what methods and activities work best for you as well as come up with new challenges or goals for yourself to continue overcoming your social anxiety.
So, if you are ready to begin your journey of overcoming the fear of small talk and you would like some professional guidance or you would simply like somewhere safe to practice new social skills, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow. We would love to hear from you and we look forward to helping you through this process should you decide you would like some guidance because you do not have to go through this journey alone.