Are you feeling out of practice when it comes to social situations? You’re not alone. The pandemic has put unique strains on us, and as we learn to adjust to a new normal, we may find that sparking up a conversation is harder than it once was. Here are some tips to get you back into the social groove.
Before you begin
So, you’ve been invited to a social gathering with strangers for the first time in a long time. You want to attend but feel that knot of anxiety in the back of your throat. One way to ease this feeling is to prepare in advance by thinking about potential topics of conversation and maybe even practicing with someone you’re comfortable with.
If initiating conversation makes you nervous, then try these three simple strategies to overcome social anxiety:
Don’t worry about making social blunders—have faith in your abilities! Spending your brain energy worrying too much about what you want to say next might derail you from your train of thought or keep you from keeping track of the conversation as it unfolds. Instead, focus on what the other person is saying so that you can respond appropriately. Remember that people often like talking about things they are passionate about, so listening carefully and expressing genuine interest is great fuel for keeping a conversation going.
Take a deep breath
Breathing is a great way to calm your nerves and stay relaxed. If you start to tense up, remind yourself to breathe and just allow the conversation to flow naturally.
Sometimes, the best way to start is with your name. Introduce yourself and give the other person a chance to do the same. Once the ice has been broken, it’ll be easier to ask a simple question or make an observation to help spark more discussion.
When meeting people for the first time, you’ll want to avoid making political commentary, engaging in gossip, complaining, or cracking offensive jokes.
That’s not to say that you should never express your opinions on these topics, but they can come off as aggressive or off-putting when talking to people you’re not very familiar with. You may even offend someone without knowing it.
Experts suggest sticking to open-ended and innocuous comments like asking about someone’s favorite sports team, which is a less threatening conversation opener but still encourages the person you’re engaging for some kind of response.
Keep it positive
Try not to open with a negative comment or a complaint. Instead, keep it upbeat by finding something positive to say about your surroundings. If you’re at an event, it can be as simple as mentioning that you’re having a good time and that you hope your conversation partner is too. Even when things aren’t perfect, most of the time there’s some positive aspect that you can zone in on.
Some comments you can lead with might look something like these:
- “That was a really great presentation, wasn’t it?”
- “Whoever organized this event did a wonderful job!”
- “It’s a bit cold today, but the weather report said that tomorrow will be nice and sunny.”
Positive comments generally get a better response from people rather than a negative one. Plus, staying positive tends to help put other people at ease. Remember, you may not be the only one feeling socially anxious, so being sensitive to others by helping create a less stressful environment will likely lead to more successful interaction.
Ask for help
Asking questions is an easy way to initiate a conversation. Plus, if you ask for help then you give the other person an opportunity to feel useful. Try asking a simple question that the other person can accomplish without a great deal of effort, like asking what time an event begins or for directions to the nearest café.
Once they’ve offered their assistance, you can thank them and introduce yourself, which will hopefully bring about more opportunities for conversation.
Humans communicate not only with verbal language but with body language. Make sure that your body language conveys interest and openness.
You can do this by smiling (but only if it’s genuine), keeping the trunk of your body open with relaxed arms, and by maintaining good eye contact.