Healthy Approach to Master Small Talk

We are communicating all the time, whether it is texting a friend, writing an email, or trying to introduce ourselves to someone new. Conversations used to be stressful for me. I did not know where to start or how to continue a conversation. That all changed when I understood its importance. Communication is the essence of life and, by extension, an expression of love. I say this because the effects of poor communication are easily seen in the elderly. They are often stressed, anxious, and depressed as a result of the poor communication that exists between themselves and their family .

Just think about it for a moment. At their best, our interpersonal relationships can be wonderful sources of stress relief. Being able to talk to a friend or loved one about the things that bother us is cathartic . In return, our friends and loved ones turn into a source of support, helping to keep our mood bright and stress levels low. When we struggle to communicate or use a poor style of communication, stress can result. This type of stress is often a constant, low-grade type. Of course, a lack of self-esteem could hinder our ability to communicate; more on this in next paragraphs.

There are practical needs for communication, too. It is a basic need, especially when we look at communication through the lens of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If you’re not familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy, here’s a quick crash course. Maslow represents people’s various needs in a hierarchical pyramid. At the bottom level of the pyramid, we find basic physiological needs such as food and sleep. These basic needs are essential for our physiological functioning, and when we’ve met them, we can address needs higher up in the pyramid. People communicate to satisfy their needs higher up on the pyramid, making it a basic need and an essential skill to develop.

Components of Quality Communication

Did you know that there are four components that facilitate good communication? These components are confidence, genuine interest, the ability to read social cues, and the ability to adapt to your audience. Without these components working together in harmony, it can become tricky to share our ideas. So, let’s take a closer look at the pillars that support quality communication.

  • Confidence: If someone is shy or socially anxious, or if a person is excessively self-aware or possesses negative, inflexible beliefs about themselves, it can make it challenging to practice communication skills. Therefore, if shyness and social anxiety are obstacles to communicating with others, it is advisable to address these issues first.
  • Genuine interest: Actions speak louder than words. If we don’t show others we are interested in the conversation and genuinely care about what they have to say, communication becomes difficult. When we are self-conscious or preoccupied with our thoughts, we rob ourselves of a potentially stimulating conversation. Active listening is crucial to having great conversations.
  • Reading social cues: Reading social cues allows you to understand how the other person is feeling and reacting to what you’re saying. It helps you adjust your communication style to make the other person feel more comfortable and engaged in the conversation. Moreover, reading social cues helps us avoid uncomfortable situations, because we’ll notice when someone wants to end the conversation or change the topic. Reading social cues shows that we are attentive and empathetic, which goes a long way to build rapport.
  • Adapting to your audience: Different people have different communication styles, values, beliefs, and cultural backgrounds. Failing to adapt to these differences can result in misunderstandings and even conflicts. Adapting to your audience involves tailoring your message, tone, language, and approach to best suit the needs and preferences of the person or group you are communicating with. For example, when explaining a complex idea, it is best to avoid jargon and use simple language.

Tips to Beat Conversational Anxiety

Anxiety may stem from the worry of being judged, criticized, or embarrassed. On the flip side, being the center of attention can spark anxiety, as well. Just imagine how that will impact a person’s performance at their workplace. After all, communication is an important skill. Well, it turns out that the impact can be significant. Studies have found that a lack of effective communication in the workplace can have an impact on mental health . Interestingly, effective communication is not only linked to creating an innovative work environment but is also correlated with work safety.

A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine took the significance of quality communication in the workplace a step further by investigating the impact of communication skills training in the work environment. The participants, doctors, and nurses who worked in medical settings were given communication skills training based on the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy. The results were quite impressive, leading to improved relationships between healthcare providers and patients, which increased satisfaction levels for patients and their families.

Conversational anxiety can make it difficult to communicate. We might tell ourselves things like, “I’m no good at small talk,” or “I’m socially awkward,” but these unhelpful thoughts can be overcome with cognitive restructuring. This way of thinking helps us realign our thoughts to make them more helpful, self-compassionate, and realistic. The tips that follow will help you with some of these unhelpful behaviors.

Unhelpful Behavior: Avoidance

This behavior can manifest in many ways, such as not attending activities, refusing to initiate conversations with people, not joining in on group conversations, or speaking little about yourself. I used to be hesitant to express my opinions or would often cut conversations short. These behaviors are designed to divert attention away from us and can be observed in our body language, such as avoiding eye contact. While we may feel better for a few moments as a result of doing these things, avoidance can contribute to our anxiety in social situations in the long run.

Remedying Avoidance

I find that setting frequent, small goals to move beyond our comfort zone can be a useful force to help us participate in activities that we’ve been avoiding. The secret is to focus on the person, activity, or conversation we are involved in. But it does not end there. We need to repeat these goals until we’ve become comfortable with them. Over time, we can gradually make these goals more challenging.Taking small, frequent steps forward helps us build self-confidence, and shows us that our unhelpful thoughts, such as “I’m no good at small talk,” can change.

Unhelpful Behavior: Scripting

Ever tried to figure out what you were going to say before you said it? That’s called “scripting.” On occasion, scripting can be useful; like when we need to explain our thoughts in detail. However, scripting also distracts us from listening actively to the conversation, disrupting its natural flow.

Remedying Scripting

Rather than worrying about having a response ready, it is best to focus on what is said in the moment. Simply continue to pay attention to the speaker and be curious about the conversation; your brain will produce a response if you don’t distract it with scripting. This is called “free association,” and can make for wonderful, fulfilling conversations!

Social conversations naturally meander to different topics, so don’t be afraid to change the topic if free association takes you there. Dropping the unhelpful behavior of scripting may feel scary at first, but trust in yourself. You have the ability to create wonderful conversations!

Unhelpful Behavior: Giving Brief Responses

Ever tried to have a conversation with someone but only received short answers in reply? It can be downright frustrating trying to have a conversation with someone who only gives short answers. This frustration is understandable, as it generally gives us nothing to work with when wanting to build the conversation. But there is a good reason why some people do this. The reason usually is to divert attention away from themselves, but it can give the impression that the person is taciturn.

Remedying Brief Responses

If you’re in the habit of giving short answers, try setting a goal to speak a few sentences at a time. Longer answers and telling stories are great ways to help make the conversation flow and build rapport.

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