I’d describe myself as a mix between introvert and extrovert. Ask any of my close friends and they’d say I’m loud and outgoing, but ask someone who doesn’t know me too well and they’d probably say the opposite. It’s not that I’m by any means shy – small talk just isn’t my thing, so it takes me a little while to warm up to people. For the most part, this approach works in most aspects of my life except one: first dates.
Over the past couple of years, it has become increasingly glaring that most people aren’t as comfortable with silence as I am. What most refer to as “awkward silence” or lulls in conversation, I refer to as normal. But for the sake of not making anyone else feel uncomfortable, I’ve taken it upon myself to master the art of small talk, with the help of Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne.
The Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst shared her ten tips for talking to strangers with Psychology Today. Personally, I think a lot of these are easier said than done, but read on and let me know what you think of Whitbourne’s advice in the comments.
“Of course, someone has to start the conversation, but if you and your companion actually listen to each other and not worry about what to say next, things will flow more naturally.”
2. Use empathic reflecting skills
“The next level of Rogerian communication involves restating what you heard or at least what you think you heard. This will show that you’ve been listening and will also allow your conversation partner to clarify if in fact you are way off in your judgment of what you thought you heard.”
3. Turn on your nonverbal detectors
“Learn how to gauge the impact of what you’re saying by reading bodily cues such as posture, eye contact, and hand movements.”
4. Avoid snap judgments
“We all suffer from the temptation to rush to conclusions about people based on superficial cues. Things aren’t always what they seem to be when meeting someone for the first time. If you’ve listened carefully, reflected back what you heard, and kept your nonverbal channel open, you’ll be less likely to make a mistaken judgment based on outer cues.”
5. Be an online detective or behavioral profiler
“You can help your case even further if you have the chance to find out ahead of time who you’ll be meeting along with a little bit of their history. Then you’ll be prepared to ask questions that will be relevant to the people you’re meeting.”
6. Don’t assume people will agree with you
“Debates can make for enjoyable conversation. If you assume everyone feels as you do, though, it’s likely you’ll get started on the wrong foot and end up with it in your mouth.”
7. Try to learn from each interaction with a new person
“A person you’ve never met before may have been places and done things that you haven’t yet or will never do…You can expand your knowledge of other regions, cultures, and nations, ultimately making you a more interesting conversationalist as well.”
8. Stay on top of the news
“Being familiar with current events is absolutely the best way to have enough topics to bring up in any conversation. The topics don’t have to be weighty nor do they have to involve in-depth expertise.”
9. Know when not to talk
“You might think it’s great to while away the boring hours on a long airplane ride by conversing with your seat neighbor. However, if you’re getting cues from that passenger (or others around you) to the contrary, then take the hint that your silence would be considered golden.”
10. Don’t overshare
“Oversharing can make you a bore. Though we can choose not to read the tedious everyday ramblings of our Facebook friends, it’s a little more difficult to do this in person. If you go back to Tip #3, you should be able to judge when you’re about to commit the sin of TMI.”