Your expectations control your anxiety. If you’re always aiming for perfect, you’ll inevitably be disappointed when the conversation doesn’t go as planned. Over-analyzing every word will sabotage your small talk experiences. Lower the conversation bar and embrace the imperfect spontaneity of chit-chat.
You may possess high standards for conversation. I did for years. If that’s the case, starting today, it’s time to lower your expectations and lofty goals and adopt the small talk mindset. Sadly, overthinking will sabotage any chance you have of initiating good conversations. The best small talk is fast and free flowing—if you overthink it, you’ll be slow and overly calculated. As they say, too much analysis leads to paralysis. Lower the pressure to perform and impress and your nerves will inevitably relax. Your criteria for success shouldn’t be “Did I get her to laugh?” or “Did I get her phone number?” Try something more basic: Did you initiate dialogue? Then bravo! Many people can’t even work up the courage to do that.
Successful small talk stems from training your brain to be less picky. It’s about being okay with occasionally making a mistake or saying something silly. It’s about understanding that spontaneous comments are often the most authentic, interesting, and fun. But what about making a mistake, you ask? Subsequently laughing at your mistakes is all part of the small talk game. It’s important to realize that no one else is analyzing you as much as you are analyzing you. Do you still remember the conversation you had with your friend Becky five years ago? No, of course not. Remember, nearly all (99.972345%-ish) of the words you ever say will be forgotten.
Most of the human experience occurs in the mundane—but if you look hard enough, you’ll find plenty of interesting material to discuss. Delight more in the small moments and trivialities of life. Are you enjoying that deluxe hamburger with avocado? Then say so. Are you excited about a new movie release? Then let people know about it. Did your obstinate cat finally start using the litter box? Tell people. A good attitude and a little enthusiasm go a long way toward making the mundane more interesting.
If you have trouble coming up with something to say, you’re likely putting up too many mental roadblocks—expressions can’t escape past all the “that’s too stupid,” or “that won’t work,” or “that’s not clever enough” inner doubts. Be careful not to suck the small delight out of the experience. Good small talk isn’t overly rehearsed or calculated.
As long as you stick to safe and shallow topics (e.g. weather, sports, celebrities, pets, food or drink), then say what first comes to mind. Small talk is about acting on your feelings and initial thoughts without overanalyzing.
Do you find that conversations with your closest friends flow more smoothly? That’s because you take down more of your mental roadblocks when you’re talking with people who make you feel comfortable.
Stay genuine, enthusiastic, and a little vulnerable and you’ll increase your chances of starting a good conversation. There’s no perfect way to start a conversation, so don’t focus on trying to say the perfect comment. The simple act of trying to start a conversation is an accomplishment in and of itself.
Stay social, my friends.