girl, shy, hand

You’re Probably Hiding Some of Your Best Small Talk Material

Mistakes, flaws, and gaffes, oh my! One of the reasons most people don’t embark on more social interactions is because they’re afraid of saying something “stupid” or making a mistake. For many years, I’ve studied the best conversationalists and what they do differently. Guess what? The best conversationalists don’t hide their flaws and imperfections—they embrace them. They are the first to admit their weaknesses. They are the first to joke at their own expense. The path to social confidence and more interesting conversations starts with social vulnerability.

Think about the person or people who make you feel comfortable. Likable and easy-going people are usually comfortable in their own skin and have embraced their character flaws. They are okay being a little vulnerable. These likable people are the first to admit that they aren’t perfect and are happy to laugh at their personal quirks. They’re quick to admit funny mistakes or episodes of forgetfulness. They use their flaws to their advantage.

Think about that for a minute.

The best conversationalists realize that their weaknesses and insecurities can actually make some interesting conversation material. Not many people want to listen to a braggart rave about how well he did on a test or how many new sports cars he owns. But everyone enjoys hearing about the time you made a fool of yourself at that party—especially if you can laugh about it after the fact. Your flaws subconsciously make others feel better about themselves, as well. The end result is that people will often like you more after you expose an inner flaw or embarrassing experience, even of the small or trivial variety.

Check out the following example:

Nate: Wow, that’s an awesome tattoo.

Lisa: Thanks, my husband George actually drew it.

Nate: Really? That’s cool.

Not a very interesting interaction, huh? Now let’s look at the conversation if Nate had admitted a weakness.

Nate: Really? I wish I could draw like that. I could probably draw a 3D cube, but that’s about it. My skills don’t get much beyond cubes—and half the time I even mess up the 3D part!

The conversation took a much more interesting and playful turn because Nate admitted a weakness. These types of statements are also great to toss around in order to paint your self-portrait with a little shade of humility. Look at a few more examples:

I never knew _____.

I didn’t expect I’d find _____.

I’m the last person you want _____.

I know absolutely nothing about _____.

Think about your favorite comedian—there’s a good chance that he relies on a heavy dose of self-deprecating humor. It’s one of the most common comedic techniques.

A few years ago, I was riding in a car with my new boss, and she asked me how to find our destination. I responded rather bluntly and with some embellishment, “I’ll be honest, I’m navigationally impaired…I’m probably the worst person to ask for directions. If I say turn ‘left,’ you’re probably better off turning right!” She quickly admitted that she, too, was horrible at navigating, and we both had a few laughs over who was worse! It was a good bonding experience.

When you leverage mistakes instead of fear them, mistakes can often lead to fun and engaging tangents rather than awkward moments. As a bonus, accepting yourself is also the best protection against feeling anxious after making a mistake or being verbally bullied. Nothing steals the power from an awkward situation or dulls the sharp barbs of a bully better than being the first to point out your mistake or flaw.

Many statements can turn an anxious situation into a light-hearted event. True confidence comes from accepting one’s flaws, and confidence shows when you embrace your flaws in public:

I can’t believe I just did that! I’m so scatterbrained today.

Maybe I need more coffee!

Trust me, you don’t want to see my drawing…a five-year-old could probably draw better.

We shouldn’t take my car—it will probably break down on the way there!

I just completely butchered that expression, didn’t I?

Next time you say something weird, dumb, or off-putting, try this gem: “That’s just the first thing that popped into my head…I don’t know why!” For extra effect, add “…I need to work on my internal filters.”

When you come to terms with your imperfections, and you realize how to capitalize on mistakes, you no longer feel that fear. You take more chances and you experience more social interactions. You go forth with extra confidence.

Remember, if you’re not taking advantage of flaws, and only discussing positive traits and behaviors, you’re shortchanging some of the best aspects of your personality.

Stay social, my friends.