I seriously have trouble talking to people. How am I going to do it?

Today I'm reposting an excerpt from my book, Friendship, which is great, obviously, and which is available here. (Click, and then scroll down.) Plus soon, it's going to be on Amazon so YOU CAN GET IT ON YOUR KINDLE. If you have one. Which I don't yet. Odd, right? Woman writes books and publishes them on Amazon and doesn't even have the hardware. 

Anyhow. The topic is: talking to people. And what to do if you are Absolutely Terrified about even the thought of it.


You're not alone. A lot of people would rather die than make conversation with people they don't know. It feels daunting to think about learning to make small talk, but that's just a feeling. If you can get over it, you can do it!

So what makes a good 'small talk' conversation?

Good small talk is not fake, rude, confronting or uncomfortable. Avoid topics that are inappropriate (generally money, sex and politics) or expressing your opinions too stridently. Don't criticise the person you are with, either directly or indirectly.

Good small talk is not a monologue where one person talks and the other listens (or pretends to). Nor is it an interrogation where one person drills the other with questions. It is appropriately two- way, with give and take. You begin to realise when your jokes have gone on too long, or when you need to shift the conversation away from yourself onto the other person.

Good small talk needs appropriate body language. The best conversationalist in the world will get cut off by others if they stand too close or have bad breath.Keep eye contact short but pleasant. Don't touch the other person. Stand the right distance away. (And here's a tip: if you find you continually are chasing people around the room, you are probably standing too close and making others back away. If you find people move away from you quickly, you may be standing too far and unconsciously looking unwelcoming.)

Good small talk follows normal social graces. You know how to say a pleasant hello and goodbye. You use names correctly. You are able to recognise when a social conversation is over and move on graciously.

Things that can muck up a social exchange are if someone uses the wrong body language or doesn't have the ability to read reactions from other people. If you are very nervous about others you may take and give out the wrong messages. If you are not used to it or not good at it you may find social space relationships very tiring.

Work out what your blocks are

If you avoid making social relationships and dislike small talk, ask yourself why. Is it because you are shy, angry or tired? I'm introverted and I need my space, but a friend of mine is a complete extrovert. We differ in the amount of time we can spend with others, but we both need - and want— relationships. We just do it slightly differently.

When I'm angry, I often don't feel like making the effort. Sometimes, however, that's when I need others the most, to bring me some perspective, or some solace. There's nothing as good at changing an angry mood as spending time with positive people. Tiredness is another matter. That's when I find it best to get into bed and get a decent night's sleep. I'm far more able to cope with others after my eight hours.

Do you not really like people? Do you fear others? Did you grow up in a family that kept others out or complained about people all the time? Have you been badly hurt by someone? It's well worth exploring any issues there may be in your life, either by yourself or with a trusted friend or counsellor.

Are you too busy? I'm an organised type of person who tends to be 'task-oriented'. I focus on the job I'm doing, often to the exclusion of the people around me. I'll leave a conversation so I can finish what I'm focusing on right then. Because I'm good at doing things, I also usually have about five things to do at once. I often think, "Once I get everything done, I'll sit down and talk."

The trouble is, everything is never done. And when it is, I find other things to do. Doing things makes me feel important and in control. Talking to people means giving up some of my importance and control, so it's threatening. Task-oriented people like me need to find a way to keep people as priority number one.

Do you avoid small talk because you simply lack the skills? Some people did not grow up in families where these things were known or taught. As adults they avoid these kinds of interactions because they just don't know how to do it. If you're no good at small talk, start watching and listening to people who are good at it. You could also ask a trustworthy, gentle person to help you.