I’m extremely anxious when talking to people, and the great thing about it is no one can tell. Over the years I’ve wrangled in my tendency to awkwardly ignore people and/or nervously blurt things out during social events, only to stay up at night replaying the whole thing over and over again in my head. Well, the staying up at night replaying things still happens, but I’ve learned how to successfully hold conversations despite my anxiety. This is an important skill to have when networking, being interviewed, or just whenever! So, my fellow nervous Nellies, I’ve decided to share how I communicate with new people without breaking out in hives, or running to the nearest trashcan.
People love compliments. So, give the people what they want, but always keep it genuine. If you love something about someone, tell them. If you’re meeting someone that you’ve met before and they’ve changed anything about themselves for the better, TELL THEM. People are usually nervous after debuting a new look (like switching from contacts to glasses) so let them know the change is well received.
Compliments don’t always have to be about outer appearance. If someone offers to buy you a drink, tell them they’re generous. If they make you laugh, tell them they’re funny. You see the pattern here? If people are great, tell them they’re great, but don’t over do it or you’ll look insincere. Just pepper the compliments in sparingly.
On the flip side, graciously accept compliments. Don’t feel awkward when someone tells you you’re amazing. You are! So smile wide and say “thank you!”.
2. Find something you have in common
It’s awesome to find like-minded people with similar interests, because it gives us a boost of social validation. Be that boost for people. It’s easy when you really do share a passion with people, but that’s usually not the case. Sometimes you have to stretch and make a connection that isn’t really there. This is a skill that requires having a vast array of interests and random knowledge but it’s well worth it. I hate discussing politics and sports, but I always make sure I know juuust enough about those topics (and more) to impress people, and open up the floor for the other person to “teach me more about it”.
Yeah, there are times when I’m absolutely stumped and know nothing at all about the topic the other person is passionately explaining to me. Don’t get too nervous when this happens. Just actively listen, and ask relevant questions.
Example: I was talking to an older gentleman who turned out to, surprisingly, be a former sniper trainer and current self defense trainer. I could tell the conversation would’ve ended there had I not excitedly begun to ask questions based off of the information he gave. He responded excitedly, taking over the conversation and leaving with a positive image of me (I could tell ya’ll).
3. Let the other person dominate
Even if you know more about a topic, let the other person dominate the conversation. This isn’t about being weak or submissive, it’s about relieving yourself of anxiety and engaging in positive social interactions. You’ll be more likable, and less stressed out, if you’re doing more listening than speaking. Also, not every mistake has to be pointed out. If someone harmlessly drops an incorrect statistic or “fact”, let it go. No one likes to be called out, and you’re bound to leave a bad taste in a person’s mouth if you make them feel uncomfortable.
4. Watch your body language
When it comes to body language, the more open and engaged the better. Nod your head as someone is speaking to let them know you’re listening. Uncross your arms, lean forward a bit, and relax your face. Most importantly, smile. Every conversation should begin and end with a smile.
Also, stay away from your phone. Scrolling through texts on your cellphone is a defense mechanism that keeps you feeling safe, but leaves others feeling like you’re uninterested.
5. Keep up the energy
When you’re constantly anxious throughout a conversation, you’ll eventually lose steam and it always shows. If a person feels your decreasing energy it makes them nervous, and they wonder if they’ve bored you or turned you off. To avoid this try as hard as you can to keep up the same level of energy from beginning to end. If you just can’t, find a good place to end the conversation (don’t interrupt mid-sentence), tell them it was great meeting them and excuse yourself to the bathroom or outside to “make a call”. This is your chance to collect yourself and recharge.
Like with every new skill, practice makes perfect! Don’t beat yourself up if you have an awkward conversation, it happens. All you can do is learn for the next one. And hey, maybe it was awkward because the other person was nervous as well. You never know!
What do you think of these tips? Do you have any to add? Sound off below!