Research shows that 50–80% of the day is spent communicating and two-thirds of that time requires talking. But many people, especially introverts, have a hard time with casual conversation or small talk. They may feel anxiety about asking the right questions or making a good impression.
However, studies suggest, that introverts with high social engagement tend to have higher self-esteem. It turns out that the key to talking to anyone may be working on the way you speak to yourself. Beyond that, communicating in an open, genuine, and curious manner will make people feel more comfortable and open, allowing for natural conversation.
According to a workplace survey conducted in 2021, more than 33% of people say communicating has recently become more challenging. This is due largely to changes in workplace environments and the increased use of technology versus face-to-face interactions.
So how can you be the type of person who can talk to anyone without a single awkward pause?
In this article, learn how to become an expert at talking to anyone so you can enjoy your conversations and build connections that make your days more fulfilling and meaningful.
- Approximately 40–50% of American adults consider themselves shy and 12% report experiencing social anxiety at some time in their lives.
- Research suggests that people underestimate their “performance” after a conversation, and they are typically more liked than they realize.
- People with social anxiety report higher scores of self-criticism and lower scores of self-esteem.
Why Do People Stress About Talking to People?
Many Americans, approximately 40–50% according to Psychology Today, consider themselves shy—having a sense of awkwardness or apprehension when approaching or being approached by others. Although the signs of shyness are generally less severe than those of social anxiety, and shy people want to connect with others, it can make engaging in casual conversations uncomfortable or difficult.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America indicates that 15 million American adults are affected by social anxiety, a more impactful and persistent fear of social situations in which a person is exposed to unfamiliar people and possible scrutiny.
People with social anxiety are fearful of:
- Being judged
- Feeling embarrassed
- Being rejected
- Appearing anxious
- Stumbling over words
- Having nothing to say
- Being perceived as boring or snobbish
This anxiety, in turn, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you perceive yourself as socially awkward, embarrassing, and boring, that perception will eventually become a reality.
Although half of American adults have reported feeling uneasy about talking to adults, research suggests that people underestimate their “performance” after a conversation. According to a study published in Psychological Science, you’re more liked than you know.
Why do people fear talking when they’re actually making positive connections?
- Low self-esteem or lack of confidence: Low self-esteem plays a role in social anxiety because it allows for feelings of inadequacy and negativity about a social encounter. A lack of confidence causes you to enter conversations with hesitations about your performance and ability to carry on a pleasant social interaction.
- Fear of the unknown: Going into a conversation with a stranger can be intimidating because you’re in unknown territory.
- The desire to be well-liked: It’s human nature to want to be well-liked, especially when meeting new people. This desire can cause anxiety because the stakes are deemed high.
The Scientific Benefits of Going Out on a Limb and Chatting With Others
UCLA neuroscientist and author of Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, Matthew Lieberman, explained in a lecture that social pain is the same as real, physical pain. Rejection or loss of a loved one, for example, impacts the same area of the brain that’s triggered after a physical injury, like a broken leg. Lieberman said that social connection is needed more than anything else for human survival, even above physical needs and a sense of meaning.
“Mammals are born immature, incapable of taking care of themselves. Each one of you only survived infancy because someone had such an urge to connect with you, and every time they were separated from you or heard you cry, it caused them a pain that motivated them to come find you and help you,” he explains. He describes our “urge to connect” as our motivator to live, work, and play together.
It may seem unusual to give something like small talk so much power, but research published in the Academy of Management Journal indicates that casual conversation has a meaningful impact on adults, especially in the workplace. Engaging in conversations with coworkers enhanced positive social emotions and well-being.
It turns out that simply talking to people has the following benefits:
- Boosts mood: Nicholas Epley, a behavioral psychologist, conducts research on communication and its impacts on well-being. In an interview on the topic, Epley said that when he ran experiments encouraging people to engage in conversations with strangers on trains and buses in Chicago, they left in a better mood.
- Promotes happiness: A study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that interactions with both strong ties (like family and friends) and weak ties (such as acquaintances and strangers) lead to greater feelings of happiness, belonging, and emotional well-being.
- Creates connections: Making connections is perhaps the most important aspect of human life. As Lieberman explained, it’s essential for survival.
- Helps you grow: Conversations will showcase a new perspective or way of thinking about a situation, which helps you learn and grow. Every chat with a stranger is an opportunity to learn and experience something new.
9 Tips for Conquering Social Anxiety and Being Able to Talk to Anyone
“Train your body to act confidently so your mind follows suit.”Leil Lowndes
1. Improve Your Inner Voice
Before you can conquer social anxiety, you have to evaluate and adjust your inner voice (the way you speak to and view yourself). A study published in Comprehensive Psychiatry found that people with social anxiety had higher scores of self-criticism and lower scores of self-esteem.
To improve your self-esteem:
- Recognize and focus on what you’re good at.
- Avoid negative self-talk.
- Build yourself up with positive mantras or motivating phrases.
- Take care of yourself by exercising, spending time outdoors, and eating a healthy diet.
- Engage in hobbies that bring you joy.
- Lean on people you know and trust for guidance.
2. Say the First Word
This is by far the most difficult part of being able to talk to anyone, but if you take the chance and say the first word, everything else will flow. Start by making a connection, which can be done by:
- Introducing yourself: “Hi, I don’t believe we’ve met, I’m Christine.”
- Making a casual comment: “Wow, the weather is so beautiful today, isn’t it?”
- Offering help: “I see your hands are full, can I carry that for you?”
- Asking an opinion: “I need a cup of coffee, which shop do you like best?”
- Offering praise: “You look so comfortable in this setting, it’s inspiring.”
3. Be Mindful of Your Body Language
Much of communication is nonverbal. Face-to-face interactions, body language, and facial expressions have a tremendous impact on how information is interpreted.
How do you control your body language when having a conversation with someone?
- Smile: The simple act of smiling can actually boost happiness, according to research published in Experimental Psychology. When study participants forced facial expressions that replicated a smile, they experienced a positive neurological reaction. The same is true of a smile viewer, who interprets the facial gesture as something positive.
- Make eye contact: Research shows that people make assumptions about your personality and self-confidence based on your eye contact. People who make eye contact are also perceived to be more intelligent and sincere. But too much eye contact can make people feel uncomfortable and impact their mental control, so during deeper conversations, it’s helpful to take breaks from eye contact here and there.
- Use hand gestures: Hand gestures help you to express your thoughts and can be powerful aspects of communication. An analysis of hundreds of TED Talks by Science of People found that the most popular lecturers used an average of 465 hand gestures during an 18-minute talk, while the least popular used around 272 gestures.
- Pay attention to posture: When you’re having a conversation, turn your body toward someone. This shows you’re engaged and care about the exchange.
4. Tell a Story
Remember that more than half of American adults are uncomfortable starting conversations with strangers. Chances are, the person you’re speaking to is also trying to figure out how to be social without coming across as awkward. To put yourself and others at ease, tell a quick and casual story that can ignite further conversation.
Some story topics you can use include:
- Travel: Where you’ve visited lately and how it impacted you.
- Family: Something funny that your partner or child did that day.
- Hobbies: Something new that you’ve been trying and how it’s working out.
- Sports: A team you root for and how they’re faring.
- Entertainment: A show you recently watched and your quick review.
- Food: A restaurant or recipe you recently tried and your recommendation.
5. Ask a Personal Question or Opinion
“You will be surprised how much people are willing to share if you just ask,” said radio host Malavika Varadan in a TED Talk lecture. Varadan recommends thinking of a stranger as a good book; each has a unique and interesting story to share.
Asking a question that’s engaging, but not too personal, will make people feel important and heard. Make sure that you listen to the answer (the entire time) and then respond by repeating what you’ve heard. This may also be a good time to point out a commonality or explore a perspective you’ve never thought of before.
Some questions you can ask include:
- “If you were given a million dollars today, what would you do with it?”
- “What’s your all-time favorite movie?”
- “Have you ever rewatched a television series?”
- “What’s the best resort you’ve ever stayed in?”
- “Where did you grow up?”
- “Do you have any siblings?”
- “Where’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever visited?”
- “What do you do on Friday nights?”
- “What kind of music do you like?”
- “What’s your favorite restaurant?”
- “What’s your typical Starbucks order?”
6. Engage in Active Listening
One of the most important aspects of talking is actually listening. This will build a sense of trust and respect, and grow a stronger relationship. Remember that not every conversation is about you—it’s healthy to listen just to listen, and not necessarily to add in your own feelings on the subject.
To engage in active listening:
- Put away and silence your phone.
- Clear distractions, such as paperwork.
- Ask questions and restate what they’ve said to ensure understanding.
- Acknowledge emotions and be sensitive in tough moments.
- Never interrupt.
- Listen with the intent to understand, not to reply.
7. Remember Names and Details
People who know how to talk to anyone are good at making people feel important. You can do that by paying attention to details about a person and then repeating it later in the conversation or the next time you see them. In Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People he wrote, “The average person is more interested in his or her own name than in all the other names on Earth put together.”
For example, remember the person’s name and at least one detail from your conversation, like how many children that person has or where they live.
Some tips for remembering a name are:
- Repeating it out loud during your conversation.
- Saying it silently to yourself after the conversation.
- Making an association with something familiar to you.
8. Pay a Genuine and Unique Compliment
Compliments allow us to communicate our appreciation for others and make them feel special. This display of gratitude is a way to show support and can deepen relationships.
Plus, research suggests that showing kindness can boost your own mood, reduce feelings of stress, and promote healthy aging. Make sure that the compliment is coming from an honest, genuine place, otherwise, it will come off as phony and insincere.
Some tips for paying a meaningful compliment include:
- Being specific: Instead of saying “You did a good job,” say “Your presentation was well-constructed and impactful.”
- Keeping it concise: Long-winded compliments may feel like overkill, so highlight one very strong suit, like: “The way you handled that conflict by finding common ground was admirable.”
- Focusing on actions over looks: The most rewarding compliments are deeper than the way someone looks. Focus on their actions, the way they handled a situation, and their strengths.
9. Make Them Feel Comfortable
In an interview with Katie Couric, she said that making a person feel comfortable will create better communication. “I always try to be very warm and welcoming,” she said. She will calibrate her energy or mood with guests, she explained, so that the conversation feels balanced.
In Liel Lowndes’ book How To Talk To Anyone, she wrote, “When you act as though you like someone, you start to really like them.” Even if you barely know that person, act like you’ve known them for years and you’re sure to get along.
To make someone feel comfortable during a conversation, try these tips:
- Mirror the other person’s body language.
- Slow down and show relaxed energy.
- Speak with confidence, but don’t brag.
- Poke fun at yourself or tell a funny story.
Effective Communication in Public Requires Practice
Great speakers and communicators have to practice their conversation skills. Every public speaker has to start somewhere, and they likely aren’t great when they start but improve over time.
In fact, well-known leaders such as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Mahatma Gandhi admitted to being fearful of public speaking, but today, we think of them as engaging, momentous people.
Whether you’re starting a casual conversation or making an impromptu speech, be yourself, smile, and remember that people will enjoy your presence more than you’d ever expect.
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