There really aren’t words powerful enough to describe how much I hate small-talk.
Even though my social anxiety doesn’t leave me in a state of pure panic whenever the door knocks anymore, I sometimes still get a feeling of dread every time I bump into an acquaintance or have to meet new people. As someone whose social anxiety is intrinsically related to BPD, my conversation anxiety stems from severe self-identity issues.
BPD gives me feelings of intense emptiness and there are days where I truly feel as though I don’t exist. Having to talk to people when I feel like ‘nobody’ is extremely anxiety-inducing because I feel as though I have to force a personality. It can be really tough.
I’m not going to rant too much about the living hell that is social anxiety because I did that in my worst things about social anxiety post. A lot. But I do want to say this: on my worst social anxiety days, I would rather shit a brick than say hello to you.
Luckily, those days are now few and far between!
Overcoming conversation anxiety requires a lot of practise (and definitely some slip-ups), but with these conversation tips for social anxiety, you can learn how to make it through life without hating every second of social interaction.
Tip #1 – Challenge Your Negative Core Beliefs
Social anxiety often stems from deep-rooted insecurities that have become negative core beliefs. Our core beliefs are the things that we believe to be the absolute truth about ourselves and the world around us. Negative thinking and rumination about your insecurities leads them to become core beliefs, triggering low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.
Here are some common social anxiety core beliefs:
“Nobody likes me”
“I have nothing interesting to say”
“I have no personality”
“I am always awkward”
Believing these negative thoughts and allowing them to ruminate is extremely self-sabotaging when it comes to social anxiety. It often turns into a self-fufiling prophecy – you’re so concerned with not acting awkward that you end up acting even more awkward!
One of the most fundamental steps to overcoming social anxiety is to realise that your negative core beliefs do not reflect truth. They are simply anxieties that you have subconsciously ruminated.
Tip #2 – Socialise More
The singular most productive way to challenge your social insecurities and conversation anxiety is to socialise more.
Yes, I know. I also wish there was another way. But it’s been proven that regularly exposing yourself to your anxious fears is a great way to reduce them.
Start small by smiling at people who pass you in the street. Ask your cashier how they’re doing or give your co-worker a compliment. Gradually try and expose yourself to more social situations.
The best way to overcome conversation anxiety is to be more social and stop caring so much about what others think of you.
Tip #3 – Overcome Eye-Contact Anxiety
Because I suffer from nystagmus, eye contact has always been a huge problem for me. However, there really isn’t any avoiding it – eye contact is often fundamental for effective communication.
Ease yourself into it. Start off by focusing on the person’s face rather than their eyes. Ears or noses are often a safe bet. Once you grow more comfortable with that, try giving direct eye contact every few seconds. Even if you can’t hold it for long, just a bit of eye contact can help to encourage open communication.
Take a look at these 10 body language mistakes you might be making, from folding your arms to fidgeting.
Tip #4 – Try To (Genuinely) Smile More
In my post on the healthy habits of happy people, I mentioned how smiling releases feel-good chemicals that can induce positive emotions.
The more positive, friendly and approachable you appear to be, the more open people will be with you.
Also, smiling can help boost your confidence, which is great for social anxiety!
Tip #5 – Combine Conversation With An Activity
I find that having an activity to complete really brings me out of my anxious shell. It’s a lot easier for me to talk to someone when I feel like my voice isn’t their only source of entertainment.
It also helps a lot with the eye-contact thing too because if I’m doing an activity, I’m not required to be constantly looking the person in the eyes.
Social activities that help to reduce your conversation anxiety include board/computer games, arts and crafts, shopping, exercising – really anything where your conversation isn’t the focal point of attention.
Tip #6 – Keep Up-To-Date With Current Events
The negative belief that “I have nothing interesting to say” is one of the most common social anxiety thoughts. I’ve been in so many situations where people are having a conversation and because I don’t know anything on the subject, all I can do is stand there awkwardly, inserting unnecessary ‘oh yeahs’ and polite but usually unacknowledged titters.
By following the news and expanding your knowledge in a variety of areas, you will have conversation topics at the tip of your tongue!
Tip #7 Lower Your Unrealistic Expectations
We put so much pressure on ourselves to be the perfect conversationalists that we set ourselves up for failure before we’ve even opened our mouths! Holding yourself to higher expectations than you would hold other people to is self-sabotaging and frankly, it’s really unfair on yourself.
Think about what you expect from an average conversation. Do you expect to be gripped to the edge of your seat in anticipation while Linda from HR tells you about the pasta bake she’s going to make for dinner? Do you expect the guy from IT to tell a perfectly delivered anecdote about his dog without pausing, stumbling, or losing his train of thought?
Anxiety has a habit of holding us to unrealistically high expectations and then belittling us when we fail to reach them. By lowering your expectations, you can get rid of some of that pressure.
So, start small! Focus on working towards achievable goals like holding eye contact and asking open-ended questions. Nobody is expecting you to be the Beyonce of conversations!
Tip #8 – Learn How To Stop Caring So Much About What Other People Think
In my post How To Stop Caring What People Think Of You, I talked about how I went from a socially-anxious bag of nerves who could barely leave the house, to someone who can start and maintain a conversation without feeling like explosive diarrhoea is imminent.
When you care too much about other people’s judgements and opinions, you end up devaluing your own. In your social interactions, what should be important is whether or not you are having a good time! With this mindset, you naturally become more confident, unapologetic and authentic.
A few extra small-talk conversation tips for social anxiety
- Use active listening skills – Conversation is not all about talking! Practise active listening by through eye contact, nodding and agreeing. This signals to your conversation partner that you’re interested in what they’re saying which will encourage them to continue talking, probably with more openness and enthusiasm.
It’s also great for keeping a person talking if you don’t have much to say!
- Don’t fight off silences – Pauses in conversation are natural. Instead of panicking when a conversation topic fizzles out, take a calm second to recollect your thoughts. Chances are, the other person is doing the same!
- Focus on your strengths – Don’t force yourself to contribute heavily to topics that you don’t know much about – this can sometimes come off as ignorant or try-hard. Instead, ask open-ended questions to gather more information. Your new-found knowledge could help you in future conversations too!
I know how deeply conversation anxiety can affect your professional and personal life. If you have any other conversation tips for social anxiety, please leave them in the comments below! I am always looking for new ways to battle my conversation anxiety and maybe, by some divine, heavenly miracle, one day be able to give a presentation without puking down my blouse.
Baby steps first though, aye?