Are you one of those people who “hates small talk”?
When you think about it, what you might really hate is being bad at small talk. Learning how to chit chat casually with people you’re not very familiar with can seem difficult or boring—if you don’t know what you’re doing. Yes, many people out there seem to be blessed with the social butterfly gene that allows them to easily slip into charming conversation with just about anyone, but if you’re not one of those people, don’t worry: you can learn.
Becoming good at conversation is not something we usually think of as a skill to practice and master, but fortunately just a little effort can make you far more confident, more approachable, and a much better listener!
In this book we’ll be looking at how to prepare to be a good conversationalist even before you open your mouth, how to get in the right frame of mind, how to engage meaningfully with others, as well as all the unspoken rules that make the difference between a dead-end conversation and you charming the socks off a person you met just two minutes ago.
Before we dive in, however, let’s take a closer look at what not to do. You don’t want a conversation to fizzle into awkward silence, but you also don’t want to try so hard that you make other people uncomfortable. Improving your conversation skills is not about being phony, manipulative or desperate—the opposite, in fact!
What to Avoid 1: Playing at Being the Cool Guy
We all know what it looks like to be “good with people.” To be confident, relaxed, charming and witty. To tell good stories and give compliments that have people eating out of the palm of your hand . . . in other words, to be that cool guy.
But can you picture it, right now? You’re at a social gathering and there’s that one awkward guy, clearly nervous, maybe overdressed, who might as well be wearing a sign over his head saying, “I read a book about how to look cool and confident.” You know how it goes. You try to talk to such a person, and you get the distinct impression that what they say has been rehearsed in a mirror beforehand. He’s talking too loud, he seems uncomfortable and pushy. It’s simple: it’s all fake.
A lot of us, particularly if we’re quite or introverted people, mistakenly believe that being more sociable and engaging in conversation means changing who we are as people. We may have an image of who that popular, cool person is and think that, if we want to succeed socially, we need to mimic that.
But mimicry is actually the worst thing you can do. Because trying to be someone who you’re not will never, ever work. The best you can do is be a subpar copy of someone else. This would be okay except for the fact that people are a lot smarter than they may seem, and can almost always tell that you’re not being authentic. So, instead of connecting genuinely to people and closing that gap between you, you only put up further barriers, and possibly create more tension.
Calling this mistake the “cool guy” doesn’t mean it only applies to men, or to people who want to come across as ultra-confident. It refers to any person who is actively and transparently seeking to portray themselves in a particular way. In other words, it’s trying to be someone else. Your version of the “cool guy” might be to pretend you like what the group likes, or dress in a way that is uncomfortable but you feel helps you fit in. Maybe you try too hard to appear friendly and easy going that your smile eventually becomes forced, and people notice the opposite of what you intend—that you actually seem stressed out.