Sunday 16 February, 11:31am
I have always worked in jobs where I have had to chat to people, as over the years I have worked in 'social' careers where I have had to get the conversations started, making the other person feel at ease. I feel that one of my greatest achievements is overcoming great shyness when I was a teenager/young adult, to realise that I have a gift at getting the conversation started and making people feel comfortable in their own skin. An odd sort of achievement I know but one which came about when I moved to London, began work as a young housing officer and in a sense, 'became my own person'!
So I feel qualified in offering advice in learning the art of small talk!
I now live in Yorkshire, where small talk is a natural way of life - dog walkers stop and discuss doggy things, people start up a conversation in the post office queue, people comment in shops about what clothes suit them or the price of an item. Basically Yorkshire people can be quite nosy, but I welcome these impromptu conversations, feeling as if people care and make me feel at home. I am a Yorkshire incomer, however, hailing from Wales - of which I am also very proud!
So if you struggle to start up a conversation, here are a few tips to help you on your way!
Start up a conversation with your neighbour, in the bus queue, on a walk in the countryside - talk about the weather, what a lovely garden they have, what a beautiful view, how long you have to wait for a bus. Often these conversations will go nowhere, just a bit of 'passing the time of day,' but it all helps to give you confidence in talking to strangers.
If you join a new class such pilates, you may feel that everyone knows each other and that it is a bit cliquey. It is quite natural to feel like that - even the most confident people can feel unsure in these situations. I understand where you are coming from, as I am not good with big crowds but prefer one to one conversations. So I would just get chatting to the person next to you.
Ask them about the class, how they are getting on with it, how long they have been attending. Ask advice, something everyone loves to give. If you show interest in them, they are likely to show interest back.
A bit of preparation and practice in your head will help you feel more prepared and less anxious
You need to disclose something about yourself or the person you are chatting to will struggle with the conversation as well. It is a two way process
Think about it. If you see a person looking miserable you are less inclined to start up a conversation. If they look more open and interested in what is going on around them, more people connect with them. So try not to moan or look miserable!
If you are with someone who is constantly looking away, it is very disconcerting. Looking at a person directly indicates interest in what they are saying and a desire to keep the conversation going.
There may be others in the class who feel like you - new to or 'outside' the group and open to connecting with someone. Also keep an eye out for someone who looks like ' your sort of person', sit by different people so that the group gradually get to know you.
Friendships do not happen overnight, they take a lot of cultivating. There is a fine balance between being friendly (asking questions, being smiley and open) and being too friendly which can be offputting. It takes time to build a friendship - you can often gauge how keen the other person is by their response. And remember, for whatever reason not everyone wants to develop new friends. They may feel content with the friends that they have, they may have family or health issues which are a priority. So don't be offended if the person you are chatting to does not appear to want to take the friendship further. It's a matter of giving friendship time and searching out those who you 'click' with and who are in a similar situation to yourself.