When I’m exercising, I find it’s easier for me to pass the time while reading. Not just anything, either – it tends to be non-fiction books. So when I was getting back into a bit of exercise this week, I decided to pick up a book called “The Fine Art of Small Talk” by Debra Fine. I bought this book at Singapore airport, and I’ve read books on this subject before, but I still don’t really have any clue about what to do when it comes to talking to strangers. So I read more.
Then this morning, I was talking to my friend Jeremiah about this subject, and the fact I was reading this book. He didn’t really understand why I needed it until I explained.
The thing is, in certain settings, I don’t really have any problem talking to strangers. It was only in talking to Jeremiah that I realised why it’s so easy for me to talk to strangers on a plane: we already have something in common. Travel. And that’s something I could talk non-stop about, and ask anyone questions on. Is the passenger seated next to me going home? On holiday? Travelling for business? Have they been the before? There are so many things you can talk about, and then conversation can easily extend from there.
Social settings, like parties, are a completely different story. There’s only so far you can go with, “So how do you know the host?” It’s a harder subject to make a connection on, at least for me. And what if you don’t actually know the host? I’ve been to several of my husband’s work related events, and I haven’t got a clue what to say to people. I’m that shy.
Thus, I feel like I still have a lot more to learn about communicating with strangers in settings I’m not completely comfortable in. I’m aware that I’m probably missing out on meeting some pretty nice people just because social situations make me anxious. It’s just hard to get past the initial fears of rejection, and running out of things to say – which happens all too often to me.
On the other hand, I can be just as bad at maintaining conversations with people I know, in person. Online is easy because you can pick and choose what to respond to, and just walk away when necessary. You can’t do that when someone is standing straight in front of you. I guess this is why the best people I interact with are those I’ve already built good rapport with on the Internet. And that’s why I travel to meet so many of my online friends. I don’t think anyone enjoys feeling like a social outcast. But that’s how I feel when I don’t know how to talk to people I don’t know well, or at all.
Debra Fine suggests that everyone has these fears on one level or another. So what settings do you find it easiest to talk to strangers in? Where are you the least comfortable talking to people you don’t know well?