Have you ever gone to a party, office gathering or social event where no one really talked to you or acknowledged you? Perhaps you had a person look you up and down then show no interest that you were there at all. I’ve been in this situation. It’s awful.
One thing I pride myself on is trying to make others feel welcome, especially new folks. After all, I have been the new person, the one new to an area, the new one on the job, etc. I know how it feels… It’s intimidating and stressful to put yourself out there or to even show up for events. Then when you finally draw courage to speak, ask a question or make an introduction, you are met with blunt responses, stares or unfriendly gestures.
In some cases, you cannot do much. If others are not welcoming, the best thing you can do is smile and realize they are the problem, not you. But here are some ways you can help put others at ease and move past the boring small talk that can occur. Use these tips no matter where you are, in any situation or setting:
1. Smile and be friendly. Introduce yourself. Ask for the person’s name and repeat it back so you both remember it.
Leah, have you met Melissa? Melissa makes these amazing crochet projects and she brings my daughter to school each day for me. Leah grew up in Kentucky and has an energetic five year old son.
2. Ask a specific question about the person you meet. Don’t ask a general one about the weather or how it’s going lately.
I asked my daughter’s friend’s mom what she thought about the second grade teacher. We immediately could say what we thought about our kids’ educators and we quickly learned that we both adore this teacher. Then we shared funny stories that our kids told us about this educator.
3. Think about something you may have in common (or already know you have in common) with the other person. Start a conversation about that.
I watched my friends turn the topic from where they grew up to both utilizing the same hospital for work and personal use. More conversation then stemmed from there.
4. Talk about children or pets. These are typically always safe topics for people.
Most people either have kids or pets that are like their children. This is a great topic that almost anyone can relate to or enjoy conversing about. I’d rather hear about this then sports any day of the week.
5. Discuss favorite food and drink.
Mention the last really great meal or drink you consumed. If you’re at a person’s home or at a restaurant, inquire about the best coffee or alcohol available (or both), if appropriate.
6. Ask about places traveled or areas someone may want to travel to someday.
This is my favorite question to ask. I’m always curious on where people have been or hope to go to in the future. A question like this is a good one to ask a military person or veteran.
7. In closing a conversation, repeat back a line the person said that you enjoyed hearing or learned more about. Thank the person for sharing details. It shows interest and that you were truly listening.
These are just a few suggestions that come to my mind on having more meaningful small talk. I’ve used these tactics to put others at ease and help start or close conversations.
Over the weekend I hosted a birthday party at my home for my daughter and her friends. We invited a diverse group of people – several friends of the family we’ve had for several years, a co-worker I’ve known for two years and new people I’m getting to know. As I stood and watched our crowd in action, it made me so happy to see the folks speaking to each other, initiating conversation and everyone smiling and seeming comfortable. Our guests were open with each other. I didn’t even have to suggest the above seven tips to them. Our friends, even the new ones, were courteous and engaging toward each other.
But if you are ever in a situation when the people around you are not friendly, not interested or not speaking to you, don’t waste another second of your time. Excuse yourself politely and simply walk away. Go be around people who will want to ask you questions and who you’ll want to inquire about as well. They’re out there! You may not feel welcome or a part of every crowd you meet but that’s okay…
Remember the lessons you learn and how you are treated. Remember the men and women who are kind to you. Do your best to put others at ease, even when you’re nervous or anxious too. We’re all just people after all. We may have an opportunity to learn an interesting fact or hear a fascinating story from another individual. Always be open to that possibility.