At Skip the Small Talks, we ask attendees to have compassion for others and for themselves as they try out new ways to hold conversations. It’s probably obvious why we care about people having compassion for each other at an event where strangers are getting to know each other for the first time, but equally if not more important in that context is self-compassion. That’s because any attempt at change or improvement generally goes much more smoothly if you’re not beating yourself up after every setback. Connecting genuinely often requires taking some risks (like sharing things that feel a little vulnerable), and having compassion for yourself when those risks don’t pan out the way you hope can help you continue taking some risks in the long-term, and can help make the learning process easier for you in the short-term.Read More
“It’s hard spending time with people who are the normal you wish you were,” said one of my closest friends. Her husband was struggling with a dependency on alcohol, and he found it painful to hang out with friends who could have a few drinks and call it a night. He would regularly talk himself into thinking he could be “normal” like them and just have a few drinks, but “a few” invariably turned into “too many” for him, and he would end up feeling shame about not being able to control his relationship with alcohol.
Okay, we’ll run with the title and make this quick. When someone new is entering your life, whether it’s a friend, a coworker, a romantic interest, or someone else you’re still figuring out how and to what extent you’d like to fit them into your life, try asking yourself:Read More
Asking for help is vulnerable; when we solicit support of any kind, we open ourselves up to the possibility of rejection and all the accompanying feelings and self-judgments. So, it’s understandable that many of us feel anxious about it or have a hard time asking others for much beyond passing the mashed potatoes at dinner-- and even that can raise anxiety.Read More
“Tuesday at 3 pm is great. Thanks for your flexibility. Looking forward to chatting then.”
Imagine that the above e-mail pops into your inbox. Do you get the impression that the message’s author is actually looking forward to talking to you? It probably depends on context, of course, but stock language like, “Looking forward to chatting,” or, “Thanks for your patience,” or even, “Sincerely,” are so overused that they’ve mostly lost their meaning. Those phrases and others like them are the “small talk” equivalent of e-mail; they’re polite, they usually don’t offer meaningful content, they don’t require a great deal of thought for either person in the interaction, and they are often the easiest mode of communication for people who don’t know each other well. (We’ll focus on work e-mails in this blogpost, but everything here applies just as much to other types of e-mails or online messages.)
“Just be yourself!”
“Don’t worry about what other people think of you!”
“Dance like nobody’s watching!”
“To thine own self be true.”
We consume these truisms from the moment our infant brains can understand them and we don’t stop until we’ve seen one too many cliché-littered Pinterest boards. But the reality is, if you’re flailing your limbs on the dance floor without a single thought of who’s watching, or who’s within arm’s reach, you might accidentally smack someone in the face. How do you dance like you’re aware that people are watching, but you know that you’re dancing for yourself, and not for them? How can you think about the space you're taking up on the dance floor without having it affect your self-expression? How soon until we're done with this metaphor? It's important to "be true to yourself," but if you’re not thinking about how others respond to your behavior, you might be missing out on opportunities to connect, and you may even hurt others or yourself in the process.
Ah, the holidays: A time when we hope our lives will look like those wholesome cartoon specials we watched as children, but also a time when anxieties about getting stuck in conversation with people who hold different political and moral ideologies might keep you from doing that happy dance from A Charlie Brown Christmas.
This Thanksgiving, we encourage you to take some time to connect with others in ways that feel authentic without feeling emotionally exhausting. To help the conversation flow, we offer you some ice-breakers that will get others to share about themselves while subtly nudging everyone’s mood in a positive direction. So if you do end up having the “here’s why racism is bad” conversation with Uncle Joe, you’ll have a buffer of positive experience--and perhaps some common ground--that’ll make it easier for you to communicate with one another.
Chances are, you’ve had the experience of binging on potato chips or other junk food when what you really wanted was a meal. You’re famished, so instead of taking the time to cook something, you reach for whatever’s quickest, easiest, or most tempting, but you end up feeling like garbage. Connection can work similarly.Read More
What do the following have in common?
- A “define the relationship” conversation with a crush
- Mentioning to your roommate that you never check your Facebook messages
- Telling your friend that the way he acts when he’s angry is scary to you
We’ve all been there. You’re at a party, and somebody asks you a small talk question that you’re afraid will beget more small talk and before you know it, you’re thirty minutes deep into a discussion about traffic patterns in your local area. Whether the question that somebody is asking you is, “Where are you from?” Or, “Wasn’t the traffic getting here awful?” You can prevent your conversation from slipping into a night of small talk by responding the following way:Read More
Have you ever felt comfortable telling something intimate to your hair stylist or bartender or ride-share driver, and then finding yourself feeling warm toward them, and perhaps inclined to tip more? Have you ever developed strong feelings for someone you were dating in a low-stakes context, like someone you knew you didn’t want to be with long-term? Then you are likely familiar with what I’ve deemed “the vulnerability paradox.” According to the vulnerability paradox, a pattern I’ve noticed in myself and others, it’s often easier to open up to those we are not relatively close to, yet, the very act of opening up brings us closer.Read More
Cultural niceties can make it challenging to answer “How are you?” honestly if you are feeling much more than, “Fine, thanks. How about you?” If you change up the phrasing of your question even slightly, though, it can often be enough to disrupt the automatic process that leads to uninformative and uninteresting answers. Here are some options for making it easier on others to answer you honestly, even if they’re not feeling “fine.”Read More
I used to be awful at receiving critical feedback or anything I perceived as rejection. I was so bad at it that it led me to quit things I otherwise enjoyed. I went to musical theater camp as a middle schooler and got turned down for big parts for two summers, so I quit. As a dance team member in high school, I had to hear about how I could improve on a regular basis, so I quit. The pattern pervaded pretty much all aspects of my life for years.
America is incredibly lonely, but social norms and the nature of loneliness, itself, can make it difficult for people to take the actions that make them feel more connected to others; loneliness can lead to a feedback loop in which feelings of isolation make you perceive the world in ways that lead you to feel even lonelier.
Since this leaves a lot of folks feeling trapped in their loneliness and unable to see a way out, we decided to develop some activities to help break the cycle.
I’ve always been a “friend-group therapist.” Even as my social network has morphed over time, the one constant is that for better or for worse, people seem to come to me for help with their struggles more often than they go to others. It’s been that way ever since I was in grade school, when my crush looked to me for advice about whether or not he should tell HIS crush that he was really into her (ouch).Read More
Imagine you’re hanging out with a friend.
You’ve been chatting for a bit, and they reveal something more vulnerable about themselves than they usually discuss with you. Maybe it’s admitting that they feel lonely at work, or maybe it’s talking about their history with depression. Whatever it is, it’s a level or two deeper than your usual conversations.
How do you respond?Read More
I recently found myself in two almost identical social situations with one small difference that changed everything about the way the interaction went down.
A few months ago, I had some new friends over my house when one of my friends took advantage of a brief silence:
“Can I ask you all a weird question?”
We all nodded and leaned forward a tiny bit in our chairs.
“Is a hamburger a sandwich?”Read More