Career Woman

5 career-killing lies socially awkward women believe


If you’re socially awkward or anxious, chances are you hate small talk. I hear you. You think it’s superficial and a complete waste of time. Not to mention terrifying. And that’s totally understandable. How can you see the value of something if you don’t even understand it?

Now, before you punch me through the screen, hear me out. I’m on your side, no question.

When it comes to success in your career – whether you’re climbing the corporate ladder or starting your own business – forming new relationships is irreplaceable. Like using deodorant – don’t think, just do it.

Yet so often, socially awkward and anxious women write off small talk. They claim to only want to have “real” or “meaningful” conversations and because of that, refuse to participate. However, what they don’t realize is, by refusing to engage in small talk, they’re actually closing the door to any deeper level of conversation with a new person before it even starts.

Skeptical? Frustrated? Feeling hopeless? Don’t stress. Here are 5 lies that are holding you back from success and the truths to believe instead so you can stop handicapping yourself and level up like a boss.

Lie #1: Small talk isn’t necessary to social success

Truth: Yes it is.

First thing’s first: Small talk is not optional, it’s a requirement. Here’s why. In the world of social interaction, there are rules and boundaries. These serve as a framework or a template, giving people a baseline for what to expect or how to act when meeting new people.

Think about it. When you want to pay at the grocery store, you get in line and, when it’s your turn, put your stuff on the conveyor belt. The cashier rings it up, bags it, and you pay. Then you take your stuff and go. That experience isn’t confusing to you because there’s a predetermined system. You know what to expect.

In the same way, there’s a predetermined system for social interaction that allows everyone participating to enter with a reasonable idea of what to expect. Small talk is the first part of that template. The purpose of small talk is to allow the people involved a chance to begin interactions in a casual, non-threatening way. Think about when kids meet each other.

Kid 1: “Hey, what’s your favorite color? I like red!”

Kid 2: “I like red too! But also green and orange. Actually I like all the colors. Do you like dogs?”

Kids are brilliant. They know that before you share a coveted snack with someone, you’ve got to talk about less threatening things first, like colors or dogs. Small talk is like that. It’s a way to feel someone out and see if you want to go deeper.

Social interaction is a two-way street, and small talk honors others by giving them a chance to feel you out before asking them to get personal. By refusing to engage in small talk, you’re saying that your needs are more important than theirs, and this turns people off, making them want to avoid engaging with you.

Lie #2: Small talk isn’t “real” conversation

Truth: Small talk is the solid foundation for genuine conversation.

Picture this. It’s Monday morning. You lug yourself into the bathroom and start the shower. While you wait for the water to warm up, you take off your PJs and look at the girl in the mirror with sympathy until you remember she’s you and you should probably get some coffee soon. So you hop in the nice, warm shower, and suddenly the morning starts looking up.

Small talk is to genuine conversation what warm water is to a shower. Sure, you can jump in to the cold shower right away, but it’s going to be uncomfortable. Same with conversation.

Making small talk creates an environment where the people involved can ease into communication. Throwing someone into a deep conversation would be very jarring and disconcerting, just like jumping into a freezing shower. By starting out with softer, lighter topics, the conversation can build naturally and participants can go deeper together, at the same speed.

Small talk isn’t a time filler, it’s actually very purposeful. Without it, people would enter conversations with no basic starting place. This would lead to confusion and misunderstanding, creating a barrier to truly getting to know someone.

Lie #3: Small talk stands in the way of me being genuine

Truth: Small talk is a tool used to demonstrate to a new person how genuine you are.

No one wants to share personal things with someone they don’t at least feel somewhat comfortable with. Enter small talk. By choosing to engage in lighter topics first, you’re demonstrating to the other person that you respect them and the time it might take for them to trust you. Far from being a barrier to genuineness, small talk actually helps others meet who you really are in a safe way.

Think back to the last time you visited your gynecologist. You’re ushered into the room, and after asking you a few intro questions, the nurse leaves you to slip into that breezy little robe we all love (#sarcasm). Soonyour doctor comes in. She sits down, asks how you’ve been, lets you know what needs to be done today, and asks if you have any questions. Then she lays you back, says “ready?” and gets down to business.

Notice anything? Before getting up close and personal with your lady bits, your gynecologist comes to a neutral place in conversation. Trusting her to care for your body, which is very intimate and personal, is an honor she’s demonstrating she understands. She doesn’t just jump right in. She is showing you respect. By being more casual up front, she is creating space for you to relax and feel comfortable before moving on to more personal things.

Small talk is just like that. It’s not a barrier between you and being real. On the contrary, it’s a very valuable way to build trust with a new person, allowing them to feel safe with you before opening up.

Instead of thinking of small talk as being all about you, approach it with this mindset: How can I make this person feel comfortable, valued, and at ease?

Lie #4: Small talk has to sound like it does in the movies

Truth: The best small talk isn’t “perfect” at all.

Ok, if small talk makes you sweat, this is where you should get excited. So many people think that in order to rock at small talk, you have to be smooth, sexy and have all sorts of clever things to say. Not even close!

The best small talk feels natural, and nothing is more natural than awkward moments in life, because everybody has them. Instead of moaning, use your awkwardness to your advantage. Here are two approaches for harnessing “oops” moments and turning them into small talk gold.

#1: If you do something stupid or awkward right then and there, use it.

Example: I order a drink and before I can even take a sip, I knock it over. Instead of freaking out, I laugh, turn to the person next to me and say “Omg maybe you should cut me off. Apparently, just seeing booze is too much for me!” They shared in an embarrassing moment with me, and now we can bond and laugh about it because I invited them into it with me. Powerful small talk move. Use it.

#2: If you’ve done something stupid or awkward in the past, turn it into a story and tell it.

Example: Here are two stories in which I star as the idiot. They make for fantastic small talk.

Let’s say we’re talking about past jobs. I might tell the story of how, when I was a server in college, I dropped an entire salmon dinner on the floor right in front of the person who ordered it. The fish exploded into a million pieces and shot across the restaurant. It was mortifying when it happened, but later it was funny. When I tell that story, the person listening will cringe with me and laugh when I do, and it relaxes us both!

At a business lunch? Perfect time to tell the story of how when I was newly married and trying to be frugal, I made quesadillas for myself and my husband out of leftover ground beef and the only cheese we had left, which was mozzarella (aka not quesadilla material). My husband said it was the worst meal I’d ever made, and we ended up ordering takeout. Hilariously terrible! We still laugh about it today, so why not get a good laugh out of a stranger?

Sharing our awkward moments and laughing at them ourselves is a great way to show you’re genuine. By doing so, you’re saying “it’s ok to not be perfect” and almost always the other person shares one of their dumb moments too.  This is a great step that shows the real you, and that leads to deeper conversations.

Lie #5: Small talk only works for people who are naturally outgoing

Truth: Small talk is a powerful tool in the hands of anyone who is committed to practicing it.

Obviously naturally outgoing people are less afraid of small talk, but that doesn’t mean they’re betterat it. Go back and read that again (don’t worry, I’ll wait). Do you understand the difference?

Trying something and actually sharpening that action as a skill are two completely different things. Sure, small talk naturally plays into some people’s strengths, but anyone who is truly great at small talk got to be that way because they sharpened that skill.

Here are two different examples to show you what I mean.

#1: I’m a naturally good singer. Even when I was just messing around as a kid, I sounded pretty good. However, in high school I decided that I wanted to get serious about it, so I started training with a voice teacher.

I went into lessons with natural skills, but I still had to work incredibly hard to master techniques. Because I committed, I became highly effective vocally and was able to master some pretty advanced stuff. My natural skills helped me get to a point, but my hard work was what got me from good to great.

#2: When I first got married, I was the worst cook on the planet, capable of ruining spaghetti. (True story. Also, remember the quesadilla?) We made the decision to save some cash and eat at home more, so I accepted the challenge of learning to regularly not ruin food.

I started following beginner recipes. I made a lot of mistakes and some meals went straight from the stove to the garbage. It was hard.

But slowly, I learned not to overcook chicken, how to make a sauce, and how to be good at more than just rice and beans. My husband was thrilled. I was empowered. I had conquered a skill that I had once viewed as overwhelming. Now people regularly tell me I make really good food. Far cry from crappy quesadillas.

Singing and cooking are both skills in my arsenal, but I took different paths to each of them.

Some skills come easily to you and some you work insanely hard to master. Those born with certain tendencies still have to sharpen their skills, maybe just not as much as someone else. An outgoing person may not be afraid to talk to a stranger, but they still have to practice opening up and being a good listener.

If you struggle with being socially awkward or anxious, you may have to work harder at the art of small talk, but it’s completely within your power to master it. You just need a little more guidance and practice. Don’t be afraid of that.

Summing it up

Small talk may seem intimidating, but when you truly understand its place and purpose in social interaction, you can begin to unlock the massive power it holds. Suave ladies and awkward chicks can be equally good at small talk — it all comes down to being willing to work at it.

Good small talk is about building a common foundation, creating a respectful space, and sharing who you are in a genuine way that invites others to do the same. That’s pretty much it. If you’re willing to share things about yourself and show genuine interest in what others are sharing with you, you’ll rock small talk like a boss.

About Hannah Brooks

Hannah Brooks, founder of The Leading Lady is a social skills coach for ambitious women. Using killer techniques developed from years as a performer, she helps women blast through personal barriers so they can skyrocket into their dream careers. In her spare time, she’s a globetrotter, and has a slight obsession with chocolate milk.

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