You’re at a networking event where everyone is talking, laughing, exchanging contacts. And you’re standing off to the side thinking, for the hundredth time, “I can’t hold a conversation.”
If this is you, then you’ve come to the right place! By learning the reasons why you think you can’t hold a conversation, you’ll be one step closer to improving. In fact, you’re probably a better conversationalist than you think!
#1. The “I can’t hold a conversation with anyone” mindset
We all love having deep and interesting conversations. Maybe you think if it’s not interesting, it’s not worth your time, or theirs. If uninteresting discussions make you think, “I can’t hold a conversation,” then your mindset is blocking your ability to produce social results.
Starting a conversation is hard.
For example, the meaningless chit-chat, the awkward pauses, and the painful small talk might make you question “Why can’t I hold a conversation?” The fact of the matter is, though, that those aspects often lead to deeper conversations.
Or maybe you’re at a party and think you need to say something intelligent or funny to be heard. Your mind goes blank and you say nothing. The mental pressure of trying to be “cool” and “witty” is holding you back from even holding a conversation. Both of these are examples of unhelpful mindsets to have when approaching any new social situation. They hinder your ability to hold a meaningful conversation.
By being aware of your thoughts and checking them at the door, will allow you to be a part of more social opportunities.
#2. Social anxiety and social awkwardness can prevent a good conversation
The negative mindset you have can stem from a lot of things, including social anxiety or social awkwardness. Do you ever think:
“I’m bad at meeting people.” “I’m a boring conversationalist.” “I have nothing to say.” “I can’t hold a conversation with anyone.” “Why can’t I hold a conversation?”
A 2008 study, published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, attempted to uncover how social awkwardness, and diagnosed Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), can affect social interactions.
The study concluded that individuals that felt socially awkward (but didn’t have SAD), generally performed significantly better than they thought they did. They might have thought “I can’t hold a conversation,” but others disagreed. It’s like giving a speech that you stumbled through, but the message still came across in the end.
On the other hand, people with SAD were found to have social performance deficits – gaps in their communication skills that limited how they interacted. In this case, holding a conversation is actually very difficult. It’s like giving a speech without knowing the subject, or the audience.
Luckily, whether you have SAD, or just feel socially awkward, all hope is not lost. By learning ways to hold a conversation, you’ll become better equipped.
#3. You haven’t learned the right skills … Yet
To learn how to improve your conversational skills, Check out our 9 Powerful Tips on How To Hold A Conversation. Conversations, like any other skill, is something that you learn. Saying, “I can’t hold a conversation,” is a lot like saying “I can’t ride a bike.” It’s not doomed to be true forever.
By learning what works and practicing, you’ll go from asking “why can’t I hold a conversation?”, to wondering, “What was I so worried about?”
Here’s a video from our course that talks about how you can start conversations.
Conversations are one of the best ways to connect with others and build quality relationships. But going into any social situation with a negative mindset can prevent you from keeping the conversation going and make lasting connections.
*Bonus: Improve your conversations in 5 minutes.
Here are 5 easy tips you can follow if you want to overcome the “I can’t have a conversation” mentality.
#1. Have conversation starters in your back pocket. Be ready to ask questions.
Having a few general questions to ask people you just met can help you keep the flow of the conversation going.
Protip: Follow-up questions are an easy and effective way to keep the conversation going. Harvard research says, that people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates. Below, Harvard research shows people who asked more questions are more liked.
#2. Use basic topics or simple questions that are “safe” topics or “feelers”.
This gives you an idea about who the person is or what their personality is like. Using “safe” questions also gives you an idea of which direction you can take the conversation in.
Protip: If you want examples of feeler questions check out our post here, and with10 Strategies To Improve Conversation Skills.
#3. Remember the 7% rule.
The most commonly cited study on verbal and nonverbal communication is by Prof. Albert Mehrabian, of the University of California. He says that 7% of communication is communicated through spoken word, 38% through tone of voice, and 55% through body language.
This means it’s important to complement our words with the right tone of voice and the appropriate body language. Remember this when speaking with someone on a date, during an interview, or in any social situation.
#4. Learn to be present during a conversation.
This means listening and using empathy when someone is speaking to you. The absolute first step is to put your phone away or on silent. Then, pay attention, make eye contact, and focus on the conversation. You’ll be surprised how many people just don’t listen or show interest, during a conversation, even if they don’t mean to.
#5. Exit a conversation with an intention. You’re either going to leave a conversation and never speak to that person again, or you will. If you felt a spark definitely have the intention of following up. If you’ve had a good conversation and you felt compatible then suggest a time to meet up. Simply say, “Hey, I’d really like to continue our conversation another time. How about a drink or coffee next week?”