Are you one of those people who, when chatting in a group, always has a quick, witty response?
I hate you just a little bit. But don’t take it personally. It’s not you. It’s me. (For real.)
I used to be one of two types of conversationalists:
- Think everything through before speaking, thus coming up with a witty response two days later.
- Respond quickly to prompts, end up putting my foot in mouth, and regret it for two days after.
Neither option was the type of social person I wanted to be. I wanted to be the perfectly composed girl that came across in emails and texts. There, I could think through what I wanted to say, take my time, edit, ponder, edit, send.
Obviously, I couldn’t limit all my conversations to email. So what did I do to minimize #2 faux pas as outlined above?
Thinking Is Hard
I have learned to think before I speak. It took some practice, but it was worth every second. I’m still not perfect. 😯 But my Incidents That Shall Not Be Mentioned have grown considerably more scarce. Woot!
It’s hard to make yourself pause when conversation is flying a mile a minute, but if you often find yourself in situation #2 and are tired of it, make yourself do it. It often only takes a second for your inner voice of tact to smack you upside the head, sparing you an unsavory foot in the mouth.
How long should you pause? At the very least, even if you read no farther than this paragraph, try this; take a single breath before responding. In the length of time it takes you to inhale and exhale, that twinge of doubt can find its way in. Listen to it. When in doubt, shut the hell up.
If you’re sitting there thinking, ‘There’s just no time for a pause like that. It’ll be awkward. The others will move on. I’ll miss my chance to speak up. blah blah blah.’ Stop.
I’m not talking about conversations regarding which movie you’re going to watch or whose turn it is to take the trash out or small talk about the weather. You know what situations I’m talking about—the important ones.
You know yourself well. (Or you’re going to have to start learning.) You know you tend to flubber up when you’re nervous, when you’re trying to impress someone, when you’re under pressure to answer, or when you’re in a heated argument. Start by recognizing your weak spots and focus on thinking before you speak.
If you know far enough ahead of time that you’re going to be in your danger zone socially, prepare ahead. Practice deep breathing to slow your heart rate down before you arrive. Sit in your car for two minutes or go for a bathroom break and take a few long, slow breaths. Be mindful of your heart rate throughout the event. Keeping calm and cool is very important.
Well, This Is Awkward
So you’re in a crowded room at a party or you’re hanging out with new friends over pizza. How exactly does one stop to think before speaking without creating an awkward pause?
- This is only an issue in the beginning while you’re training yourself to converse differently. Soon enough, you’ll be a pro and you’ll be making better judgment calls in the blink of an eye.
- The key is to fill the pause with something else—sip your drink, smile, laugh, puff on your cig, or cram an entire Twix bar in your mouth. *snicker* (Pun intended.) Find small gestures that occur naturally in conversation and utilize the time it takes to do them to tweak what you’re about to say.
Here’s the thing about people and conversation, we tend to match pace for pace. Have you ever talked to someone who was in a hurry and found yourself speeding up? Or have you slowed way down when talking with someone who just woke up? Why do we do that?
Psychology 101, we like to be liked. We like to be accepted. We like to be like other people around us. And we’re flattered when people want those things of us. So without thinking, we’ll mirror hand gestures, sitting positions, and…duh duh DUH conversational pace.
How can you use that to your advantage in social situations (or your other danger zones)? YOU be the pace-setter. Slow the conversation down so pauses become more natural rather than awkward.
This won’t work if, say, your bestie is flying out the door, flinging Good-byes and See-You-Laters over her shoulder. Responding slowly will leave you talking to the back side of a door. But like I said earlier, this kind of situation isn’t typically one where you have to watch what you say. Standing around a punch bowl with a group of peeps you don’t know is.
So slow it down a notch and others will follow suit. The more you can slow the conversation down, the less obvious your pauses become. Just don’t try to slow it down too much all at once because you’ll be left in the dust. ~___^
Now, go. Be awesome.