Not everyone’s a fan of small talk. In fact, some people even hate engaging in it. But why?
Most of us are just trying to avoid the eventual awkward pause each time you end a round of small talk, which begs the question of what actually causes the awkwardness.
There’s a statement saying that a situation is only awkward only if you make it awkward, but how true is that?
In a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers found that people tend to blame themselves when a conversation becomes difficult.
“Many people report that engaging in informal conversation with anyone other than close friends and family makes them anxious,” the study said.
This is especially true for introverts, I’m guessing. Speaking from experience, there are even instances where my hands shake whenever I talk to other people both in person and even virtually. (Talk about bad anxiety, am I right?)
The researchers said that there are several reasons why people have anxiety when trying to talk to people. They believe that the most probable reason for this is the inherent complexity of informal conversation.
“Every conversation involves intricate, dynamic interactions between partners,” they said.
According to the study, “intricate interactions” include both parties having the coordination of turn-taking, eye contact, anticipation of upcoming content, and their interpretations of everything going on around them — very much including all preceding utterances, the tone in which they were uttered, and any changes in tone.
Not to mention that there are many kinds of conversation that vary depending on the occasion and context, such as the number of people involved, the culture where it takes place, and the goals people bring to the interaction.
“The wide landscape of conversations and the dynamic coordination they require present a challenge to any conversationalist,” the researchers said.
Even though conversing may be a human’s most used social interaction, there is a lack of research in the area.
“The lack of research in this area is a bit puzzling, given what we know about the importance of social connection for well-being and the critical role that conversation plays in establishing and maintaining such connections,” the researchers said.
The goal of the researchers in this study was to find out if and why people lack confidence when it comes to engaging in informal conversation. They utilized three different studies: One where they asked participants to gauge their own conversing abilities compared to others; and the other two studies where they examine whether people’s own negative assessments of their abilities can be traced to a pattern of attributions for the positive and negative moments in conversations that run counter to the usual self-serving pattern.
In other words, the second study is where they ask people to recall past conversations and see if they attribute the highs and lows of the conversation to themselves or to their partner. The third study runs in the same vein as the second, but they asked their participants to engage in “laboratory conversations,” wherein they paired their participants and asked them to have a “get to know you” conversation.
From their first study where people rate themselves, people place themselves along the average even if they’re confident in saying that they’re above average in other abilities. In that first test, the activity that yielded the lowest ability score, and the only item that went below average, is engaging in informal conversation.
In the other two studies, participants blamed themselves more than their partners for the worst moments of their conversations.
“Together, these studies indicate that people approach the common activity of engaging in informal conversation with an unusual level of self-doubt. They tend to question their ability to engage in casual conversations, and they blame themselves rather than their partners when the conversation sputters,” the researchers said.
Interestingly enough, participants think that if a conversation is considered a failure, they tend to blame themselves, while if it’s a success, they attribute it to external factors.
It’s understandable to have some sort of anxiety when engaging in any sort of conversation, as humans tend to try to please those whom they interact with. The researchers say that their study may provide reassurance because “it is comforting to learn that other people tend to enjoy talking with us more than we think they do” and also that we’re not alone in having these kinds of doubts.
“Knowing that anxiety about conversation is shared, and that these feelings are often overblown, may lessen that very anxiety,” they said.