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I'm 30 years old, this is not my first job, and every time I start a new job, I promise myself to be more social and talk more with people.

But what is happening is that I start disliking almost everyone and skipping daily social events (like coffee, lunch, etc) because when I'm there, I can only think to run away from the conversation. I think it's normal to speak about futile things (it's Friday! or look at my new shoes!) especially at work, but everyday? I find it hard to imagine I'm the only one shouting inside.

My question is: how to improve my conversation skills such that I can enjoy time spent with people?

I'd prefer to talk about Fridays than my private life. I could stop worrying and talk about Fridays. On the other hand, if it's not rude or weird, I'd prefer doing something else.

closed as too broad by Ælis, Negotiate, ElizB, avazula, sphennings Nov 15 '18 at 14:54

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    I've edited your OP in order to remove the "should I" part (reworded). I think it could have led to close votes. Please feel free to rollback if I was wrong or harmed your OP. Thanks. – OldPadawan Sep 7 '18 at 7:59
  • Just curious what industry / environment you're working in? – Matthew E Cornish Sep 12 '18 at 14:35
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I suggest using a technique I call "The random fact conversation". It consists of stating a weird/fun fact about any subject. In your case, you can focus on a subject you like and wouldn't mind talking about with your coworker. You can introduce your fact like this:

Did you know that...?

Or

I recently learned that...

Your coworker might then reply by asking for more details or will just start talking about something related to that fact. In any of these case, you "win" by talking about a subject you like.

Sometimes, this technique falls flat and no conversation will start. You can then try to state another fact related to the first one or in a completely different topic.

As someone who likes to know new things, I use this technique very often. However, I recommend to not use it when a conversation about something else is already happening because people will probably not change the subject and you changing subject will be seen as weird (if not a bit rude). But you can always wait for a pause in the conversation to state your fact. Alternatively, you can engage with someone who isn't active in the current conversation and might thus be open to talk about something else.

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There are some contradictions in your question :

  • First you say you wish to be more social at work, but then you end your question by saying you'd prefer to do something else (as long as it's not rude).
  • Talking about mundane stuff makes you scream inside, but you prefer to talk about this than your private life.

So if I were you, I'd first take some time answering some questions.

Why do you want to be more social at work ? Because it's "what people do" ? Is it in your culture rude not to socialize with colleagues ? Because you want to grow as a person and connecting with other people is meaningful to you, even if it's not easy ? Ask yourself if this is something you actually want to do for you. If not, as long as you're polite to your colleagues, you're not obligated to socialize with them (barring cultural standards). Some people love having work friends, others prefer to keep their work life and social life very separate. This is okay.

If socializing with colleagues is something you want to do, what would you ideally like to talk about ? Between the weather and private matters, there's a whole array of subjects that are acceptable to talk about in a work environment and which most people don't find intrusive : movies, holidays, work issues, gardening, an instrument you play, a restaurant you've tried, new changes or issues in the industry you're working in,... Spend some time thinking about subjects you at least wouldn't mind talking about to your co-workers. If those still feel too personal, it's up to you to decide what is more important : socializing at work at the expense of talking about scream-inducing stuff, have conversations which are more pleasant but require sharing private stuff at work, or not socialize at all.

You also say you very soon start to dislike your colleagues, but by spending a bit more time with them and talking about subjects which don't bore you to death, you might start to appreciate some of them. You also mentioned group activities you now avoid. Maybe getting to know people in a group is harder for you. Instead of trying to be friendly with everyone, try to first only talk with one or two people.

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I am slightly confused though. You don't hate small talk but you hate what people talk about in general so you avoid social functions?

If you wanna talk about whatever, then keep talking.

Someone says something about topic A, talk about topic A. Say your related experiences, comments, opinions, ask about their involvement, etc.

Coworker: "I'm thinking about Mexican for dinner tonight."
You:

  • What restaurant?
  • Ever been to _____?
  • My aunt makes great Mexican dishes.
  • What's your favorite dish?
  • I love authentic Mexican but still go nuts over Taco Bell.

At the very least, you can use this conversation to learn about your coworkers. What they are up to, what they like/dislike, their friends and families, their quirks, background, etc.


If you don't want stupid, boring, small-talk, spice it up yourself

  • Bring up specific topics, especially something you know others will talk about
  • It can be simple like TV shows or movies
  • It can be complex and in-depth like philosophy, politics, or social issues

Remember that small talk is mundane talk. Don't expect anything great to come of most small talk because you'll probably get canned responses.

  • Q: How was your weekend?
  • A: Good

And that's the end of that.

Very rarely will it be anything meaningful, at least in my experience.
Oh it was wonderful. I my boyfriend took me to this resort. It was down south by Nowheresville. There were a bunch of little shops and I really wanted this painting I saw...

If this is what you want, I'd encourage you to start. No guarantee but people will be more willing to converse more if you do. Don't give canned responses.


If you want interesting conversation, control the dialogue

Do what engages you. Conversation isn't something you have to do at gunpoint under the demands of other people. Say what you want to say. Talk about your interests or activities. Avoid things you know won't elicit a response as the conversation will die rapidly.


Just remember, this is normal

Not every conversation will be fun. Sometimes, you just have to bear it until it's done. My coworkers do the same stuff just about every day. It's always, "What's for lunch?" "How was your evening?" "How's your weekend?" "How's your work going?" To which the answer is pretty much alway the same. One guy talks about his LARPing (Live-Action Roleplay) which frankly, I don't care about. I think there are a lot of interesting aspects to it but half the time, I don't wanna hear it or am busy. Nevertheless, I listen, interact, and respond. If I really can't bother with it, I'll become more focused on my work or dismissive or leave to go to the bathroom. Sometimes, people talk about their kids and how great they are. I don't care. I don't have kids right now and anyways, they're not my kids. One person talks about her personal drama every day and it's the same crap all the time. "Mmmhm. Mmmhm." I say. She finishes, we move on.

Don't worry about it really. If you wanna go to lunch with people, just go. If they talk, nod your head and agree. If you really have contempt for menial garbage people talk about, avoid that or change the topic. Sometimes though, you have to choose when you want to be social. Only go to lunch or parties half the time. This sort of conversation is honestly pretty typical for most people.

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I've been there before and what helped me was: asking questions and showing interest in people.

An easy way is to ask about their weekend plans or how their projects at work are going, and to ask follow up questions on what they say.

Once you get to know people better you will have more topics of conversation that aren't just mind-numbing small talk. You said you would rather not talk about your private life, but there's no reason to avoid talking about your hobbies in order to find some common ground with people.

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Short answer is: Yes you can do something else. Talk about your interests.

What you describe often happens with groups that are not really close but forced to spend time together. They just run out of things to talk about and switch to trivial things.

I know when you are new you kinda feel like the odd one out and try to join in on other people's conversations but this causes your issue of being stuck talking about meaningless things.

I would suggest to try and start a conversation about things you are excited about. That hike you are planning this weekend, the project you are working on at home, that new movie you are excited to see. Anything that is your interest.

The new group will most likely welcome the chance to talk about something else and learn a little bit more about you and your interests in the process.

Alternately if you don't want to talk about things that interest you try to talk about things that interest the other people in the group. I presume that because you don't like talking about your personal life you assume other people feel the same way too. It might be the case or it might not be. It might be a cultural thing too, but people in my country enjoy talking about their life.

If you don't have any interest in other people's lives too then you can stick to global events, the weather or the day of the week.

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    i'd prefer to talk about Fridays than my private life. – icanttalktopeople Sep 7 '18 at 7:45
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    @icanttalktopeople added an edit, hope that might help – Ontamu Sep 7 '18 at 8:11
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Practice

Myself and some siblings have had this issue where we'd like to connect with others but couldn't stand the trivial meaninglessness of small talk. Unfortunately, that is where all of the deep, meaningful talk comes from - as, if someone isn't comfortable sharing the small stuff with you, there won't be anything bigger. Social intimacy/closeness is something that is built from little to big, bit by bit over time.

My advice is to practice. There are many situations in life where you or someone else is stuck in a situation with time to kill. Maybe you are waiting at an airport. Maybe you are being checked out by a cashier. Whatever the situation is, consider starting a small conversation.

Learn to listen to what they are saying. As you start to listen to others, your world begins to expand past yourself to include more people, and your world gets bigger. Because you care about the person, you care more about the small stuff.

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