Especially with new coworkers I feel arrested for words as greetings and chitchat begin. Like I lack an entire chapter of some phrasebook that everyone else seems to have internalized. Monday mornings are really hard for me.

A recent example, meeting a friend at a bar:

Friend: "Hey, what's happenin'?"

Me: "Not much, just wanted to get out of the apartment."

Friend: "I see, stretchin' your legs."

Also me: Wow. "Stretchin' your legs!" Where did he get that from?

I only have the most banal, boring replies, more or less ending conversations (e.g. "I see.")

So okay, I know there's no substitute for having actual conversations. But I've tried forcing myself to go to meetup.com events for this purpose, and burned out after a few months. Having so many conversations at such shallow depth (since everyone's new, not judging who they are) is exhausting. And online dating?—poor, poor simulators of the "new coworker" scenario.

I don't actually think I'm that socially anxious. I like being around people, usually feel confident, and talk comfortably in front of groups that I host. So it really feels like I'm just missing phrases. How can I expand my conversational, "small-talk" vocabulary?

My only idea at this point is to binge on sitcoms on Netflix. I grew up without TV, so maybe I'm just missing television time?


I feel you, I was in the same boat until recently.

A couple of things that helped me were:

  • Joining a discord server with a common interest/topic, good place to practice where you can duck out regularly.
  • Listening to podcasts, this gave me a few ideas on what to say and a nice reference for what a normal conversation is.

I'm normally quite anti-social, but after getting into both of these by accident recently I found I wanted to socialize more. The problem fixed itself from there as more socializing led to finding it easier.


Casual conversation is less precise and economical, I used to be quite bad at it. My wife tells so many stories and jokes, so over time I've become more practised. It helps me to think of it more like "having fun wasting time" than "communicating new information."

A huge thing is shared time, learning how these specific people talk and what they think is funny, and feeling relaxed. The "stretchin your legs" comment could be gotten to by paraphrasing or extending what the first person said. Lots of people will be excited when you do this, it shows you understand and are interested (whether or not you actually are) in what they have to say. You can just sort of imagine doing that thing and think of what you'd think doing it, or how you'd describe that same action a different way.

Edit: Also there's always the "meta conversation" option, eg. "Wow you looked so elated at the prospect of getting free doughnuts you looked like you could practically float away!"


How do I improve the quality and smoothness of my reactions in social interactions, without having actual conversations?

  • learn the topics: in some cultures it may be the weather, in other cultures it may be a popular television show. If you learn what topics are prevalent at coffee machine you can form opinions about them. Positive opinions do better in general.
  • authenticity: to gain respect it is important that you have your own opinion. Being authentic in your ideas and lingo adds value to a conversation.
  • eye contact: keep natural eye contact. Do not have laser-eye contact that will pierce through the back of the skull.
  • make compliments: seek eye contact when you're giving a complement. Your conversational partner will check both your face and eyes for honesty. Giving a compliment increases the change your partner opens up to you.
  • tone of voice: the way you say your lines impacts the perceived importance people allocate to the contents of what you're saying. For example, you can enthusiastically say I see-EE-ee instead of an abrupt I see. Along with that you can show your enthusiasm with your face and body. For instance, throw a smile and nod. Although this might differ between cultures.
  • facial expressions: Keep your face relaxed. Well-timed dynamic facial expressions that show that your listening will do well. Practice smiling in the mirror. When something funny is said use your practiced smile. Keep it as honest as possible.
  • body language: mimic the body language of your conversational partner. Point your toes toward him or her. If you want to break out of the conversation point your toes away. Bodily cues can change the interpretation of facial expressions.
  • enjoy: chitchatting isn't just social glue. You can actually learn new and interesting things or people.

How can I expand my conversational vocabulary?

Learning and applying conversational vocabulary is like learning any other skill.

  • motivation: Why do you want to improve your chitchatting vocabulary? What is the value of attaining the goal?
  • end goal: Where do you come from? Where are you now? Where do you go?
  • targets: You need to set targets and practice until you've mastered the skill. If you hear someone saying I see, stretching your legs and you want to use it yourself, find an authentic and cool way to say it and practice it in real-life. Express your face and body accordingly. A target could be say 'stretching your legs' to my neighbor once a week

I have the habit of reading news articles aloud.
Every day I open both a local and a national website with news articles, pick 10-15 ones that seem interesting and read them aloud, slowly. Takes about 30 minutes. I live alone so it doesn't really bother anyone.

It helps with the issue that you mention and (very gradually) improves your vocabulary. Plus it's not a time waste, as you are still getting informed and learning new things in the process.

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