Habits can be tough to break, especially when there’s no obvious need to change what you’ve grown comfortable doing. Take standard small talk and conversation norms. It’s polite and even expected that the question “How are you?” is part of a standard greeting. No one questions this approach to a conversation, but nearly everyone falls prey to the awkward silence that follows. You know how this goes:
“Hey, good to see you! How are you?”
“I’m good! How are you?”
The awkward silence generally comes next in the conversation has always been there, but my guess is you had an easier time recovering and filling the void before the pandemic. At least, that’s been my experience. Two years ago, I didn’t have to try so hard to figure out what came next in the conversation and as someone who got “talks too much” on every single report card, I didn’t expect short conversations to be so difficult.
It's understandable if the casual conversations that felt natural before the pandemic feel awkward and forced now. Talking to people in person and going back to work in a traditional office setting is an adjustment. One of the first places it shows up is small talk.
We often make small talk much harder than it needs to be by following the same script. Which means we’re just giving the same answers over and over during the course of the day.
If you want a different response you need a different question. Instead of “How are you?” try:
Breaking free from the traditional script is a tough habit to break. To be clear, the typical exchange isn’t wrong, it’s just not very productive. Using one of these questions as a follow-up to, “How are you?” can help you get into a short conversation and avoid the awkward pauses that can happen when people don’t know what comes next.
Preparing for what comes next is part of being a good conversationalist and good communicator. And that's a good habit to get into.