The pandemic may have been officially over for a while now, but all signs point to the fact that many people are still finding their feet socially.
Searches for “What to talk about at work?” have risen over the past two years. Social media is peppered with stories of people struggling to remember how to talk to other humans. And mental health professionals have noted an uptick in social anxiety. A 2022 study suggested that Covid changed our personalities, nudging us to be less extroverted and agreeable.
Of course, many people have always struggled with talking to strangers. The pandemic seems just to have made us that much more awkward. Which is a shame, because science shows that, though we sometimes dread it, interacting with other humans reliably makes us happier. Social graces can also be a powerful way to build relationships and increase your chances of success.
So if you’re among the many who sometimes panic when you have to make small talk, is there a solution? I’ve written up plenty of lists of possible conversation starters in the past, but I recently came across a framework that struck me as even easier to remember and implement. It’s called the FORD Method, and learning it will hopefully banish conversational awkwardness from your life.
Four letters for better conversation
The problem for many of us when it comes to talking to strangers is thinking up questions to keep the conversational ball rolling. This seems easy enough in theory, but as anyone with even a touch of shyness can tell you, it becomes markedly more difficult when you’re several seconds into an awkward pause and your mind goes blank with panic. Avoiding this dreaded moment, therapist Nicole Arzt explains on SocialSelf, can be as easy as memorizing the acronym FORD.
FORD stands for the four big topics of small talk — family, occupation, recreation, dreams — and it can guide you to come up with questions to keep the conversational ball going. Artz offers example questions for each category:
- Do you have any siblings?
- How did you two meet? (if you are meeting a couple for the first time)