Starting Conversations- Fear of Fumbling?

Are you good at chatting at parties with strangers, on first dates?  Small talk in elevators and in airports?

I’m not.  I can be if something comes up that interests me.  But to start a conversation?  Or respond with enthusiasm to small talk?  Nay…

Here’s some tips on how to go from small talk to smart conversations without crashing.

Fear of looking stupid lives in all of us.   And now that we have electronics in hand at all times, it’s easier to avoid small talk discomfort.

But nurses must know how to jump into deep conversations with strangers everyday.

This isn’t easy … not only because you’re busy, but maybe because you’re shy?

 Ask for Stories not Answers

Asking for stories takes the pressure off of thinking you have to be a clever conversationalist in any setting.   Try:

  • What brought you here?
  • How are you within yourself?
  • What’s on your mind?
  • What do you look forward to when ______?
  • What do you miss most about ______?
  • What does _______ remind you of?
  • Where would you like to be right now? Why?
  • Who would you like to be with right now? Why?
  • What is that you are looking at or doing?

Maybe cocktail parties, first dates, elevator talk are not comfortable…

but helping people tell their story in a way that can comfort or spark insight is always high level caring.

When Stories Turn Into High Level Caring 

Liehr explains that the process of story is intentional dialogue to create ease.

“Ease emerges as a person acquiesces in the whole story, even for a moment. Nurses recognize ease in the midst of story gathering when the person sharing the story has an “aha” experience with a “click of connection” as story moments come together creating “just recognized” meaning.

Story encounters are inherently complex.

The patient’s story is intricately interwoven with that of family, friends, nurses, doctors, and an array of other health care providers participating in the current health experience.

In gathering the patient’s story, the nurse and patient are like weavers of an intricate tapestry. The nurse stays attentive to the thread of what “matters most” to the patient while being sensitive to the warp and weft of contributing story threads that necessarily contribute to the emerging tapestry pattern.

The nurse abandons preexisting assumptions, respects the storyteller as the expert, and queries vague story directions, thereby intentionally engaging the other to enable connecting with self-in-relation and ease.”

(Liehr & Smith, p.242)

The Story Process As Part of Caring… 

Allowing patients to dwell out loud in their thoughts …

Listening for a tone from the patient where they arrive at meaning and insight …

Staying attentive to what matters most to the patient … noticing patterns of what is being said …

Offering no judgment or opinion …

Asking about vague story lines … (if situation allows)

Just listen … no small talk required.


Liehr P. Smith MJ. Modeling the complexity of story theory for nursing practice.  In Davidson A, Ray MA, Turkel MC. (Eds.),  Nursing, Caring, and Complexity Science For Human-Environment Well-BeingNew York: Springer Publishing Company; 2011 (241-248).
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One thought on “Starting Conversations- Fear of Fumbling?

  1. I liked this article. Getting the patient, or person to talk about something they are interested in–or memories. Makes things more helpful for everyone.

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