Ask Emma! “Am I guilty of oversharing personal information when speaking to someone?”

Community Question:

How much should you reveal about yourself? I love to talk about the things I love such as environmentalism, beauty, mental health, sport etc. but I often feel that I’m over sharing.

Firstly, making conversation is something many people are nervous about, so if you are confident with the art of small talk already then you are one of the lucky ones!

Secondly, the art of a good conversationalist is to be a good listener first and a confident speaker second. Our main goal should be to shift our thoughts away from ourselves and our own interests. and to try make whomever we are talking to feel at ease, no matter what their background or job title.

A useful analogy is to think about a game of tennis, whereby you are batting the ball back and forth to your partner with the aim of finding something in common. At this stage it should be high-level questions and an exchange of small pieces of information to ‘warm up’.

The biggest mistake people make is by talking about topics that are of interest to themselves, in too much detail and too soon, without considering whether the subject appeals to the other person.

How do you find out what is of interest? By asking questions of course, and listening intently to the answers.

Once the person has finished speaking, we then have two options:

1. If we aren’t familiar with the subject then it poses the perfect opportunity to learn! Never be afraid to admit that you don’t know about a topic, in fact, in doing so it shows you are self-assured enough to not have to pretend (and risk getting caught out!).

It also gives the person the perfect opportunity to shine. Ask them to tell you more, they will feel great about sharing their knowledge and they will most likely come away thinking they had a great conversation with you!

2. If it’s regarding a subject that you do have knowledge of, and are interested in, then this is the opportunity to share your story, but gently, otherwise you may be in danger of one-upmanship. Share your part, on a high level, then ask the person a question to get their involvement. Remember the game of tennis, back and forth.

If you struggle with how much to share, then it is worth considering the 3 types of conversation levels:

Information Level – This is where we talk about things and their place in time, exchange news and facts, and report on our experiences moving through and living in the objective world. It’s where our conversation should sit at the beginning of any interaction with a new person, and it’s possible that we many never actually move from this level with that person.

Personal Level – This is where we talk about how we feel about the content at the informational level and is a subjective experience. When we share from the personal level, we are inviting the other person to connect with us at this deeper level. It’s possible that you may move to this level with a new acquaintance, and this is what I would refer to as ‘clicking’ with someone.

Relational Level – The relational level applies the identifying and naming of emotions from the personal level to the present moment and space. What’s happening now? How am I feeling in this moment? It’s highly unlikely that you would move to this level the first few times that you meet someone.

One piece of advice I would like to give is to write and practice a social elevator pitch.

This is when you rehearse what you might say to people when you first meet them; brainstorm topics that are of interest to you, write out the speech, record yourself speaking – is it too much information? Does it contain jargon? Are you happy giving this much information about yourself to a stranger? What question could you ask them to bring them into the topic?

This isn’t premeditated. It’s about preparing in advance so that you can feel confident and focus your attention on the other person; the epitome of social graces and building new relationships!

Becoming a good conversationalist is not a science, it’s an art, and can be learnt by anyone so have fun!