As an avid learner, my curiosity for people grows fervently every day. How we communicate with one another, an individual’s ins and outs, their likes and dislikes, are topics that I find intriguing to ponder. Despite my inquisitiveness, there was a time in my life when I loathed to be around people due to my struggles with social anxiety.

Fear ruled my life, making it difficult for me to initiate conversations with others. When the opportunity to socialize presented itself, conversations left me drained of energy most times. The hardest part of my journey interacting with people was dealing with the conflict of desiring to connect with others, yet wallowing in disappointment after every conversation took place. A feeling so excruciating, it dictated the rest of my days to the point of self-isolation. 

A singular question lingered in the corners of my mind, as to why I felt this way. One thing’s for sure: I wanted this feeling to go away. I yearned for enjoyable conversations with people, not ones fueled by disappointment. With thorough reflection, I arrived at two revelations: expectations destroy happiness and listening is key.

Detaching Expectations from Self-Worth

Source: Ambivalently Yours

Growing up in an Asian household, possessing a certain level of expectations has become the norm. Whether it be academically or behaviour-wise, there is a constant reminder to set high standards and work towards achieving my desired goals. Little did I know, this mindset spilled over to my social life. 

I recall laying in bed at night during my high school years and being unable to shut my eyes, for the feeling of dread kept me from falling into deep slumber. Thoughts of “What should I say?” or “How should I act?” flooded my mind. Oftentimes, I took note of possible scenarios of conversations that could take place to ensure that I knew how to react appropriately. 

This prepared me for the following day, where I was met with unexpected social encounters with my peers, or perhaps a day out with friends. Most conversations started off smoothly, exuding confidence as I delivered every phrase that was planned the day prior. That was until one thing felt out of place. It could be the slight look of dissatisfaction from a friend, a loud sigh or frequent glances towards their mobile phones. Or worst-case scenario, the dead silence that filled the void between us.

That’s when I started to wonder whether I was the problem.

Well, there is some truth to that statement. You see, my thorough planning of every interaction I had left no room for error. Any aspect of my conversations that went awry was comparable to a failure on an exam, leaving me in shambles. Before I realized it, I remained frozen in place, unable to utter a word:

What do I say now? What do they think of me? They probably won’t want to hang out with me after this.


The reason for my constant dissatisfaction was the expectations that I had set for myself. Formulating possible scenarios in my mind or setting high expectations for an enjoyable interaction provided me with a sense of control over how people would respond to me. But the nature of conversations is such that no one has complete control over them. No one can tell how it will go, whether it will be a positive, neutral or negative experience at the end of the day. 

For a while, the sense of unpredictability that came with social interactions terrified me. Instead, the notion that I could achieve whatever I put my mind towards made me feel secure, and that failure was a result of not being prepared enough or planning ahead of time. Upkeeping the emotions of those around me was no exception to this.

The happiness of others was a responsibility that I often carried on my shoulders. I equated people’s negative demeanour to the perception of myself not being good enough to make them happy. Thus, the cycle of self-sabotage begins. My low self-esteem led to my own self-fulfilling prophecy, where the constant pressure to have an enjoyable conversation actually made the conversation less enjoyable to others as I was constantly in my head worrying, instead of enjoying the conversation at hand. 

That is not to say that setting expectations should be avoided completely. Expectations in itself are great to have, as they aid in setting goals for yourself to improve. However, it becomes a problem when the expectations become a deciding factor of your self-worth or level of satisfaction in life. 

In fact, there is a theory in marketing that discusses the link between expectations and happiness. Known as the Dissonance Theory, this is where a customer who expects a product or service to be of high quality, ends up receiving a product of lower quality than expected. This results in cognitive dissonance, where feelings of regret and guilt arise after purchasing a product that undermines your expectations. 

The same can be applied to other aspects of life. In my case, I tied my self-worth to the outcome of a social interaction and when it did not meet my expectations, I felt shame and guilt for not living up to my own expectations of how the conversation should have gone. 

As I write this article, I am also experiencing a similar feeling of failure. The urge to avoid writing this article in fear of not being good enough to produce a quality article that meets my expectations. Yet the only way to overcome this is to write whatever comes to mind first. To write to my heart’s content without the fear of imperfection. The same applies to conversing with others; speaking whatever comes to mind without inner judgment or planning beforehand. To let go of the expected outcome.

Food for thought:

For anyone struggling to form connections or interact with others, try to go into conversations without any expectations. Be present in the moment. Go into conversations without expecting anything from the other person, and you will begin to feel free from the reins of expectations. This is not limited to conversations, but also to how you approach life: your relationships with others, work, health and education as well. Work with what you can do at the moment and celebrate small milestones. Worry less about whether or not you can achieve your goal and enjoy the process itself.

We can’t control the outcome of a situation, but we can control our feelings towards it.

Mastering The Art of Conversations: Listening and Awareness

Source: Ambivalently Yours

Managing expectations can only take us so far. Sometimes we have to delve into the reason behind why social interactions end up becoming lackluster, or a chore for many. Although conversing with people is an innate trait in humans, it still remains a skill that we must sharpen and reflect upon. After all, conversations are a two way street; consisting of listening and speaking. 

Speaking is a skill that most of us are adept at, some possessing the ability to talk for hours on end. However, listening is another skill that some still may have not mastered. 

I am in no way an expert in conversations, but frequently I like to observe and reflect on conversations I’ve had and distinguish between them: those that are enjoyable and those which have the tendency to drain my energy. Here’s what I’ve gathered.

As the social creatures we are, we strive to look for others to converse with. Someone to listen to our thoughts and opinions that are aching to be let out. A person to acknowledge us, to believe and validate us in what we say. We crave this feeling so much that we often forget that there is an actual person behind listening to our rants. A living, breathing human with their own thoughts and feelings, who also have the same yearning desire to be heard. Sometimes they are forgotten in the sea of trending news and gossip until you reach a point one day where you might ask yourself, “Do I even really know the person that I am talking to? Their dreams and desires? Their struggles and their stories?” 

If you answered no, then perhaps the conversation is one-sided. It’s not to say that talking is bad, but dominating a conversation can lead to dissatisfaction for those on the receiving end. The feeling of being drained from a social interaction stems from the feeling of not being heard, of not being considered in the conversation. The constant one-sidedness can drive these people away, making the other party feel like they are being a burden or wonder why they lose friends.

In a nutshell, it’s a vicious cycle that tears people apart. 

When others speak to us, we expect the same in return. After all, conversations are a two-way street. This is where the discrepancy lies. The act of talking but forgetting to consider the other person is what I found to be the distinguishing factor of what separates a good and bad conversation from each other.

Food for thought:

For those who wish to have better conversations, a good balance of active listening and communication appears to be the key to satisfying friendships and relationships. Talk about things you’re passionate about, but leave room for people to express their own thoughts and feelings. Try asking questions about the other person; about their hobbies, interests, their childhood, likes and dislikes. Remain curious.

At the end of the day, every individual just wants to be heard. Giving them an inviting space to do so will definitely elevate the quality of conversations for both parties.


Life presents us with various journeys that may or may not go the way we hope, and it comes with aspects that we can’t fully control. But when we learn to let go of things we can’t control and improve on the aspects that we can, that is when we are able to foster true control over the happiness and freedom that we deserve.

Written By: Merissa

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