Cultural differences along with personality differences will always leave the door open for dead end conversations and socially awkward moments- however, there are some basic principles people should follow that show a mutual respect for others and allow for good socialising when in public.

1. Don’t bitch. For a start bitching is cowardly, it’s all done behind people’s backs and is about you complaining while never seeking a solution (who’s the real villain?).

Occasional venting or in-depth discussion about people is fine if it’s with someone you know and is not a regular thing- but don’t burden this on a mere acquaintance/stranger because it puts them in an awkward situation of feeling like they need to take sides.

Besides, no one is good company if all they can think to say involves putting other people down.

2. Give any conversation topic a roll of the dice. Heck, coming up with subjects isn’t easy, we’ve all said ‘hello’ then hit a brick wall for what to say next. Unless someone is talking about how they paint the walls of their house with a pig’s heart, give it a chance. Everyone has lots to say, but finding something that you have to say to someone else takes perseverance – every roaring fire starts with a single spark and you may well have to tread through some dull clichés of ‘what’s the weather doing’ or ‘the parking’s terrible’ before you get to something interesting. Alternatively they could be dull and worth avoiding but you don’t know that yet: If someone makes the effort give them a chance.

3. Give some of the ‘real you’ back to the person- how can anyone get to know you otherwise?

My sisters mother-in-law always talks to me in the same way- asks me my news, tells me her news then ends the conversation within 5 minutes with ‘well it was lovely to meet you’. A textbook might say this is good socialising, I as a person say it definitely isn’t.

The trouble is that she treats speaking to me like a PR exercise- I’m not getting to know the real her, all I’m getting is a bunch of statements designed to appear like she wants to talk to me/likes me- while the underlying factor of her speaking to me this way is unreservedly that she thinks the opposite. Could you imagine yourself ever restricting a conversation with someone you like to the same 5 minute structure? Of course not- great conversations swish and swirl down unexpected routes and by the end you have no idea what the last hour and a half had to do with your original point. It’s a beautiful thing.

Now I’m not saying you need to air all your dirty laundry or tell them your life story within the first 10 minutes of meeting them, all I’m saying is you have to be giving answers that are an honest reflection of yourself.

Don’t fall into the trap of telling people answers that you think they want to hear. It might seem polite and caring but it is a bad route to go down because of these three potential connotations:

1. You’re patronising/humouring them- like when talking to children we feign interest in their toys- why not show the other adults some respect for their intelligence?

2.  You have little depth to your personality and are desperate for friends.

3. You don’t like them and are trying to keep your distance.

The first two connotations will make people run a mile but the 3rd is the most significant. By not being yourself you are not allowing a relationship to grow. Okay- it might turn out you just aren’t ever going to be friends and the conversation reaches a dead end in a minute or so- but this is a good thing: what a time saver! Better finding out quickly that you won’t get along and being done with it. Anyway, disagreeing doesn’t mean the conversations doomed- people disagree all the time and life’s more exciting that way. Plus by going this way even if you clearly aren’t suited you will still have their respect as you’ve shown the confidence to be who you are. (Trust me on this one I learnt the hard way)

4. Avoid negativity. If someone only has met you for 3 minutes, then 3 minutes is all they have to judge you on- it doesn’t matter if you’re a really interesting person if they get to know you – if all you’ve done is complain you’re hardly going to seem worth getting to know.

The balance between critical thinking and blind optimism is worth a post in itself- but in terms of being good company make things positive. Positivity is inherently more enjoyable plus being positive makes you seem more worthwhile because positive people are the ones who get things done; nothing can be achieved without enthusiasm.

A band might be playing who are so terrible saying so is a good ice breaker and that’s fine- just don’t dwell in negative areas for too long. It will lead nowhere fun.

5. Don’t boast. If you’ve got some great exam results, if you make xyz amount of money more than Joe average a year, if you’ve gone to over 100 countries in the past 6 months, don’t dwell on it.

By all means be positive about yourself, but don’t spend too long on the subject unless you’re prompted to through further questions. Talking about yourself for long periods makes it look like you’re either self-centred, or you’re trying to impress people. Trying to impress people is inherently pathetic – it is done because someone needs other people to think they’re great for them to feel good about themselves rather than from their own achievements- hello insecurity as low opinion of self = needing reassurance. (Ever had some alpha male sort try to control a group all night before getting a few drinks down him and then not shutting up about how depressed he is?)

6. Hold back on the more over the top humour (to begin with). I have a good sense of humour but it has got me into trouble through the years. Is it worth the misunderstandings and awkwardness when jokes go sour for the laughs you do get when it works? Yes without doubt- laugher is fantastic and worth the occasional bruise. However, too full on too soon can scare people away. You may know you’re joking but if people don’t know you then a large amount of them won’t get it (sadly). Plus I’m sure we all probably have a few friends who aren’t the sort you’d joke with much but are still very precious friends nonetheless – don’t deter these people before you get a chance to properly meet them. Keep jokes basic and safe (just for a little while).

Oh yeah, and if you’re with friends in a wider group, keep your in jokes to yourself- it alienates all the others (how are they supposed to get it?).

7. Keep the noise down. It sounds so basic but I’ve lost count of the amount of times when speaking within a group there’s certain people who just keep talking louder and louder to get herd. It’s thoroughly irritating and paints the person in the light of being self centred (never mind others- let’s hear about me) or trying to be the alpha controlling the group (what I say is the most important) – either way it’s not a good trait.

Worst still is when in public you see groups of people get together and then some start shouting loudly for no good reason other than pathetic in-group attention seeking and a lack of courtesy for others. Often these people observe others disapproval of their shouting and label them as being ‘stuck up’- what an absolute travesty of human knee-jerk ego-protecting thinking. For the record: No we’re not stuck up, we just have ear drums and aren’t wrapped up in your life like you are. Keep it down to a low enough level so I can choose to ignore you, thanks.

8. Take a genuine interest in the other person/people- otherwise really what is the point? It’s back to my sister’s mother in law again- if you don’t care about the other person how can a decent social relationship ever develop? And more to the point, why are you bothering to talk to them in the first place? If you don’t want to talk don’t talk, why get involved in an unenjoyable piece of dribble both you and your counterpart would rather not be involved in?

9. Don’t drink too much. (Boy did I make this mistake at university) It can be a nice way to loosen the tongue and I’ve had some brilliant nights thanks to alcohol- but drink too much and you will loose some peoples respect for good.

As a good friend of mine pointed out, when drinking there is a tipping point where loosing your inhibitions slips from being talkative to becoming obnoxious. With too much you become too sure of yourself and speak without consideration for others, plus you begin to show other forms of disrespect like invading people’s private space- not to mention the stupid things you can do (I’ve urinated on my friends wardrobe before… yep).

Heck all drinkers have been there and had to wake up with some sinking feeling from the night before, but don’t make a habit of it- you’ll loose money, brain cells and credibility (perhaps not with your inner circle of friends if your all the partying sort but definitely with those on the outside). And also, don’t think it will improve your chances of finding a partner, no one wants a slobbering idiot with bad breath and that’s what you become.