Small Talk Can Have Big Results At Any Social Obligation

August 6, 2014

talk_web_7-18-14_v1I have a confession: I’m bad at small talk.

I don’t know if it’s so much a confession, or that I’m finally willing to admit it to myself. Same as how I don’t know that I’m really bad at small talk, I just flounder in a conversation with anyone new and always find myself being that girl who awkwardly makes eye contact and brings up the weather. Because yes, Minnesota winters really are that cold and I was told to always look directly in someone’s eyes when you’re speaking to them.

My realization came last week when I found myself elbow-deep in Twin Cities movers and shakers during a store-opening party, but couldn’t bring myself to take advantage of the opportunity right in front of me. Starting a conversation with someone new. Networking. Enjoying the beautiful goods and making an offhand remark to someone near me. Nope. Nothing. No new friends. Hell, I walked out of there with nary a new acquaintance or awkward run-in with someone I knew from a past life. I stuck to my corner and the company I arrived with, and did my best to lurk around long enough to scurry home. Pretty lame.

Small-TalkWhile it’s not the first of the year, it’s never too late to create new goals and work diligently to change old/bad habits. And this is one I plan to shake.

The “how” and the “what” of my “how to small-talk good” plan still have yet to be fleshed out, but there was no shortage of good advice on TED.com and its recent article, ‘How to Turn Small Talk Into Smart Conversation.’ Some of the best suggestions for interacting at Social Obligations Involving Strangers include:

Ask for stories, not answers
Rely on open-ended questions to invite a larger conversation instead of one-word answers. For example, instead of asking someone “What do you do?” opt for a question with a more robust, intriguing possible answer like, “How did you get into your line of work?”

Break the mirror
Small talk falters because people often times revert to “mirroring,” a behavior described as answering questions directly, repeating observations or blandly agreeing with whatever they say. Stop it. Stop it, right now.

Be provocative. Be quirky. Make the years spent playing Trivial Pursuit with your parents on a Saturday night worth the pain and suffering.

Leapfrog over expected responses
On that same level, don’t fall into the trap of the expected response. An obscure response will be your conversation to the next level, and the examples provided are pretty comical.

Instead of:
Ron: How was your flight?
Carlos: My flight was good!

Beverly: It’s hot today.
Gino: Yeah, it sure is hot.

Riz: What’s up?
Keil: Hey, what’s up?

Try:
Ron: How was your flight?
Carlos: I’d be more intrigued by an airline where your ticket price was based on your body weight and IQ.

Beverly: It’s hot today.
Gino: In this dimension, yes.

Riz: What’s up?
Keil: Washing your chicken just splatters the bacteria everywhere.

I also received some great suggestions from Facebook friends when asked about what has either terrified them about small talk, or helped make them more conversational. Check out the suggestions below and feel free to comment with any of your tips and tricks for turning an introvert into an extrovert during any Social Obligation Involving Strangers. Solicited Facebook advice includes:

  • The weather. Always talk about the weather.
  • Working customer service has been a big help. People just want you to listen to what they have to say.
  • I suggest talking about politics or religion. That’s just about the only way to quickly make things interesting.
  • Ask people where they went to high school!
  • Instead of asking “what do you do,” ask “what are you doing that you’re most excited about right now?” Sometimes it has to do with work, sometimes it’s totally random.
  • Don’t talk; try listening.
  • Ask people where they are from and remember the details to connect the dots later. It’s not only a good tool for getting conversation going, but also makes people feel special and appreciated.