Left to my natural tendencies, it could be said that I hate small talk. Mere chit-chat with near strangers covering topics ranging from nothing to the weather is not my idea of a rip-roaring good time. But I have come to learn its importance.
Consider how often in life we are thrown into situations that require the ability to do just that; start from nothing and work toward at least a little something in the way of conversation. It happens so often, even to the most hermetical of us, that we should consider it a skill desirable of developing. You can never tell when that unknown group of people amongst whom you next find yourself may contain a new best friend, valuable business contact, or both.
What if you could be more at ease, more interesting to the other parties present, and more valuable to the unfolding group dynamic than the average wall-flower type who retreats into his/her shell and basically caves in to the all-too-common disease of self-consciousness? What if a room full of strangers no longer presented a challenge to your nerves but an opportunity to your interests?
Here are some suggestions for making small talk not only a little more palatable, but more productive, too.
- Get your mind off yourself – it is usually by being preoccupied with how we are feeling and how we are coming across that we miss the opportunity to get involved in a meaningful way with the others present.
- Be interested in others – Dale Carnegie taught that the best way to be interesting is to be interested in the other person.
- Be sincere – false interest or conversational “techniques” are bogus, stay away from them and simply be authentic.
- Listen – make listening an action verb in which you choose to excel. Don’t bide the time away while the other person is talking thinking about what you are going to say. Instead, listen deeply and see how much you can pick up from what the other person is saying.
- Be First – be the first one to introduce yourself, be the first to say your name, be the first to break the ice. Chances are everyone else is a little uneasy, too, and they will appreciate someone taking leadership in the situation.
- Be Humble – don’t push yourself forward or boast about yourself or your accomplishments. Also, avoid name-dropping and other tactics of jockeying or superiority. Remember: if you are too impressed with yourself, there is no room for others to be.
- Ask Questions – one of the best ways to accomplish steps 1 through 6 above is to inquire about the other person. Ask about their occupation, family, hobbies, and interests. Have a couple of stock questions that are sure to get a good conversation going, such as, “How did you get started in what you’re doing now?” and “What does it take to be good at what you do?” And, never forget the importance of small, thought-connecting questions such as, “Really?” and “How?” and “Why?” The longer you can keep the other person talking, the more they will like you and the more you will find to like about them.
- Find Common Ground – look for the “you, too?” moment. As you proceed through steps 1 through 7 above, eventually you will find that your lives intersect in some way. Build a bridge at that point and begin conversing on common ground. Ultimately, it’s common ground upon which we build the foundation for appreciating each others’ differences.
- Involve Others – be a connector. Once you become acquainted with one person, make an introduction of him or her to another. This gives you the chance to enlarge the circle of conversation (taking some of the pressure off yourself), make the person being introduced feel edified (by repeating some of what you’ve just learned to the new person in the circle), and make the new person in the conversation feel honored (by receiving the introduction).
- Enjoy yourself – it may seem odd to have this as an item on a list, but remember to relax and have fun getting to know others. Unarguably, it’s with, through, and for other people that we build a life worth living.
So you see? Small talk is a big deal. Essentially, nobody likes a big talker, but everybody loves a small talker!