The Art of Small Talk - Help for the Socially Awkward
I'm really writing this for me, but I thought I would bring you along for the ride.
Whether you are on a first date, a business meeting, a social setting or just a ridiculously long line, knowing the art of small talk is a life-saver.
I am notoriously bad at it; seriously. I have been known to walk the long way around the parking lot to avoid having to having to walk in with someone and feel obligated to share chit-chat. I know, it's so sad.
However, instead of continuing to wallow in my defeat, I decided to find better ways to handle this and I am going to share them with you.
Sometimes it's not just knowing what to say, but how to say it. Everyone has a different communication style, and when small talk is challenging it helps to have some tips in your conversation arsenal.
Pretend You Are Interested
I know the 'fake it 'til you make it' advice sounds lame, but it just might work. People are drawn to enthusiasm. Keep a go-to question or two in your small talk starter pack. Something light and breezy like a current event, news item, upcoming holiday, weekend plans, etc.
If all else fails, pick something in the room or surroundings to talk about. It is the one thing you both have in common.
Most people like to talk about themselves, so ask open-ended or opinion questions. Instead of just asking what they do for a living, ask how it's done or why they like it. Try to stay away from controversial topics.
The best way to sound interested in a conversation is to BE interested. Pick a topic that already interests you and you will be more engaged in the conversation.
Believe in the Best in People
I know for me it is easy to assume someone is going to judge me for my answers or make negative conclusions about me. That's not fair. There are jerks in the world, but most people you meet are just as wary and awkward as you are. You don't have to sound brilliant; just be kind. Everyone wants to put out a good impression.
And don't stress if you don't remember their name (unless you are on a date; that's a bad sign). That's why they make people wear name tags at events and business gatherings; we are all bad at remembering names. Just ask; it's ok.
Be Honest/Not Argumentative
If you don't want to talk about a particular subject or answer a specific question, just politely say you would rather talk about something else. Then steer the conversation in that direction.
If you are asked for your opinion about something you truly dislike, just say, 'That's really not my thing." Or if they express a dislike for something you love, you can come back with, "It takes all kinds." You can disagree without being disagreeable.
We all love to hear something nice about ourselves. Find something about your small talk companion to compliment on. It will brighten their day and they will generally start to talk about whatever you mentioned.
If someone gives YOU a compliment, simply say thank you. I know for some of you that is difficult. Don't try to convince them they are mistaken. Don't feign pious modesty. Just accept and appreciate the nice gesture.
Now if they slide in a criticism, refer back to above about not being disagreeable. For the purpose of small talk, if someone casually mentions something that doesn't sit well with you, just let it roll. Offer the non-committal, "You could be right." You can finish the sentence however you want as long as it is under your breath.
Despite all your best efforts, there will still be times when you just want to escape. Either they are overbearing, getting in your personal space, or you are just emotionally winded. Whatever the reason, just simply excuse yourself with an "I Need" phrase.
"I need to use the restroom." "I need to get some food/refill my drink." "I need to make a call." "I need to answer this text." (Just look at your phone. They will never know you don't have a text. Your phone is on silent anyway, right?) Your 'need' can fit the location/situation, but very few people are going to question the sincerity of your statement.
I do suggest if you claim to need to go and/or do something you at least attempt to make good on that statement. I mean, after all, it's the polite thing to do.
Practice Makes Perfect
My hands started shaking even as I wrote this. I know the best way to get better at something is to continue to do it. I would improve my small talk skills if I put myself in the position of having to do it.
Can I just say; ugh.
Seriously though, unless you retire to a deserted island or a cabin in a rock underground, you will need to interact with people. Being an introvert, I understand it can be difficult. It doesn't come easy for some of us. But it is always worthwhile.
For the times when I truly attempt to make a connection with someone, I almost always enjoy the conversation. I learn something about me or the other person.
I fancy myself to be a storyteller of sorts, and everyone has a story. Learn how to step out of your comfort zone just long enough to get someone started on telling
You might just be surprised at how pleasant small talk can actually be. At least that is what I am telling myself...
And as always..
Hope With Abandon