Why learn small talk? Well, I want you and I to have the skills to build big social supports. According to author Lana Otoya, “It is in your best interest to jump on the opportunity to form a new relationship every time you are presented with one” (p. 13 of 73, 15%).
I’ve grown much better at small talk. I started adding chitchat in a seamless way—as if the speaker and I were one voice. By doing so, I discovered harmony. And I want to help you master the art of harmony, too. That’s if you’re not a master already.
But I’m no master of small talk. I tend to agree with a speaker before fully processing what was said. A female mentor tells me to think before I speak. She says I might have something interesting to add. I believe every one of us has something interesting that could change the world.
And everyone has something great to chitchat about. Some people offer funny facts or fun stories—naturally. But what about those of us who don’t chitchat comfortably? “The truth is, everyone hates small talk to some level …. You may not believe it right now but, with some effort, you will get a little better at it, then a lot better at it, then master it” (p. 10 of 73, 11%). But take comfort: “it’s normal to have a few nervous pauses, awkward silences and blank stares even if you’re getting along great with the person” (p. 17 of 73, 21%).
The best lesson I learned for small talk is to listen.
Whenever someone talks to me, I try to put aside everything—and listen. I look the speaker in the eye, with a smile, as I absorb every word. “Being a good listener means that you actually hear what the person was saying … All you have to do to be a good ‘talker’ or be seen as a ‘really nice person’ is to be a good listener” (p. 20 of 73, 25%). A loved one used to say, “You don’t listen.” Now, I drop everything the minute she expresses herself. But your listening skills may already be top-notch. Yet, I believe if you listen even closer, you’ll hear a choir of heartbeats.
I believe the next best lesson is to not judge.
I learned to never say, “You’re wrong!” To hear that can crush you. And I learned to stop criticizing. No, I seek agreement instead. For instance:
If they tell you something personal, like, ‘I really love playing video games on my PC’ and you respond with ‘oh wow that’s so nerdy,’ you are not accepting them and you are closing the connection that you might have had with this person. You have now lost their trust and they will be less likely to keep telling you things and even less likely to want to be your friend. (p. 26 of 73, 36%).
When we don’t criticize, we make more friends. And that’s my hope for both you and I: bigger social support systems.
Yet another lesson I learned is to approve of others.
But, while “approval means that you don’t judge or criticize them, it doesn’t mean you agree with everything. If they say something like they do cocaine binges every weekend, you respond honestly with something like: ‘oh wow that sounds crazy, but I could never do that, I’m way too straight edge.’” (p. 26 of 73, 36%). When friends make bad choices, maybe say, “You’re awesome,” but humbly let them know why you wouldn’t make the choice. And if someone you love dearly makes the bad choice, that’s more reason to guide them gently.
We can also show genuine enthusiasm toward a speaker.
“When humans are put into social situations where they may be uncomfortable, the biggest thing they want to be is accepted. In order to be accepted, the other people in the room must approve them. What you do by responding enthusiastically to their stories is telling them that you approve of them” (p. 25 of 73, 34%). A trick I’ve learned is to think up as many fantastic traits about others as you can. Throw in a compliment every now and then, but don’t get stuck (like I do) into giving compliment after compliment (Otoya, 2018). Make one compliment and then veer back into the conversation (Otoya, 2018). Repeat for mutual pleasure.
And if someone gets left out of the crowd, shower that person with approval. When I took ballet lessons, no-one would talk to me because I danced so badly. But one woman befriended me. And her beautiful face etches itself on my memories to this day.
We should laugh at other people’s jokes.
“If you are laughing at their jokes and agreeing with their frustrations, the more they will think ‘wow that guy (or girl) was such a great person, I had so much fun talking to them” (p. 28 of 73). Each of us has a different personality, and there’s a treasure to be found in each one. Sprinkle in a two-way sense of humor, and you’ve made a friend for life.
And try to insert body language.
“Using facial expressions, even slightly exaggerated ones, is a great way to encourage the other person to keep talking” (p. 28 of 73, 38%). “You nod and make facial expressions that respond to the story …. You absolutely cannot be engaged in a conversation if your mind is occupied with other things and using your body to react to the story is a great way to stay present” (p. 22 of 73, 99%). I find, when I add a comment to everything a person says, I often cut them off. So, using body language instead of a comment can keep the conversation from stumbling.
Express interest in all their interests.
Author Lana Otoya says the following about a memorable lady: “She was curious to learn more about all the things I talked about, yes all of them. So, if I said that I was into mountain biking, she would ask follow-up questions as though she wanted to take up mountain biking herself” (p. 28 of 73, 38%). I’d love to learn all about your interests. And I especially love reading your profile write-ups in The Voice. Each person contains a fascinating universe within them.
But an error I make in writing articles is talking too much about myself.
I do so to generate original material. But in conversations, we should try to sprinkle in educational tidbits. “The person you are talking to will be a lot more forgiving if you are talking about a topic rather than yourself. So, if you are talking a lot about how to mountain bike, the person is at least learning something new and they will be able to tolerate this for a lot longer than stories about your life” (p. 21 of 73, 27%). I personally would love to hear stories about your life. After all, every story has a life lesson.
Lastly, we should avoid speaking poorly about other people.
Better yet, stop talking about other people altogether. That way, we avoid edging into the gossip zone. Gossip builds enemies, not friends, and destroys trust, especially at work. But don’t listen to me. At work, when gossip starts, I nearly get into fist fights, defending the person being gossiped about. And I’ve lost friends when I won’t engage in gossip.
But if you, dear reader, have tips on how to avoid gossip, please share with a letter to the editor. You’ll build harmony—and win friends.