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    Demystifying Small Talk: The Most Misunderstood Social Skill

    By

    July 25, 2016

    So, almost everyone hates small talk. Figuratively.
    Being a very outspoken introvert, who grew up moving around, I figured out very early in my life that if I have to survive displacement every couple of years in my life, the only thing that could equip me with any kind of adaptability was small talk.
    I pushed myself to initiate conversations with everyone who crossed paths with me. Thank god I did, I learnt some great things and made some of the best friends I’d never otherwise.
    No matter how many times I have heard people say, “I hate small talk, ” I can confidently claim this- small talk is not boring, nor pointless and definitely not overrated.
    Image Credit: eqcomics

    Image Credit: eqcomics

    Lets first decode what makes small talk so intimidating for so many people:
    • To begin with, a majority would confess that they dislike initiating it.
    • Then maintaining it. Oh my God.
    • It’s qualitative value is nill. Nada. There is usually no productivity to gain from small talk.
    • Talking to strangers is, nicely put, strange. What if you have nothing in common? (Introverts rejoice.)
    • What if you get trapped? How will you get out of it politely?
    Image Credit: Google Images

    Image Credit: Google Images

    What may have given small talk its uncanny reputation is probably how often it circulates around silly topics and artificial interest. I acknowledge this, meaningless chatting about random inconsequential things, petty gossip and strangers asking you very intrusive questions or going on and on about their own lives, is plain annoying. As mere silence fillers, it’s just like noise.
    If deep meaningful conversations is what you’d rather like, here’s the truth: It begins with the small talk. It’s the opening to the ocean, it’s what grants you access to a person you choose to interact with, whatsoever the purpose. Our everyday social, commercial and professional lives regularly employ small talk pivotally, making it completely indispensable.
    Good small talk can be like drinking lemonade, refreshing. Okay, but exactly how?
    Image Credit: Roaring Softly by Tyler

    Image Credit: Roaring Softly by Tyler

    It’s no social handicap to be bad at small talk, in fact, nobody is really bad at it. To make effective communication one simply needs to allow themselves to interact confidently without prejudice or shame. Some handy tips would be:
    1. A genuine curiosity to engage with someone. Whether an old friend or a new stranger, being genuinely interested to know about them and understand what they are saying helps. People have fascinating lives and more than willing to talk about themselves.
    2. Compose yourself and keep your expectations to a minimum. It will keep your disappointment in check!
    3. Do your homework whenever you can. If you are heading for a social gathering, chances are you are more than aware about who is going to constitute the crowd. Rather being anxious about the lack of close acquaintances, think about how you can appear pleasantly social with minimum awkwardness. What kinds of questions or topics would be suitable for the occasion? What’s on the news that you can talk about? Practice asking a few general questions or substantially responding to regular questions like, “How are you?”
    4. Avoid asking close-ended questions and answering curt one-word answers. Open-ended questions, positive body language can very quickly turn small talk into deeper conversations.
    5. When encountering someone rather suddenly, at the queue, market, elevator, or anywhere, don’t get scared. Nobody bites. Smile, be polite, exchange pleasantries. If you can remember something about them, you could make conversation about.
    6. Don’t force yourself. You are under no obligation to please anyone. But if someone is making small talk with you, relax and respond courteously.
    7. If you are not enjoying yourself, excuse yourself away politely. Make a reasonable excuse like, “I need to go to the washroom,” and leave with elegance. Don’t be rash.
    8. If you want to be really great at it, practice. Make small polite conversation with everyone. Compliment people, engage with them. You will see the difference in how people perceive you.
    9. And, never ever go out of your way to make small talk.
    Image Credit: journalofsacredwork

    Image Credit: journalofsacredwork

    The best tip is probably to be yourself in a conversation. Engage in small talk like you would normally interact with friends. It’s mostly the anticipation of discomfort that wrecks the nerves and makes the whole enterprise so clumsy.
    So, if you want to talk about heavy weight stuff, like politics or life instead of mulling over weather and pop culture, go ahead and assert that. The other guy might just be waiting for someone to do so too. 

    Now that you’ve learnt small talk, why not put it to good use?

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    Views presented in the article are those of the author and not of ED.

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