Small Talk. If you don’t like it, you’re not alone. In fact, 92% of Americans say they feel uncomfortable during “small talk” conversations and try to avoid them. Just kidding, I made that statistic up but it’s believable, right? I have never met a single person who says they enjoy small talk and try to avoid networking and other situations that require it.
Why? Because it is artificial. From the moment it begins, signature small talk feels like it puts a boundary and limitation around the potential of the conversation. People who like to communicate feel limited and unnatural and people who don’t like to communicate by nature feel forced and awkward.
Ick! Boring, awkward and often pointless since it usually ends with no deeper connection and both parties departing feeling indifferent. Small talk is just the only way most of us learned how to connect with others around us. It was the only way we learned to “break the ice.”
But the truth is, we have been silently guided by our society to never go “too deep too soon” or be obvious in our quest to connect with the community around us. Because “Hi, I feel like talking to you right now,” “I need more friends,” or “Hello, you look nice and I long for human interaction” would come across as overly needy and flat out strange.
So what can we do? Lets use our awareness on this issue and activate our communication skills to turn the dreaded small talk into small acts of kindness.
Lets think about this for a moment. What is the goal? If the goal is to connect, to begin something new or just to pass the time together in a more positive and less awkward way, why not use that time to make each other feel better and happier?
People communicate to make connections with other people. To feel good. Feel Important. Needed. Noticed.
Next time, try to ditch the small talk and use one of these ideas below. Notice how you feel. Does the person react differently to you? Does the conversation elevate? Do you feel better or worse? Was it more or less comfortable?
As with anything new, practice is important. So play around with this and try it often. After some initial adjustments, you will find yourself feeling more confident and comfortable in any surrounding, sans small talk!
A genuine compliment is so easy to give and yet we rarely do it. It makes other people feel amazing just hearing a few nice words, especially when they least expect it. You can compliment someone on their looks or something they have. But you can also compliment someone on how they behave.
Now as a caution, this can backfire if your compliments are not appropriate for your environment. Complimenting someone is not the same as flirtation.
The goal is to make someone else feel good, not uncomfortable.
People like to feel needed, helpful and appreciated. While sometimes you really need to ask someone a question, this can also be a communication method to help break the ice.
Also, many people enjoy talking about themselves, so asking them a question or follow-up question and practicing your listening skills is a great way to come off as an expert communicator.
If you don’t know what questions to ask, you can always work on generic follow-up questions that help open up a conversation deeper. The goal is to ask something that is open-ended and makes the other person engage a bit more.
The key with this is knowing when to stop. Asking too many questions can make people shy away or close up. Asking one or two open-ended questions that make people feel interesting and valued is perfect.
Hold a door open, hand someone them a straw or a napkin. Let someone running late or with children cut in line ahead of you while in a long line. Small random acts of kindness are rare these days and really makes you stand out as a good, generous and kind person — with almost no effort.
Plus, you never know who you might bump into or connect with. Offering something simple to another person could open the door to a business card, new dream job or relationship!
Again, appropriateness is key. Offer to hold the door open at the store or coffee shop, not their apartment.
Non verbal communication is 90% of what you communicate to others. It is amazing how often we skip an opportunity to connect with other people around us.
We keep our heads down, don’t smile or connect with eye contact. Some of this is a learned behavior to stay safe from strangers when vulnerable, but it was not intended to be the norm. Mobile and electronic devices contribute heavily to this issue, but it’s also just become a bad habit. But more important to be aware of, it may be that you keep from making eye contact and smiling at others because you don’t want to be seen. Because you fear being noticed or, circling back to the initial topic, dislike small talk and awkward beginnings.
Just try it again. Smile. Light up your face. Connect with eye contact and confidently say “Hi” or “Hello, have a great day!” You will be surprised how good it feels to do this and how positively others respond to it and to you. Because fundamentally, people do crave connections and communication more deeply than they realize.
Today, many signals get mixed up. Social media provides an artificial social scene providing attention, but minimal connection. Someone who may be craving a feeling connection and validation may instead seek a new relationship or sexual experience, when all they really needed was a compliment or to be noticed.
Just as we can mistake thirst for hunger, we can confuse our very normal inner desire to connect with others as loneliness or isolation. Affirm today that you want to contribute to a better community and work on turning boring small talk into small acts of kindness to make someone’s day!
By Katya Juliet Buzzword Consulting