The Essential Secret of Small Talk Success
“But I hate small talk!” my wife exclaimed one day. “I’d rather just get to the interesting stuff.” Once upon a time I possessed similar views. I perceived small talk as a necessary evil. But when you study exceptional conversationalists enough, you realize the true value of small talk. Humans need to be socially greased before the conversational wheels really start humming along into deeper topics. It’s hard to get to know anyone until you proceed through the necessary levels of conversation.
The Small Talk Mindset
Small talk success starts with the adaption of the small talk mindset. The small talk mindset is about pivoting the conversation around the fleeting nuances of “the present moment.” Actively volunteer feelings and observations that take place in real time. Talk about what you just did, are doing, or want to do soon. For example, “I can’t believe we made it here…this place is great…I’m so hungry…I could eat everything on the menu.” And even talking about the talk itself, can work. For example, “Wow I sound like I haven’t eaten in two weeks don’t I? I need to control myself.”
Lower Your Standards
Many of you reading this have high standards for conversation. I know I used to. It’s time to lower them. Half of small talk “skill” isn’t anything practical – it’s mental. Remove the pressure to perform and impress, and your nerves relax. Successful small talk stems from training your brain to be less picky. It’s about being okay with occasionally saying a mistake or something silly. Authentic comments can often be the most interesting and fun. Subsequently laughing at your own mistake is all part of the small talk game.
Take Down Your Mental Roadblocks
Say what first comes to mind. Small talk is about acting on your feelings and initial thoughts without over-analyzing. Try it with some friends. Be present in the moment. If you have trouble coming up with something to say, you’re likely putting up too many mental road blocks – expressions can’t escape past all the “that’s too stupid” or “that won’t work” or “that’s not clever enough” inner doubts. Do you find that your conversations with your best friend are better than with other people? It may be the result of the mental roadblocks you take down when you’re talking with your friend.
Make a game out of talking about very ordinary things. Aim to achieve the most simplistic conversations possible. See how many you can have over the next week. Talk about the ham sandwich you made for lunch. Talk about filling your car up for gas. You’ll probably be surprised that most people will still listen and respond. You need to be comfortable with the most basic levels of conversation before any other type.