6 Steps to Mastering Small Talk for Any Situation
This is another post in a series about communication skills for introverts. The first post in here. (Affiliate links for things I buy and recommend are included.)
What is small talk?
Small talk is “polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in social occasions.” Wikipedia describes it this way: ”Small talk is an informal type of discourse that does not cover any functional topics of conversation or any transactions that need to be addressed.
Small talk is a conversation for its own sake. It’s the kind of conversation that when you come to the end you think, that’s nice. So what? Before the terms “introvert” and “extrovert” were coined, “making small talk” was a practiced skill; an important part of social etiquette.
Introverts hate small talk. We have little-to-no natural aptitude for talking about (or listening to) subjects that are inconsequential or to engage in conversation “for its own sake.” There must be a point.
On the other hand, as the second (link) definition points out, “small talk is a skill.” I agree wholeheartedly. I used to watch my grandmother, an introvert, engage masterfully in small talk because she was taught the art of small talk and she practiced.
That woman could talk about anything, or so it seemed to me. I envied her knack for cheerful chit-chat and how enamored guests were with Grammy’s “charming” nature. She was a gifted conversationalist, for sure.
What Was Granny’s Secret?
How does she do it? I wondered. After paying attention to her habits over the many years (she lived to be 100!), I noted a few keys to her success. One important key is she grew up during the 1920s when “small talk” was taught and encouraged. It was considered excellent social etiquette to be adept at making small talk. Not only that, controversial topics (politics and religion) were to be avoided…and the weather. Not for its controversy, because it’s overdone.
We live in a different time; a time of technology. We don’t have to talk. But, we do! We’re designed to relate personally, whether one on one or in large groups. We are relational beings, and we are all capable of mastering the skill of conversation.
Here are some of the big ideas I learned from Granny
1. Read A Lot
Gramms was a voracious reader, the kind of reader who would stay awake through the night reading until she finished the book. On our weekly library trips, she’d cart home thick hard-bound biographies, episodes from history, political schisms, and mysteries. If you set those books on a scale, I’m sure the needle would tip at 20 pounds. (Today, listening to books on apps like Audible shortens the time it takes to accumulate knowledge. I use Audible often to “read” nonfiction books.)
2. Stay Current on National Events
Today, you’d call Grams a news junkie. She had a news-watching routine that no one was permitted to interrupt. And she talked to that TV like any thinking person ought to. She never brought up controversial subjects, but she’d follow along in her mind if someone else did. (Tip: Use Google Alerts to notify you about topics to you want to know about.)
3. Ask Open-Ended Questions
An open-ended question can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. “Which part of the Gulf Coast do you enjoy visiting most?” is an example of an open-ended question. When your conversational partner answers “New Orleans” then ask what is it about New Orleans that draws her there. See how this works? Introverts are naturally curious. Rely on your inquisitive nature to keep the conversation rolling at a comfortable pace, void of awkward pauses.
4. Listen Carefully…So You Can Ask More Questions
Listen, introvert. Listening is natural for you already. Hone your listening skills so you can ask your conversation partner some really good questions and guide the conversation along. Train your ear to hear key words for the times when your “ears are full”, as I told my son when he was a chatty 5-year-old.
5. Ask Questions About Them
We are not as interesting as we like to think we are. Besides, introvert, do you really want the focus to be you? Since you were listening (see #4 above) to them tell you about their 36 grandkids, you now have a bedrock of material to build on to help you keep the focus on them. So build.
6. End the Conversation Gracefully
Know when the conversation has run its course, close with “I enjoyed speaking with you. Enjoy your evening.” And wonder off for a break in a quiet area.
Engaging In Small Talk Is A Skill
Grams was brought up in the ‘20s era when the art of conversation was taught like the skill that it is. We don’t do that much today. But, we should. In ministry, I’m faced with making small talk with complete strangers all the time. But, my intention is never to stay in the small talk realm. My goal is to get them to trust me and open up so we can move the relationship forward. I’m also acutely aware that I’m Christ’s ambassador so I want to represent Him as best I can.
How do you feel about making small talk? Are you inspired to practice “small talk” as a conversational skill? Join the conversation on Facebook or leave a comment below.