Developing the Art of Small Talk

I have talked to many individuals about their opinion on ‘small talk.’  Americans seem to be notorious at this, but in the end I find most people think it is superficial.  Do you think it is superficial? I can see that.  Some people usually dismiss ‘small talk as a mere chitchat, an unnecessary’ waste of time.  But in many ways, the beginnings of a good ‘small talk’ can help us get connected to friends, colleagues and future employers.  Small talk is the beginning to any relationship process.

What is small talk?  People use this strategy to signal a friendly intent to a new individual.  Basically, it is a way to get the other individual to like you.  (For whatever reason that might be.)  Developing your ‘conversational intelligence’ might be more important for your personal life and future career than you realize.  Why you might ask?  Because small talk is the basics of relationship building and relationship building is LIFE.

The most important point to remember from this topic:  Focus on the Other Person.  People love to talk about themselves.  Make it easy for the other person to get involved in the conversation and make them feel invited.  Besides the more talking the other person does is the less talking that you will have to do.  This will be greatly confronting to individuals that do not usually like meeting new people and developing small talk.

Review these steps before your next social gathering:

  1. Signal your desire to begin a conversation with a simple opening line.  “What do you think of this event?”
  2. Your personal introduction.  This is the best time to state your name if appropriate and provide hints for future conversation.  “New York is beautiful this time of year.  Don’t you agree?”
  3. Look for common ground.  In this process, you are searching for a topic that you both have in common.  Ask questions and build upon what has already been said.  If you find a common topic, run with it!
  4. Keep the conversation going.  Try to build the topic.
  5. The ‘Wrap Up.’  This is the time when you signal that the end is near and show appreciation for talking to that person.  “It was nice chatting with you.”  Show that you where listening by restating highlights from the conversation and make sure to leave on a good note.  Suggest ways to stay in touch: email, Facebook or a business card.  Continue to grow the relationship that you had begun.

The five steps of this process should feel as causal as you possibly can make it.  If you are nervous, remember the other person might just be as nervous.  Many people are not good at meeting new people, but that is what practice is for.  Being able to develop and keep an interesting conversation will greatly help you in career and life.

Two important points to remember:

  1. Ask a lot of questions.  People do love to talk about themselves and many times they will leave the conversation positively if you allow them to do this.
  2.  Listen.  Summarize what the other person says and try to listen as intently as possible.  Everyone has a voice, and they like to be heard.

If you want further reading on this topic go pick up this book, Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”  Or visit the WSJ for the original article. 


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