Dear M & A,
File this little Heart Talk under “You need to know this because I was so shit at it that really affected my life”.
I was very shy growing up. I kind of never really fitted in anywhere. I was sporty but not a standout in any sport. I was a bit smart but not clever. I liked music but wasn’t a muso. I never really felt comfortable in any environment. I was kind of on the edge of all the groups and in the centre of none. The biggest problem was that I was never really sure about how to start a conversation. I didn’t want to look like an idiot and I didn’t know what to say.
It turned out that ultimately it doesn’t matter what you say, sometimes you just need to say something, anything really. (It’s also OK to look like an idiot every once and a while). The art of striking up a conversation is called ‘Small Talk’ and it’s called that for a reason. The talk is small, often inconsequential and sometimes meaningless but that doesn’t matter. You’re either just trying to kill time, be friendly or find some common ground that will lead to a bigger conversation.
It took me years to overcome my perception that small talk was superficial and insincere. But once I realised that the smallness of it was the strength, and not the short-coming, it became much easier. You need it because you can’t just start talking about the deeper topics without getting to know each other better. It builds a bridge between you. It warms the conversation up. It’s like foreplay for the mind.
Here are some things you need to know about small talk.
- It’s OK to talk about superficial shit. News. Sports. Movies. People you might have in common. Travel. Cars. Clothes. Compliments. Even the weather is OK. (WARNING: If you are going to talk about the weather it helps if something unusual has happened like a flood and you’d better have a good follow up as well.)
- Keeping up with the news, reading books and magazines, watching movies, travelling and being open to new experiences are all great ways to find conversation starters.
“Have you seen the latest…”
“Have you been to that new restaurant…”
Avoid politics; it’s the STD of conversations.
- It’s all about asking questions. People love talking about themselves. And questions open up new pathways for the conversation to wander down. “Which team do you follow?” leads to “Who’s your favourite player?” leads to “Do you get to many games?”
- You really don’t need to be interested or care about what they have to say but it’s nicer if you do.
Engaging in small talk isn’t that hard. Engaging in small talk that’s engaging is an art form but it comes with practice. If I’ve done something right, you’ve both been practicing this for years without even knowing.