Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The Not So Small: Small Talk


"There’s nothing small about small talk. Though you may think that making small talk is just a way to pass the time or avoid awkwardness, many great friendships and relationships have started with a discussion about the weather. Small talk can not only help you build a meaningful bond with a person, but it’s also a vital skill that will benefit you in the professional world "-wikiHow on small talk.

Being born and brought up in Dar-es-salaam, I have always had a constant group of friends and new acquaintances, if any, would always be through my current friends and in their presence.  Having said that, I would consider myself to be below average when it comes to making small talk at social events and gatherings. I always tend to come up with various things to say (in my head) while listening to a conversation but can never muster up the courage to actually say the words and communicate. The past month has been excruciatingly painful as I knew absolutely no one in Bangalore city during my month long internship. Whether it was dealing with new roommates at my paying guest accommodation or with seniors and colleagues, I was failing terribly at striking up any sort of conversation. I would describe myself as two totally opposite sides of the same coin, irritatingly talkative once I am comfortable with people but quite the opposite initially.

I was inspired to write this blog post after one such small talk scenario. After accepting the invitation to an office party, I was having second thoughts. Previously, all the coffee breaks at the office had been filled with interesting small talks that turned to good conversations except for the fact that I had sat silently though most of them. I promised myself that I would try to get better at small talk while having a good time at the party. Once I arrived at the party, I noticed that people began conversations with a simple compliment on each other's outfits, or style of dancing or something light and simple. Majority of the people were on the dance floor and I joined them in order to get out of having to make small talk. Later that night, I was told by my seniors who were going to arrange my ride back home that I should get a lift from a guy named Adi. I knew the time had come when I had to make a choice and this time I did not choose awkward silence.

I had not met Adi before since he worked in a different office but under the same Human Resources Department. The journey back home was a good twelve kilometers and I was going to work on my small talk skills. Getting into the car, I introduced myself and so did he. I assumed he was four to five years older than me. He began with the usual question "Where are you from?" and I have now realized that is the most interesting thing about me. On revealing that I am from Tanzania, the curiosity generally develops. I don't know if it was because Adi was from HR and had been taught on how to make small talk (yes, the team gets Learning and Development sessions to teach them such skills) or because I was helping him by answering with elaborative answers and asking a few questions in return, or a combination of both but we continued chatting throughout the ride. The topics included our education qualifications, Tanzanian politics, the need of bigger roads owning to traffic in metro cities and so much more. I also learned that both of our fathers enjoyed rally driving and that we had been taught the basics on fixing cars before we were allowed us to take driving lessons!

In the following week, I felt more confident at small talk. I began talking about simple topics like news headlines (but always on lighter topics), food, the weather, clothing etc. Now before I continue further let me put a

Disclaimer: I love deep and meaningful conversations that could educate me.  I know that there exists a group of people who would be against small talk. To them I would like to say, if you don't want to do it, it's fine as long as 'you' are comfortable with the silence.

In today's world networking is considered as an important key to success. You never know which of your contacts would help you out in the future. Another point of significance to consider before judging small talk (and my blog post) is that if you are ever going to find yourself surrounded by strangers, at parties, social events or anything along those lines, you will definitely need small talk, there is no denying it.

Therefore, I will say this: use small talk to your advantage but don't let all your conversations be like that.  If you think an individual is going to stick around, make meaningful conversation that could benefit both of you and increase their interest in you (if that's your goal).

From my personal experience and a little research on small talk online, I have got the following pointers for anyone who wants to better their small talk game:

1. Start with names and a good introduction: Names are very important and when you familiarize yourself with another individual's name they tend to feel more at ease around you. Try saying their name a few times as you chat with them this will help you remember it better. Furthermore, you should come up with a short but interesting introduction for yourself. You can use the same introduction with multiple people if you think it is working in your favor. 

2. Stick to Simple Topics: Weather (It is boring but when you have nothing to say, it will be equivalent to finding gold!), News headlines, the latest Movies (Music and Books too), compliments on clothing (and asking one where they got it from even if you don't want to buy it), something about your and their general background etc.

Don't: I have had conversations with people who have elaborated on topics such as their past relationships during the very first meeting. Don't do this. Steer clear of controversial topics like hardcore politics and religious debates.

3. Homework Helps: If you have time before an event where you know you will be having to socialize, think of a few things to discuss. It could perhaps be something about the chief guest or the purpose/ reason behind the social event. It should be a common topic relevant to the theme of the event where all parties would be able to contribute to the conversation hence saving you from doing all the talking.

4.Tackling Unpleasant Situations: There are those sad people who have met you before, several times but ignore you on purpose. Give them a lesson on social skills and remind them like so "Hello. I believe I have met you before at..."   At other times you might need to make an exit from a conversation and in such scenarios you can use several excuses like 'getting food', 'bathroom' or simply 'need to make a phone call'.

5. Save Dying Conversations: Yes, there might have been silence for more than a few seconds but that does not mean that all hope is lost. Don't hold back and just keep the conversation going. You can be a good listener and ask a question that would require the other person to elaborate example "What school do your kids attend?" or something about their parents or spouse.

Remember: You should use this only when you have been given some previous information on the same subject (Someone might have lost a dear family member).

Last but not the least, if you find the person interesting and the feeling is reciprocated be sure to exchange contact details so you may be able to keep in touch. If not, a polite goodbye should suffice.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Please leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below. Thank you for reading :)

-Nishma Khetia.

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