When Small Talk is Big

by Eric Disco
Sep 3

Karen’s so good at this, I thought to myself. I hate schmoozing.

I was in an electronic music project a few years ago and worked with a vocalist. She was an amazing singer, and really good with people.

Somehow she always managed to make great connections with people in the music business.

She’d get us into parties. And she was really good at talking to people.

I hated it. I hated the process of meeting new people and making small talk about nothing in particular.

“Can you believe this weather?”

“What are you drinking?”

“Oh my god, I need a vacation.”

I wanted to think that I was better than those people, that I only talked about meaningful things.

I never understood how people could hang out in a bar for three hours just having drinks and not talk about anything.

Karen liked small talk. And it was no small coincidence that she was also able to connect with people in a far deeper way than I did.

When you first make an effort to become more social, everything can seem like small talk. And in a certain sense, everything is small talk.

A lot of the time, we think what we are communicating is so important when in actuality just the fact that we are communicating says a lot.

When you have anxiety it is difficult to enjoy conversations for what they are. You want to speed past things and get to the end result–whatever it is you are talking to this person for.

If my music partner and I wanted a person who works for a record label to check out our music, it was difficult for me to not just try to jump to that end result.

I found it difficult to just enjoy talking to this person. And that made it feel all the more like we were “using” them.

So much of our communication is nonverbal. We are communicating subtle things in our conversation non-verbally.

Our voice tone, our body orientation and movements, our eye contact, all communicate the way we feel about ourselves.

It also communicates the way we feel about other person and the way we feel about the interaction itself.

We also communicate something by our willingness to make small talk. We are conveying that we are comfortable in the conversation, that we aren’t rushing to get through it. We are showing that we enjoy speaking to the other person.

That makes them feel good. And when you make people feel good they like you.

It could be compared to the way animals communicate. Cows in a field moo. Cats meow. Monkeys shriek. What are they saying? It would be great if we could speak their language.

But you can understand what they’re saying. They aren’t “saying” anything in the way we humans communicate. They aren’t discussing whether they should hunt for meat or search for berries. They aren’t arguing over who should carry the baby.

They are being in each other’s presence, reassuring each other, “speaking” to each other’s bodies. They may be conveying anger or fear. They may be soothing one another and letting each other know things are okay.

But whatever it is, it is direct emotional communication.

The way we communicate during small talk is very similar. A “Hi, how are you doing?” before rushing into conversation with your boss says more than a thousand facts ever could.

Small talk is very similar to physical contact. It is meaningless in every logical sense, but every touch, every handshake or high five carries with it a sense of reassurance, an emotional communication, something words could never convey.

By its very definition, we don’t need small talk. And that makes it all the more powerful. Attractive people enjoy small talk because they enjoy being in each other’s presence.

Getting comfortable with small talk has many advantages. Even when talking about the weather or that you wish it were Friday, you can convey a lot of things.

You can use that as a spring board to convey confidence in your voice, or to give a warm smile and show how comfortable you are.

You can show that you don’t need to impress them with funny jokes or get super deep before they’re ready.

And if you want to practice banter, it helps to first be comfortable talking to anyone. I will often get in an elevator and talk about nothing.

If I just exchange a “How you doin’, man?” I feel a sense of satisfaction. I enjoy it, regardless of whether they smile or laugh. But they usually do smile.

They almost always smile now. They didn’t at first. But I’ve gotten so comfortable with it that I get a good reaction close to 100% of the time.

I get people to smile not because I’m clever, but because of all the other non-verbals. They can see I enjoy it.

Be willing to have small talk. When it happens just try to relax. Don’t try to make things super meaningful with everyone. See if you can enjoy it.

Practice not caring about the outcome of the conversation, even at the smallest levels. If you don’t get a warm reaction, commend yourself for taking initiative in the first place.

And if you do have something super meaningful to say to someone, if you’ve got a great opener or deep insight, ask them how they are first. Check in with them. Exchange some small talk. Do it for yourself because it will make you more confident.

When you go to pick up your car from the mechanic, instead of just saying “I’m here to pick up my car,” first say “Hey Man, how are you doing?” And when he asks you how you’re doing, be sincere.

As you learn to appreciate yourself and the other person just for opening your mouths, you will start to find both of you will have a lot more to say.


posted in Rapport Skills

13 responses
Jason says:

Wow. I think I met you once very briefly. And man, as a writer, I think you are definitely the most down-to-earth dude I know. Good stuff, and keep on cutting through all the B.S. for us. I love it!

confusedconfusious says:

Thanks Eric, I guess its my luck; this is exactly what I was looking for. I love how you write and think, everything is so clear and so true. One question that I have for you though is, how do you suggest people work on their tone of voice during these conversations to make it seem like their really interested before they get comfortable with small talk?

Infinity says:

This is a good post, Eric. Small talk is essential. I work at a hotel and having small talk with guests is key. Plus, you never know who you could run into. I’ve had many great things happen to me just by saying hi to someone.

Half of the time, it’s because I can’t stand the silence.

Doing this with women can be a little more difficult, but if you are sincere and have high energy and confidence, it’ll be just the same.

But just like any other conversation, you can have expectations.

Good job, Eric.

relentless d says:

I honestly feel I bring joy and hapiness to every person I talk to. It wasnt long ago that I felt so alone, so closed off from everyone b/c I never reached out to a single person, but that has changed. I can see it with everyone I talk too (cashiers, students, girls, guys, old people, kids, everyone!)

Sure, there are chicks out there that get defensive and closed off cuz they think I’m hitting on them (which sux, it wasnt easy breaking out of my shell when I first ran into these, but my nervouse vibe probly caused it anyhow). But there are way more friendly people out there than you could possibly imagine, its you that will always have to find that right key and turn it in the right direction!

My first key to success was to start small…so dam small…in fact the very first thing I worked on was maintaining eye contact, and that was HUGE b/c I used to walk around with my head down everywhere I went. You cant chat with anyone if you arent aware of your surroundings. My second step (as eric has stressed) was asking the hired guns/ cashiers, and peeps “how they were doing” b4 each checkout/ question. And just for the hell of it, my first banter step was ragging on the employees for not asking how im doing…”…what? your not going to ask how Im doing? how rude!?! what type of place is this?!?! Im tellin your boss” lol.

Love this post Eric, Kudos!!!

clear says:

Excerpt from Leil Lowndes, How to talk to anybody:

“You see, small talk is not about facts or words. It’s about music,
about melody. Small talk is about putting people at ease. It’s about
making comforting noises together like cats purring, children
humming, or groups chanting. You must first match your listener’s

“… Almost anything you say at first is fine. No matter how prosaic the text, an empathetic mood, a positive demeanor, and passionate
delivery make you sound exciting….”


from: Nicolas Boothman, “How to make people like you”

“A simple formula for striking up a conversation:
Begin with a statement about the location or
occasion, then ask an open question.”….

“Open questions begin with one of six conversationgenerating
words: Who? When? What? Why? Where? How?
These words invite an explanation, an opinion or a feeling ….
Avoid closing-down words. These words will have you
playing tennis all on your own against a brick wall. The
opposite of opening-up words are these interrogatives:
Are you . . . ? Do you . . . ? Have you .. . ?”

“… Active Listening is the other side of the conversation coin….
The key to being an active listener lies in making a sincere effort
to absorb what that person is saying and feeling. ….

e.g.: Cathy: “I love heat waves like this, but the man I’m
seeing is threatening to move to Alaska without me and I
think he’s actually serious.”
Paul: “Sounds like even though you love heat waves,
you might have to move to Alaska if you want to stay
with the man you’re seeing.”
The active school means responding to feelings:
Paul: “Sounds like you have some big decisions to
make. Isn’t it upsetting? How will you handle it?”
Simply put, with “parrot phrasing” it only sounds like
you’re listening, whereas with active listening people
feel that you’re listening and feel that you care.”

“Your tone of voice tells other people how you’re feeling,
and a pleasing tonality can positively affect the way
they respond to you. Pleasing tonality occurs when your
voice comes from deep down in your body, from your
abdomen. It is deep, rich and infectious, compared to a
monotonous voice or high-pitched braying.
To improve your own tonality, practice breathing and
speaking from your abdomen. “Belly breathing,” which uses
your lungs to the fullest, is the most calming and healthy
way to breathe. You breathe more slowly and with less

PS: i always enjoy reading your posts eric, it is very profound stuff and it never loses its “human touch”.

clear says:

oh damn. i’m developing a major case of oneitis for the painted girl on top, how perverted is that ;-)

J says:

Thanks. This was a really great post. I wish more people could read these brilliant posts. I will be sure to pass along this info. to other people I meet though.

Eric Disco says:

how do you suggest people work on their tone of voice during these conversations to make it seem like their really interested before they get comfortable with small talk?

Ironically enough, the more you do this, the more comfortable you get and that helps for you to be genuine. When you are tense and nervous, your body shuts down important signals. It’s difficult for you to read the other person. When you get more comfortable, you can really listen to what they’re saying and interact with them.

To start off with, I would look people directly in the face when you talk to them. See if you can focus on the sound of their voice and what they’re saying.

Two voice tone exercises you can try are Familiar Voice Tone and Parental Voice Tone.


Corey says:

Thank you so much for this! For the past few months I’ve been trying to put my finger on what the hell my problem has always been. It’s that I hate small talk! So badly I want to instantly get to the point, get deep, know everything, or tell everything, with everyone I meet. Whether it be a boss, co-worker, friend, or cute babe, often many times I just avoid conversation all together when instead I could have just said a simple “Hello.” Many times I think I was waiting for them to show interest to make myself feel better, but I want make others happy. It’s what I live for. Big things come from small talk?

I consider myself a very friendly person, but this was a slap in the face. And, strangely, one I enjoyed.

I really enjoy your writing and look forward to the podcasts. I’m glad I stumbled across your blog.

[...] small talk shit…i really need to work on. always trying WAAAAAAY too hard and it shows. need to just chill for awhile. [...]

mojaam says:

One of the best pieces of advice I read about life in general. Well said. Thank you.

Sergio says:

Curious to know who the artist was for these pictures…

PranaBeats says:

The artist is Joerg Warda (I checked the image info, Googled for the file name and found a similar image that led me to a blog that gave me the name of the artist) http://www.warda-art.com/