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

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