Small talk is often stigmatised as dull, boring, awkward, shallow and a waste of time ‘I have no time for it’ say some. Uber are even trialling a ‘quiet preference’ to shut out any chance of small talk.
But I have been enjoying meeting a lot of new people recently and for those occasions, small talk has proved invaluable in getting to know each other before moving on to deeper levels of conversations and genuine relationships.
I believe that light weight natter creates a relaxed atmosphere and gives out signals about ourselves such as that we are socially intelligent, empathetic and warm. And, as so much research shows, communication is not all about what we say: words take a back seat, as we read people mainly through body language and tone of voice.
Once we have gently sussed each other out we can then, if we want, safely move on to ‘big’ talk. And when we have got to know people well, what is lovely is that we can switch from one to the other at ease. For instance, my colleague and friend Fran and I have conversational ‘dances’, moving from talking about what movies we plan to see to developing workshop content - small and big talk coexisting.
“People often sneer at it, but small talk is hugely significant” – Eva Wiseman
Here’s my top five small-talk tips:
- Do a little homework: have something current to talk about, such as the news headline or new book/film release.
- Remember names: slow down and stay present, repeat the name and speak your own name clearly.
- Draw people out: ask questions, such as ‘How was your day?’ ‘What is your favourite place to visit?’ People generally like to talk about themselves.
- Be a great listener: create a flow by asking follow-up questions to what you are hearing.
- Pay genuine compliments: shoes and jewellery are my favourites – compliments are the nicest things.
Happy small and big talking….