What’s the deal with small talk? Most of us find it awkward and uncomfortable, and we kind of wince and cringe our way though it. Small talk can be a little bit painful, but it’s an important part of social bonding and relationship building. So, instead of avoiding it, here's a sure fire formula to get you through any situation where you have to 'small-talk'.
The real reason for small talk
We all have jobs and hobbies that involve working with people; colleagues, customers, clients, peers and teammates. We have to engage in small talk and other social pleasantries every day – so why not make it easier for yourself? Once you have a formula for small talk, it will become one of those skills that makes life a little bit more fun, pleasant and exciting, and actually creates benefits for you in the long run.
And, just so you know, you're not the only one who thinks that small talk is pointless and annoying...even anthropologists say that small talk seems like "purposeless expressions of preference or aversions, accounts of irrelevant happenings, [and] comments on what is perfectly obvious." – Bronislaw Malinawski, Anthropologist and Ethnographer
So, small talk itself doesn’t mean much, but the underlying gesture behind it makes up the basic fabric of social cohesion. You could say that it’s part of a greater social dance that is actually common and ritualistic in nature. Anthropologists have found that small talk is part of the mechanism that builds social bonds – even though it seems awkward and uncomfortable, it's still an important part of life.
Simply put, small talk can be painful if you don’t know why you’re doing it. But, that doesn't mean we should avoid it. Here's how you can have some great small talk with anyone.
Start by using the FORD technique
The FORD technique is a basically a really useful acronym to keep the conversation rolling and avoid any uncomfortable pauses.
F = Family
O = Occupation
R = Recreation
D = Dreams
These topics are full of meaning for all of us. They’re topics that we all have in common and have a lot to say about.
Using the FORD technique, here are some conversation starters:
How’s your family?
What do you do for work?
How do you wind down on the weekends?
What have you always wanted to do, but never gotten the chance to?
The 3 hidden benefits of small talk
1. It increases your intelligence
When you’re talking with someone whom you don’t know very well, you’re listening and focusing on what they’re saying so you can get clues about who they are and what they care about. What you’re doing is using your problem solving skills to ask calibrated questions that are engaging for that person. You’re leaning how to paint a mental picture of them by piecing disparate bits of information together – it’s actually pretty amazing that our brains are doing this on the fly!
2. It’s unpredictable
Engaging in small talk is exciting because you never know what you’re going to hear, or where the conversation may take you. The possibilities are endless; you could be surprised, amazed, educated and moved, all in the same conversation.
3. It makes you a better communicator
We’re all capable of speaking and listening, but are we really masters of it? Just because we’ve been doing it our entire lives doesn’t mean that we’re doing it to the best of our ability. Engaging in frequent small talk helps you to listen intently and speak intentionally, so that the other person remains interested enough to want to continue the conversation. It’s a really important skill, especially now when conversations are happening all the time, on screens, airways, bus stops, coffee shops and in our workplaces.
Small talk teaches you valuable interpersonal skills
The key for great small talk is to be pleasant and engaging, you don’t have to be brilliant or profound. Just pay attention to the social queues and respond appropriately – each time adding more meaning and investment to the interaction. By actually doing it, you’ll learn how to initiate, sustain and close a conversation naturally – and, you’ll also find ways to inject humour into an otherwise awkward interaction. You’re now building up your interpersonal skills, which will help you build strong relationships, engage your clients, influence your stakeholders, build rapport, and build a strong sense of trust with the people in your life.
See...small talk is no small thing after all.