Yesterday I was talking about Small Talk secrets in an online webinar. I hope you joined us online, but if not, here is a short outlook of my ideas.
People often find small talk frustrating, even the native speakers. But why? The definition is it’s an ‘informal and friendly conversation about unimportant subjects’ (Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary). Why would it be so hard to talk about something nice and easy? Well, from the point of view of the many, because we get lost in the choice of topics and because we don’t want to waste our time on meaningless stuff. I will disagree here.
Small Talk is valuable for establishing connection and trust. It gives us a great opportunity to ‘warm up’and to see if we are ready to move to more close contact with the people we are talking to.
I think it’s important to remember that not every small talk conversation is intended for something. It can be just one phrase and you can stop anytime you want. Who knows maybe the next person will ask you a question which will be highly important for both of you and you will get lost in the conversation?
From my experience, many people hate small talk because they are missing a couple of important things about it.
First, you need to be natural or don’t even start. All the advice about ‘active listening’ and ‘compassionate communication’ works only if you train yourself properly and reach the mastery level in the technique. If you just repeat phrases from some Youtube video you watched, you look mechanical and insincere. How can people trust you if you are feeling uncomfortable? So, the first thing is to find the value in every small conversation FOR YOU and be yourself to be able to enjoy it.
And the other thing. I will never get tired of talking about it. We don’t listen to what other people say! We don’t! It’s crazy but most people think about what to say next (including grammar and vocabulary struggles of those learning a language) or just don’t pay any attention to what other people are saying. If you know what to say before the other person finishes speaking, communication doesn’t happen!
The most productive way to keep the conversation going is to respond to ONLY the last phrase you just heard. Not to comment on the topic on the whole. Not to remember what you read about it or what your mom says. Your task is to listen to the end, take a moment to realize what you just heard and react to that. It will help you be relevant, it will show your partner you care and you really can learn something interesting about your partner which will help to establish the connection between the two of you. I rarely hear people do that. Come on, I will confess, I don’t always do that. But I am working on it because it DOES work, just try.
As I told you before, you don’t need to fight through every small talk you have to do. It should be casual, no hard feelings at all. But this skill is learnt, it’s not a talent, believe me. Many famous people, including outstanding public speakers, tell about the frustration they had at first when being in a situation of talking to people casually between the events or meetings. And all of them say it’s getting easier with practice.
So, if you are an English learner, it’s double-hard on you. You also have grammar to struggle with!
Well, if your attitude is right, I will give you one grammar recommendation. I am sure it will help.
When we learn a language, we mostly learn to answer questions. We wait for the question from our teacher to start speaking. When we practise, we also feel more confident when answering questions than asking them. This is what my students often ask for help with. Asking questions. We are less trained to do that, and we are afraid to make a mistake, so, it’s better not to say anything at all. When asked, we will have to answer the question, and this is what we are more confident in doing. But small talk (as most of the social interaction) is an exchange of questions and ideas. You need to be able to do both.
So, pay attention to training asking questions. When you feel confident in it, you will communicate with much more freedom! In the webinar, I am giving two simple ways of asking questions in casual conversations. I now recommend you to watch the video for learning them and for training with us. It’s a short practice, but it will give you directions for further training.
Watch the replay of the webinar here: