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Ash. Spiritual. Happy in my own way. Writes Random Stuff. Ice Cream. Night owl. Ice Cream, again.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Art of Small Talk.

Thank you Blogadda :-)


A few weeks back, I conducted a session on Client Communication for a group of associates at work. The session contains a slide on Small Talk. So before proceeding with the agenda, I tried to engage in small talk with the participants, without mentioning why I was doing so. There were about 15 people who had turned up early. I spoke about how it was nice to see people turning up before the session started, and how the system was taking all the time to boot. I tried to get into a conversation, so I looked at one lady and told her that I’d remembered seeing her previously. I asked vague questions about with Block she was from and she started responding. 

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After this small exercise, I proceeded with the agenda and when it came to small talk, I reminded them of the conversation I’d tried to initiate earlier. I was trying to convey the importance of small talk and what topics one can opt for when one of them said it was practically impossible to know what the other person might be interested in talking. Apart from general weather and non-controversial topics, I tried to explain that it wasn’t that difficult and we would probably need a few basic questions to get through. He wasn’t completely satisfied. So, I told him I could initiate a conversation with anyone in the room.

I asked someone to volunteer. I asked him the mode of transport he used, and he said he used the office buses. I asked him whether the bus drivers were always on time. I told him how my bus driver was always on time and the many others were always late. I gradually shifted the focus from bus timings to office timings. I told him how it was mandatory for me to reach by 9, and he told about how he needed to be in his module only by 10. And we ended it there.

The person who had asked for this demo, wasn’t entirely impressed. So I suggested that he volunteer and gave him the option of being someone else (client, manager, VP) so that I could try all possible questions. For reasons not known to me, I could sense that everyone was visibly excited. I was a little worried if this person would say no, just for the sake of it but proceeded any way. He said he would be a Manager. I said that I would be a Manager too, and told him to assume that we were meeting in a conference room, waiting for a few more people to join. 

Initially I started off asking if he had any idea how long the meeting would go, or why the meeting was scheduled on a Monday. He purposely answered in as few words as possible. I tried to steer the conversation to a different topic, and casually asked about his weekend. I was hoping he would say something, so that I could lead from there and get into a conversation. He said he had watched a movie. I told him how difficult I found it to get tickets and asked him how he booked his tickets. He got excited and told me about how the bookings open every Wednesday midnight for the week and he gave me a detailed explanation. Having succeeded in making him talk, I told him that I was new to the city and asked him for suggestions. He started speaking enthusiastically and suddenly stopped, having realized that we were having a conversation. 

Once the session was over, I was wondering if I was able to initiate a conversation because it was easier for me (being comparatively talkative), or if the questions I asked prompted the other person to talk well. They say small talk is important, as it helps you establish a rapport with the other person. It can also help avoid the awkward silence when you’re waiting for someone to join. They stress the importance of small talk, especially when you meet someone in person and is even considered rude when someone is trying to initiate a conversation (in a formal environment) and you don’t respond. Of course this is not applicable when people want to know about personal information or is random strangers want to initiate a conversation with you (All I’m saying is, that is an entirely different topic). Yes, it may not come easily to others, but with practice anything is possible.

I'm not saying it works at all times, but from my experience I feel this is very important for networking. I've connected with a lot of people across the organization, across accounts and across various levels. I might not work with them on a daily basis, but when I do get a chance to meet them, I realize people remember me better and there is no need of an introduction again. In a huge organization, that does matter, right? Even in non-professional environments, when you go to an event you do come across people who may share similar interests, this does play a good role.

So, have you ever had to initiate small talk with someone? How was your experience, do share it with us! 


40 comments:

  1. Oh am the first one here today! Small talk helps even when you do not know someone as any information with right filter can be useful or interesting !

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    1. Very true Sir. I've been lucky enough to establish a good rapport with many fellow passengers that way. More on the informal context in another post :-)

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  2. Small talks certainly helps in relaxing the atmosphere and most people respond amiably barring the stiff upper lips or the status conscious boors.But one has to be resourceful and witty to carry on small talks successfully.

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    1. Yes, we need to judge if that is the best time to have a small talk. And yes, the intent is to ease the atmosphere and if people don't know each other, it would put everyone at ease.

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  3. Ash thank you for this post--it is very helpful for me--i only know how to listen--not talk.Now you have given me ideas.I will put them in practice--love you !

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    1. Wow! To think that someone who writes wonderful posts on Emotional Intelligence and other tricky topics found my post helpful.I'm flying in the air :-)

      Thank you so much and you're welcome :-)

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  4. Good one , yes small talks helps a lot to get to know people and proceeding with the conversation further .

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  5. I can talk with people whom I know or people who are familiar with me. But I find it difficult to indulge in small talk with complete strangers, when I meet them in events, etc. I am trying to get better at that - I guess more practice is required, especially for former introverts like me!

    Destination Infinity

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    1. Once we all get comfortable with those around is, no one is an introvert :-)

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  6. That's a very endearing quality, Ash. I generally don't initiate small-talk (Things get awkward way too quickly, if I do); but if someone else initiates it, I also get comfortable way too quickly. I have what they call the "Starting Problem." :D
    I can have uninhibited conversations with people whom I know very well; else I tend to keep my conversations very short. :)

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    1. Do you think I haven't been in awkward situations Akshay? I have, and that is what I'd proudly say 'experience' ;-)

      It depends on you, the person with whom you interact and of course the environment.

      Thanks Akshay :-)

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  7. I am so very bad at small talk, I would just sit and not say a word.. I dont know what to say and usually i say the wrong thing :)

    BUt I am a good listener, I can listen for a long long time


    Bikram's

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    1. We do need people like you who would listen patiently out of interest, and not just to reply :-)

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  8. I am not really good at initiating a conversation. But then if I am in my comfort zone , I can go on talking.
    At least now I know how I can start one after reading this.

    After reading some of your posts, I really love the profession you are into! It must be really fun to meet many people and socialize.

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    1. Glad that it helped :-)

      And does it seem that way? Interesting :-)

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  9. I am good at it and I like it. It's always good to ease off before venturing into something formal.

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  10. Small talk helps to break the ice and initiates interesting conversations. Sometimes, I like to be left alone and prefer no small talk as well.

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    1. Yes, That matters too. We need to take a look at the situation we are in before initiating a conversation :-)

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  11. That's a wonderful session, Ash :)
    Yes, the weather is a favorite topic and many indulge in it. Also, they say that it's impossible for two women to be together in the same room and NOT talk! :)
    Small talk is important, impressive, interactive & interesting :)

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    1. Thanks Anita :-) That's so true with women. We cannot miss an opportunity to talk :-)

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  12. Useful post! Small talk is a wonderful way to break the ice. I've found talking about unimportant things puts the other person at ease and then, soon enough one finds some common ground to talk about.

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    1. Very true. Thats the intention. We try a few topics and eventually find a common ground. WE tend to get a little comfortable with the other person.

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  13. Not sure if my comment got published. Arrghh, I always face this issue. What I was trying to say was, like many others here said, I am not good at small talk when it comes to strangers. I usually talk to people whom I already know. I can sit in a room quietly without initiating conversation. But I do smile at people, even strangers. Interesting post Ashwini!

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    1. I'm sorry, I have no idea why that keeps happening all the time :-(

      It feels nice when people smile at us, and when we smile back :-). It's not that it's absolutely necessary. It makes people comfortable :-)

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  14. most of the people has anthrophobia... could be one reason no small talks are not encouraged

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    1. Not encouraged? I'm not sure I understood what you were trying to say.

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  15. Nice post. Just as we have people with starting problem, similarly we come across people who start the conversation, but then they start talking all by themselves without allowing the other person to speak.

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    1. Thanks :-)

      I have come across those kind of people too. I really wish they did not have to initiate the small talk at all!

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  16. I am always the first one to start a conversation. I cant pretend to not notice someone standing nearby. Small talks lead to friendship or atleast someone becoming an acquaintance.

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    1. Oh you said it! My god, we have one more thing in common :-) You never know where a conversation can take you to :-)

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  17. I find small talk funny. If you cannot get the conversation going, you end up running around in circles.

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  18. It's great that you have the knack! It certainly is a useful skill to have whether in an office setting or a social setting! I definitely use it a lot, especially to cover awkward silences!!

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    1. A very handy skill indeed. Thanks Roshni :-)

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  19. I found this really useful, Ashwini. Great stuff. Must try it some time.

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    1. Thanks a lot! Glad you found it useful. So try and let me know :-)

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