Youngest’s Guide to Small Talk – Parte Uno

7 Aug

Awkward moments.  Yes!  We are all faced with awkward moments at work and social settings where we are required to make ‘small talk’ with those whom we do not know that well, sometimes at all!  Now and again, we are lucky enough to encounter one who is talkative and interesting, for which small talk is a breeze.

At times, creating small talk can be uncomfortable, silent, or just plain terrible.  Getting to know an unfamiliar face not only involves verbal communication, but non-verbal cues as well.  Are your eyes looking away or pointing down whilst conversing?  Are your arms crossed, eyes rolled, or are you nervously twirling your hair out of discomfort? Are you stuttering, voicing fragments, or losing your train of thought mid-conversation?   Appearing uncomfortable when you are uncomfortable makes these situations, well, uncomfortable for everyone. 

Fortunately, I engage in ‘small talk’ with a half-to-a dozen of people on a typical work day; whether they are with patient’s I have developed a rapport with, or with someone fresh from the crop.  In most social situations, I can spark conversation with almost anyone I meet.  At times, I can read one’s body language and his/her response to my questions if he/she is into getting to know me.  Although typically uncommon, it is essential for one to be able to recognize the cues on when to end a conversation with an uninterested partner.  Do not be upset when this happens, you fascinating and sexy beast – just because a stranger is not interested in getting to know you does not mean you lack greatness.  Move on and be remarkable!

Today, I will be focusing on five basic topics I try to avoid when starting a conversation with an acquaintance or someone new.  I feel this could be very useful in a social setting, a date, or  in the work place.

Nothing screams ‘I’m really uncomfortable’ when initiate conversation involving the weather. I do not care if it is 107º in January or a blizzard in the summer.  This topic is a conversation continuer, not a starter.  If you are a meteorologist speaking to another meteorologist, by all means, you are the exception to my numero uno rulo. For the rest of us non-weather professionals, just casually integrate this subject later in the conversation.

Yes, your snot-nosed kids are adorable as hell and they do funny shit.  But please, do not try to kindle a new friendship by showing your new bestie videos of your kid riding their bike, photos of them donning a fireman suit, or posing pretty on Easter Sunday.  Pets are also included within this category – unless if they are riding their bike, then by all means show me more!

You hate your job.  We all do.  Calling your boss an asshole or elaborating on how underpaid you are does not make me want to buy you a shot or ‘friend’ you on Facebook.  If you are talking with established acquaintances, you have a 5-minute window to vent about how shitty your day is.  This is a rule that middlest has applied to my own professional life. Have an egg timer ready, but sure to read your audience.  Sometimes five minutes is five minutes too many!

This includes your hatred towards your ex lovers, how much alcohol you consumed the night prior (grow up), and intimate details on your previous sex partners.  No one cares about that shit when they are trying to get to know you for the first time.

Stop. Just stop it.  Put your ego aside and make the conversation field even.  Nothing screams insecurity and trying too hard when you excessively talk about yourself.  Stop!

On the contrary, do not avoid talking about yourself completely.  It is more uncomfortable when the other party is unwilling to cooperate with the conversation.  This is a two way street, people!

Personal Tips:

  • Nothing is worse than repeating your name to a dozen people.  Always introduce yourself clearly, pronounce your name so everyone in the group can hear you, and shake hands, wave, or hug.  When used properly, hugging can be real cute.  You can throw people off by initiating a solid high-five to any new comers added to the conversation circle.  I don’t care what Daniel Tosh says, high-fiving will always be cool!
  • Be the first to ask questions, then you can control and guide the conversation to your comfort level.  Do not interview. I do not want to have sweaty hands upon meeting you.
  •  Always ask open-ended questions. Close-ended questions are a guaranteed conversation enders.
  • Don’t you DARE look at that text message mid-conversation. Put that phone down. Look up at the person you are conversing with, not at the floor.  Please, do not stare.  Staring can be creepy and embarrassing when one calls you out on it.
  • LISTEN.  Asking questions will be easier when you listen more and talk less. If you have a hunch that one is not listening to you as you are speaking, feel free to give them a pop quiz at the end of your very important statement.

Since we are on the topic of listening, one of my biggest panic moments are when you are in the middle of a story and only one person is paying attention.  Do you continue on, call attention to the crowd, or make up an exaggerated ending to your fairytale?  I have yet to master this awkward moment…



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