Wednesday, April 8, 2015

How to make good small talk

(Image from The Wall Street Journal; click to enlarge)

The Wall Street Journal reports that we are getting less and less good at the art of elegantly starting, sustaining, and stopping conversations. (With strangers, maybe, but even with friends and family!)

It says that so much of our lives have moved online, we've become less adept at in-person interactions.

(I myself am guilty. I sent out a total of 6 e-mails and exchanged 178 text messages, and spoke in person with just maybe 11 people all day today: three of them were my family; two of them were Starbucks baristas; four were my kids' teachers; one was my bank teller; and another person was a parent at Collin's school.)

In the WSJ article "How to Be a Better Conversationalist," Dr. Bernardo J. Carducci, the director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast, notes the following key steps that can help develop our conversational intelligence:

-- "Getting Started" stage: You signal your desire to talk with a simple opening line based on something both of you are observing or experiencing in your shared surroundings. ("Hot enough for you?")

-- "Personal Introduction" stage: You should mention something about yourself, state your name if appropriate and provide hints for topics to talk about. ("It seems like the whole city is on vacation this week.")

-- "Pre-Topical Exploration" stage: You and your conversation partner are looking for common ground. This is a good time to ask questions, and to refer back to and build upon things said earlier. ("Did you get a chance to get away this summer?") When the other person introduces a topic, you should respond—or quickly offer an alternative.

-- "Post-Topical Elaboration" stage: Your job is to keep the conversation going. "Good conversation is topic-building," says Dr. Carducci, so you should make links between subjects. ("I took a 'staycation' and saw some excellent movies.")

(The article adds that as in every stage, you should be careful not to talk too much but don't let the other person hog all the airtime, either. If this starts to happen, mention something about yourself when he or she takes a breath.)

-- "Wrap Up" stage: Here, you signal that the end is near and show appreciation ("Nice chatting with you.") Demonstrate that you were listening by summarizing highlights of the conversation ("Thanks for those movie recommendations.") Look for a way to stay in touch, if you would like—offer a business card or ask if the person is on Facebook.

Great tips, right?

(For Dr. Carducci's book "The Pocket Guide To Making Successful Small Talk," click here.)

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