Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘small talk

How small talk can turn into smart conversation

Imagine almost any situation where two or more people are gathered—a wedding reception, a job interview, two off-duty cops hanging out in a Jacuzzi.

What do these situations have in common?

Almost all of them involve people trying to talk with each other. But in these very moments where a conversation would enhance an encounter, we often fall short.

We can’t think of a thing to say. (Especially riding in car, and expecting anyone to just ask you a question that is not coming)

Or worse, we do a passable job at talking. We stagger through our romantic, professional and social worlds with the goal merely of not crashing, never considering that we might soar.

We go home sweaty and puffy, and eat birthday cake in the shower.

We at What to Talk About headquarters set out to change this.

Below, a few tips for introverts (and everyone else) on how to turn small talk into big ideas at the next Social Obligation Involving Strangers:

Ask for stories, not answers

One way to get beyond small talk is to ask open-ended questions. Aim for questions that invite people to tell stories, rather than give bland, one-word answers.

(Note: The newly married girl expecting a child asked her dad in the car: How did you behave when mom was about to deliver and how often were you in the hospital witnessing the birth… And the father told many stories)

Instead of . . .
“How are you?”
“How was your day?”
“Where are you from?”
“What do you do?”
“What line of work are you in?”
“What’s your name?”
“How was your weekend?”
“What’s up?”
“Would you like some wine?”
“How long have you been living here?”

Try . . .
“What’s your story?”
“What did you do today?”
“What’s the strangest thing about where you grew up?”
“What’s the most interesting thing that happened at work today?”
“How’d you end up in your line of work?”
“What does your name mean? What would you like it to mean?”
“What was the best part of your weekend?”
“What are you looking forward to this week?”
“Who do you think is the luckiest person in this room?”
“What does this house remind you of?”
“If you could teleport by blinking your eyes, where would you go right now?”

Break the mirror

When small talk stalls out, it’s often due to a phenomenon we call “mirroring.” In our attempts to be polite, we often answer people’s questions directly, repeat their observations, or just blandly agree with whatever they say.

Mirrored example:
James: It’s a beautiful day!
John: Yes, it is a beautiful day!

See? By mirroring James’s opinion and language, John has followed the social norm, but he’s also paralyzed the discussion and missed a moment of fun.

Instead, John needs to practice the art of disruption and move the dialogue forward:

Non-mirrored example:
James: It’s a beautiful day!
John: They say that the weather was just like this when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. If that actually happened. (The odds is that the weather tomorrow will be as today?)

See? Now James and John are talking! Be provocative. Absurdity is underrated.

Leapfrog over the expected response

An even better way to break the boring-conversation mirror is to skip over the expected response, and go somewhere next-level:

Instead of :
Ron: How was your flight?
Carlos: My flight was good!

Beverly: It’s hot today.
Gino: Yeah, it sure is hot.

Riz: What’s up?
Keil: Hey, what’s up?

Try:
Ron: How was your flight?
Carlos: I’d be more intrigued by an airline where your ticket price was based on your body weight and IQ.

Beverly: It’s hot today.
Gino: In this dimension, yes.

Riz: What’s up?
Keil: Washing your chicken just splatters the bacteria everywhere.

Go ahead, be bold. Upend the dinner table conversation!

Turn small talk into big ideas at the next summer wedding reception you’re forced to attend! You never know which ideas will be worth spreading next.

This excerpt is adapted with permission from What to Talk About: On a Plane, at a Cocktail Party, in a Tiny Elevator with Your Boss’s Boss by Chris Colin and Rob Baedeker (Chronicle Books).

Patsy Z shared TED link, August 5 , 2015·
Tips from a comedian and a journalist on the art of going from small talk to big ideas. Try these out at the dinner table.
t.ted.com

Should Small talk be banned?

How small should be these talks?

What is your relationship with God? (That’s a characteristic example of futile small talk to me). What is something you fear in life?

These may be great topics for conversations, but we rarely tackle such meaty topics at social gatherings.

Instead, our discussions usually centre around summer travel plans, the latest home repair horror story and, of course, the weather. (What’s wrong with these topics?)

This is a shame, because research has confirmed what most people know but don’t practise: surface level small talk does not build relationships and it is not great for our happiness levels. (I beg to differ)

The obvious question: if it’s not that good for us, why does it prevail?

The sad answer is that we actively seek the lowest common denominator. When left to our own devices, we have the freedom to discuss what we want, but we also feel the pressure to pick a topic that will be socially acceptable and easy for anyone to participate in – the uninteresting hallmarks of small talk. (Do you discuss that freely within your tribe?)

To better understand this problem of social co-ordination and what we can do about it, we arranged a dinner party.

Usually dinner parties involve two social co-ordination problems.

The first is arrival times: if everyone arrives at different times, the party always seems to be in flux – “getting going” or “dying down”. (Do everyone knows that this dinner is meant for heavy discussion topics?)

The second is one of conversation topics: no single person will take the social risk of talking about complex personal issues with mere acquaintances. ( Au contraire: they are more open with strangers)

The alternative is surface chat that makes no lasting impression on anyone.

Daniel Pink shared this link. Yesterday at 12:59am ·

Hate small talk? Dan Ariely has a solution: A dinner party where guests must talk about only big, meaty issues.

wired.co.uk|By Kristen Berman  21 Sep 2016

According to a 2010 study by social anthropologist Kate Fox, in Britain, more than nine in ten people admit to having talked about the weather in the last six hours. Around 38 per cent say they’ve talked about it in the past hour.

And when was the last time you heard someone say, “I wish we had another 45 minutes to get into the weather in more depth”?

To help combat the problem of co-ordination, we added one simple variable to this dinner party – rules.

1) Show up between 7:30-8pm. If you can’t make 8pm, don’t come.

2) Absolutely no small talk. Only meaningful conversation is allowed. (They all will skip the 8 pm deadline)

These rules eliminated some individual freedoms in favour of better outcomes for everyone. Ninety per cent of invitees RSVPed within the day, many asking for clarification on the rules: “What exactly is small talk? Sports? Travel? My job?”

Not only were they curious about the rules, they liked having them – and nobody wanted to break them.

At 7:30pm, the night of the dinner party, we were sitting and waiting for the guests to arrive. At 7:45pm, we were nervous. No one had arrived. Guests had only 15 more minutes.

At 7:46pm, the doorbell rang. It did not stop until 7:54pm. 25 guests had arrived. The last two guests arrived at 8:05pm and, after some internal debate, we allowed them in. The benefit of having the whole group together from the start amplified the experience for everyone. (internal debate must be forbidden)

Next, the second rule was triggered. To help co-ordinate the conversation, we provided big index cards (now the fun can begin?) with examples of meaningful conversation starters.

The 27 gender-mixed guests discussed if and how to hold public officials accountable for their actions. We found out who (besides our significant other) would give up a kidney if we needed one. (To be meaningful, someone in the group must be needing a kidney)

We debated the theory of suicide prevention. We talked about the art of the dominatrix. (dominatrix? should every term be explained in the discussion?)

Midway, something interesting happened.

We hear: “Hey! Is that small talk?” The guests not only abided by the rules, but they also enforced them. Instead of decreasing freedom, people appeared freer to talk about the things they really wanted to talk about.

By establishing a common rule for behaviour we created an environment with a new set of social norms that redefined peoples’ best interests.

And everyone was happier. (Questionnaires were distributed?)

As added proof, two dates came out of the evening. Perhaps meaningful conversation also makes us more attractive?

The basic idea is that if every individual is free to act as they please, the combination of these individual behaviours might be sub-optimal for the group. (sub-optimal? Are we optimizing a production?)

This problem is clear in social gatherings, but it has other applications, such as for email.

Email is turned on 24-7. If we want to email a question on Saturday morning from the coffee shop, we have the freedom to hit send.

Even though our ability to get our question answered quickly benefits us in the short term, it is easy to see how this snowballs into a culture of compulsively checking email.

Outside of personal sacrifices made to stay on top of the continuous stream of email, this behaviour is detrimental – it distracts workers from their top priorities and could make the entire workplace move slower, not faster.

So what should we do? We could add co-ordination and create a new set of social norms. (Keep adding norms to reach the level of vomiting)

What if companies told people that email will only be delivered during just three pre-specified times? This would set the expectations of the senders, and reduce the need of the recipient to continuously monitor their email.

In situations where individuals normally have freedom, social co-ordination in some areas is likely to have surprising benefits. So at your next dinner party, remember the wine, the music and the rules.

Dan Ariely is James B Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics at Duke University and Kristen Berman founded Irrational Labs, a non-profit behavioural consulting company, with Ariely.

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