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May 23, 2024

The art of small talk, by Ruth Oji

The art of small talk, by Ruth Oji

DON’T  mind her. She always engages in small talk.

When you hear the expression ‘small talk’ what comes to mind? An irrelevant chatter? Light informal conversations between people who don’t know each other well? Or an expression to avoid social awkwardness? Small talk should never be seen as just idle chatter; it is a fundamental social skill that aids and builds relationships, connects you with others, and fosters professional networks. This article highlights the significance of this action in all spheres of an individual’s life and how to maximise it. 

Foremost, never see small talk as an something done in the spark of the moment. It is an art that should be mastered to allow you thrive in networking events, social gatherings, or even everyday life. Many people struggle to initiate conversations or to sustain it. You must learn the techniques in finding solace, comfortability, and common ground. Practise small talk regularly with those in your social circle to improve your confidence with others. 

It can be helpful to visualise small talk as an essential icebreaker that leads to deeper conversations. It might be impossible to discover the similarities between you and your workmate, neighbours, or strangers without small talks. Small talk is a building block that helps you to discover similar interests. Although it can be intimidating, you can begin with minor or simple topics like recent happenings, hobbies, or even weather condition. Converse with people with an open mind fuelled with a curiosity that seeks to find common interests and build deep relationships. 

Small talk is also a great avenue for opportunities. Approaching individuals or groups of people can no doubt be nerve-racking; however, if you do not talk, how do you detect what is on people’s mind or what they need? In many cases, your capabilities at maximising these opportunities of conversations and leaving a substantial impact on people determine your personal and professional growth. Prepare conversation starters that would seem more seamless to specific individuals, practise active listening when you implement them, and initiate a follow up conversation or interaction. Rather than avoid your anxieties, attend networking events, and engage in sound conversations. 

To be fair, your small talk anxiety is licit; however, it could play an important role on what impression is created. Less show of anxiety leads to better social interactions and helps the recipient feel more at ease during this casual conversation. Do not be held back by the fear of rejection, saying something wrong, or offending others; instead, focus on smiling and maintaining good posture or eye contact. Give yourself the challenge of starting up small talks with acquaintances or strangers and take to account how you improve after every try. 

Additionally, small talk bridges social gaps between people. Sadly, many social or ethnic groups have been stereotyped by individuals based on hearsays. Your small talk may be all the right opportunity to connect with people from various backgrounds and to mitigate the risks of cultural differences or misunderstandings emanating from wrong opinions. Take the bold step by learning about people from various cultures, showing genuine interest while conversing with them, and asking open-ended questions. Engage in various cross-cultural talks to broaden your perspectives and those of others. 

A big flaw of many is the habit of speaking with less or little listening skills. Listening skills are a core of successful small talk. No doubt you are interested in discussing with others, but you must demonstrate your respect for their opinions and feelings to build rapport. Distractions such as use of gadgets while speaking and showing self-centeredness may also serve as a hindrance to adequate listening skills. Give your full attention to show interest in your audience, ascertain their opinions by nodding, and ask follow-up questions to verify your understanding. Active listening does not miraculously appear, so you must endeavour to pay attention during conversations to hone this skill.

Small talks are also majorly impactful on your career growth. For some people, a first impression may go a long way on how you are perceived for a long time or all your life. Small talks in professional settings may impact your networking outcomes and how people view your capability and personality. Be adept at balancing professionalism and approachability as they many times go hand in hand. Establish a common ground in your small talk that relates to work, shared experience, and industry trends; maximise small talk as a strategy for professional relationships. 

Small talks allow you to foster empathy and understanding in interactions. Beyond what you have perceived or noticed from others’ interactions, it helps you create an additional background beyond surface-level interaction. Avoid having only superficial conversations with others, ask about their feelings on certain subjects, experiences, or personal stories. Show a genuine interest in others’ affairs. 

Furthermore, overcoming small talk barriers will aid your overall communication skills. After a series of casual conversations, your confidence and adaptation are built. You will also greatly mitigate your fear of silence or running out of subjects to discuss. Make this a reality by preparing occasion specific conversation starters, reading widely on various subjects or issues, and actively listening during talks. Envision and embrace small talks as a learning opportunity.

One of the fastest ways to be connected and compassionate stem from this process. It is a fine way to break barriers that do not foster a sense of community. Rather than chattering, prioritise meaningful conversations in your small talk that shows practicality of your compassion to the world through your words. Seek opportunities to balance small talk and transition it to deeper matters. Engage in interactions that matter, one interaction at a time. 

All in all, the art of small talk goes beyond idle chatter to building relationships, fostering professional networks, and connecting with others. It is a significant social skill that serves as an essential icebreaker to deeper connections, increases networking opportunities, improves social interactions, bridges cultural gaps, impacts careers growth, fosters empathy and understanding, and overcomes communication challenges. Practise conversation starters, show empathy and curiosity, and actively listen during conversations to hone your communication skills and create an avenue for professional growth. How do you engage in small talk? 

*Would you like to get a group/one-on-one customised training on speaking/writing? Feel free to contact me at ruthkboji@gmail.com for training solutions.

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