I’ve never been particularly good at small talk, and I’ve been trying to cultivate it recently. In high school, there’s a little more continuity, and you see the same people frequently. Once you’re out, regular interaction with people changes, and there are more opportunities for small talk. It’s not like you’re going to talk about anything too personal. Well, some people do. I just don’t think co-workers want to hear about your egg donation (true story).
Finding topics outside of yourself to talk about is really the next step in maturity. It involves checking the weather forecast or listening to NPR…paying attention to the outside world. Thinking of questions that are polite but not generic, interested but not nosy is tricky. How much interest is too much interest?
I have difficulty telling when I should switch the focus from them to me, from them to chit-chat, from chit-chat to them, from me to them. You get the picture. Maybe I’m obsessed with finding balance in communication because of my writing background. I want to be interested, engaging, and delightful, but not too much or too little of any of those.
On the other hand, meaningful talk is rare, but necessary. Many attempts at “real” conversation turn into gossip or criticism. Eleanor Roosevelt shaped a part of how I speak to people through this quote:
Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.
Those who converse well are students of people. They observe and interact with others. In order to truly understand how to communicate with others, you can’t just watch and figure it out; you have to experiment and get your hands dirty. This is the part I don’t like, but it’s helped me to improve. I guess, in order to partake in any kind of conversation, you have to take risks. Like Helen Keller said,
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.