The Beautiful Art of Small Talk

Small talk gets the derision that it ought not to get. Well, in my opinion it is because most people do not know what it is. Striking a conversation can be hard for some and it can be a short run in the park for others. Holding a conversation is another kettle of fish altogether. Progressing the conversation to whatsoever you want is the tertiary institution of conversation.

To create connections with people, small talk helps in facilitating the “knowing session”. It is talk about the foolish nothings that help cement bonds and enable people to get to know each other. That knowing session, opens up avenues of shared interest that can be explored or at least noted.

I had a conversation some days ago with my wife and I told her I would want to be an Uber driver for at least a day. She said she knows why. I asked why and she said, “I know you would like to engage”. She was right. That is the only reason I would want to try that. I enjoy talking to people. I enjoy the engagement and hearing other people’s experience. It is my “Human Of New York” experience.

Showing genuine interest in the other person by asking questions and listening is key. Be interested rather than positioning yourself to be interesting.

Some people are to be discovered. They prefer you come into their space and then they take it from there. Most of these people are seen as introvert but they are like a pressured hose awaiting a opening. These people have their great point but at times they are seen as snubs. From what I see, they are not. They only connect with those who can “find” them. Though they do not understand the dynamics, they feel people do not have their time. So it is funny. Others think they are snubs and they think people do not have their time.

This is where small talk come in. the ability to engage without losing yourself. The ability to be genial and friendly without being overtly extrovertish. It is that fine balance of being who you are by allowing others also to be. The thing is — we are made for connection. Believe it or not, people are made for connection. We want to be loved, respected and admired.

Small talk is like trying to get into a forest. It is the small path that you are trying to create into a mighty forest. You do not know what you are going to meet in there but you know this is a forest to be explored. But you’ve got to try. At the other end is the unknown — success, failure, disdain, frustration etc.

Seek To Understand Instead Of Being Understood.

Most times, people go into a conversation with an agenda. It is one of those things that is a “no=no”. My reason is simple, when you genuinely care about people, you talk to them freely. It is not “how are you?”, followed by the awkward silence that lingers. It is sincerely asking “how are you” with some oomph and an eye of care and interest.

Let me give you some tips that might be of help.

1. There Is No Crown For The Shy — Giving yourself a reason not to engage others is a reason many cannot build a network or connect to others. I have this friend whose favourite line is “You know I am shy”. My favourite response is “there is no award for it”. This person really has a hard time getting along with people. I have told the fella “Hey’ you are my friend, and I can accept you anyhow you are, but others are not your friend. And you need to engage them”. Shyness gets you no where in life. If you need to engage, then you need to engage. If you are not interested, then you can scale back. But do not complain when others get the things you wish for — friends, promotion, accolades etc. all I am trying to say is that you need to engage and most times it starts with small talk.

2. Ask Questions. Open Ended Questions Are Better — This does magic. Open ended questions allow and enable anyone answering, the latitude and breadth to be able to answer the question is the way you want. It is entirely up to you. There is no right or wrong answer. Let’s be frank, people like talking about themselves. It makes us feel better. Na so the life just be. When you ask people about themselves, they will think you are the best conversationalist alive. It enables them to open up. When you are interested in people, they can do anything for you. Asking questions shows that you are interested.

3. Ask Follow On Question — This shows you are listening and following the conversation. People are not foolish. They can take cues and they follow your body language. Asking follow on questions shows you are interested in the conversation and it implies enthusiasm. It opens the conversation more and you get to know many other things about the person.

4. Listen — Listening is one of the most underrated skills. Let me ask you a question, how do you feel when you are talking to someone and they are checking their phones? A little cue — husbands, this is one of your mortal sins. You wonder why madam hardly talks to you. On the other hand, how do you feel when you have just one conversation with someone and the next time you meet, they remember your name in full. You feel good. It warms the heart. Right! In the same vein, when you are talking with someone and they seem not to connect with the conversation because they were distracted, it seems not to go well with the other party. When you listen to people, they feel valued. They feel “heard” and wanted. One of the not so great moments on TV is when you see an interviewer that overwhelms the interviewee. The other point you will notice is that there will be a disconnect as per the direction and momentum of the interview. When you do not listen in a conversation (small talk, big talk or medium talk), that conversation might just be the last you will have.

5. Share Your Perspective — You are not in an interview; it is a conversation. Your perspective enriches the conversation. And the other person learns something new. Imagine that in the midst of the conversation you realize that you both grew up in Kano. When the other person ends their side of the talk, you can share your experience of growing up in Kano. It might bring agreements and disagreements but most importantly, it brings up a shared point that both of you can build up on. Sometimes, you get to discover mutual friends and acquaintances and forge on with your relationship. The spark starts from a shared commonality.

6. Find Points of Connection — I actually do this actively. I have travelled to about 75% of the states in Nigeria. I think I have criss-crossed all the states. When I get to know where someone is from, I share of what I know from their part of town. Fellas always glow afterwards. It seems to say, “you know me from home”. When talking with an Arab, I throw it the few Arab words I know. I was happy to tell my Italian counterpart on a business trip, my son’s name, which is Italian. It led to many questions. We discussed all things Italian. It is sharing an event of the year someone was born or a phenomenon that the person seems many misunderstand. It is discussing “liberation theology” with some Latinos. Point of connections means “So you see me”. Being “seen” means a lot to Homo sapiens. It means I have less explanation to make, there is a common understanding. Chelsea Riviera puts it this way “Dedicating a bit of your day to knowing what is going on in the world eliminates self-doubt in conversations with new people”.

7. Read Wide — Getting to know more about the world, phenomena, people, culture, principles etc exposes you to more of the world. What it does is that it gives you more to talk about. It enables you to plug into any way the conversation slides into. And most importantly, it is a learning opportunity. In the event that you do not know what the person is talking about, it gives you the opportunity to enquire more. People love teaching others. Infact, it might be the glue that makes you both come together. Sometimes, you may not realize it — you may have been the only person that has shown interest in that part of their life.

8. Get Update Daily — Find news outlet that discuss the things that matter to you. I donate a short period of my time to hearing the perspective of others. A documentary of the same subject done by Aljazeera (Arab) is very different from the ones from CCTV (Chinese), CNN (America), Sky News and BBC. It enables you to know what is going on and most importantly how it affects you. Some of the things may not have been well understood by you or vice versa — but it gives you what to talk about in the event it comes up in your small talk.

9. Empathize — The prize for expressing genuine attention and interest is that it helps build relationships of trust. Empathy comes from perspective. It will enable you know why things are in a certain way in some parts of the world. Small tale as I said enables you not “see” the other person and hear them out. You do not have to agree but you can see the logic of the person.

10. Make It A Habit — Whatsoever you practice, you become better at. Proper practice prevents poor performance. When you keep at it, you will be amazed how far you can go and how far it becomes part of you.

Small talk no be small talk o. It leads to big things. Businesses have been built that started as chit-chat. Powerful connections made. Connecting the dots of someone you just met. Did all marriages not start as small talk eg “my mother use to like you” 😍

Let me put it out there. Not everyone is receptive to small talk. Do not take any rejection or snickering as a sign of failure. It is part of building your social and emotional muscles. As we sang in primary school “some like it hot, some like it cold”. It is not about you. Keep on keeping on.

Knowing how to initiate small talk., handle the conversation, holding it on and progressing from there makes you a genius. Trust me. That is how networks are built. Because people find you warm, genial, graceful, approachable, and accommodating. And most importantly, people make excuses for you when you are having a bad day. 😍

By all means, try not to have bad days. 😂

Hasta la vista.

The initial parts of this write up is here Possibilities & The Law Of Recognition, Possibility II: The Curious Case of Bassey & Word Problems, Possibilities III: “I Have A Dream” , Possibilities IV: Driving and Possibilities 5: Life In Reverse. You can check out my other works on personal development Asking, Managing Access In Relationships How To Ask, Authenticity, Life Skill: The Power of Saying “No”, Start Off; Look Up & Pedal Hard, 12 Unforgettable Leadership Lessons From The Lion King, InBuilt, Now I Arise, Life Hack: Accountability, Life Hack: Simplicity, Life Hack: Making Impact, Built In Failure and “R” For Resilience. I also reviewed The Lion King and wrote about Movies That Shaped.

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