becoming skilled at small talk
How many people do you know? That’s what I’m wondering today.
Twenty years ago we might have answered that question by estimating the number of people in our neighborhood, civic club, religious organization, workplace, country club, and other places we interacted with others.
The Internet has changed that. Now the answer could refer to those who are connected with us online. We might point to our connections on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and similar sites.
However, think for a minute about some of your acquaintances, even those you call friends. Do you know if they are veterans? How many states have they lived in? Is their current profession the only one they have pursued? What are their favorite vacation spots? What books and movies do they love? Do they have brothers and sisters?
Now we’re beginning to see what knowing somebody really means. To get to that level in a relationship, you have in-depth conversations. Not by texting, not by e-mailing–but by face to face talk that positions you as a keen, empathetic listener.
When I was teaching at the University of Georgia, I offered a noncredit evening course, “How to Improve Your Conversation.” Our two hour class met weekly for eight weeks. Quickly, I learned that the participants were hungry for conversational guidelines. Even today, I remember the auto dealer, TV broadcaster, sales professionals, and others who explored how to engage in meaningful conversation.
More recently, when I offer my corporate clients a list of 20 communication topics they want me to include in my coaching, “Become skilled at small talk” emerges as a popular choice. That seems to be increasingly the case.
So I am calling for us to generate more in in-depth conversations. Start with your family. Watch less TV, reduce time with games and gadgets. Ask “How was your day?” Or “Who is your favorite teacher this year?”
At work, inquire about families, hobbies, weekend plans, and other topics that reflect your genuine interest. In-depth conversations move us from “on speaking terms” to “how fascinating that individual is.”
Months from now, if I were to ask you “How many people do you know?” I hope you will not even mention your social media contacts. I’d be eager to hear what you have learned about those who have surrounded you for years.
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