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The Art of Small Talk

By Ashley Dowling

I’ll admit – I have never been any good at small talk. I’ve always struggled to smooth my way into conversation. To break that bubble of awkward quiet was something I’ve always met with an equal awkwardness. “Sooo, what animal would you be if you could be one?” (Some of my co-workers might remember that…)

I’ve always reveled silence. I don’t like static noise, and I’ve never felt uncomfortable with a lack of conversation. People that get straight to the point tend to be my people, but the more I put myself in social circles the more I realize that the majority of people like to dance before they dip and maybe I need to get better at “warm-up” conversation.

There is an art to small talk, and if you didn’t know it, just google it and you’ll see hundreds of self-help books out there about mastering it. Not surprisingly, I am not the only one that clams up in conversation, and there are others who struggle in a different way. Ask them about their day and they might babble for 10 minutes about how much salt is on the sidewalk outside (guilty there too).

The advice I read was the same advice my dad gave me 11 years ago after I graduated college and began the work of endless interviews. “Get people to talk about themselves and they’ll love you.”

Across the board the experts tell you to “ask open ended questions.” Dance away from queries that invite a single word response like “yes/no.” Ask more questions than you answer and one I really liked, “look for anomalies.” This last one is heightened observation skills where you try to observe something unique about the other person and ask them about it. But all of this really does spin back to my dad’s simple, one sentence advice: get people to talk about themselves.

Sometimes I will attempt small talk just for practice (because I’m crazy like that) however I also struggle with eloquently leaving conversations. I’m definitely that person that smiles and slowly backs away until you can’t see me anymore. Ever heard the slang “the Irish Goodbye?” Yeah – that’s usually me unless I get caught leaving without saying farewell. I might also say “okay guys, well, that’s all I got” several times until I can safely disappear.

How to end conversations politely is another top google search apparently with hundreds of results but instead of me spitting them out, I’d love to hear yours? How do YOU leave the conversation?

And I still don’t know why I said the animal I chose would be a frog because I don’t want to be a frog, but how weird would it be to be a frog?

Okay guys, well.. That’s all I got!

 

 

About the Author:

Ashley Dowling is a Product Manager on a mission to make the usability of software as easy as eating cake. When not immersed in the digital realm – you might find her with a ukulele in hand or a book in lap with her snoozing side-kick Elliot, a Dalmatian/Lab!

7 Comments

  1. Christine

    February 4, 2022 at 11:40 am

    Thank you for telling us a bit about you! I am completely the opposite. I will talk your ear off, if you let me. However, what most people don’t know is that I am uncomfortable and prefer to avoid conversation, but in polite society I was taught that this is rude, so as a result in forcing myself to communicate, I end up with verbal diarrhea of the mouth. I can’t shut up because I am trying to hide the fact I am uncomfortable but don’t want you to feel my awkwardness or think I am rude. So, my dear, you are so not alone. A lot of us are taught to project confidence, adhere to social cues, and be present and accounted for when all we really want to do is hide under our desk with our laptop and bag of chips and crunch the work day away, literally.

    Reply
    • Ashley Dowling

      February 4, 2022 at 12:06 pm

      Christine, it’s so refreshing to hear that I’m not the only one! Thank you for sharing a little about you =)

      P.S. Potato chips is one of my biggest weaknesses! I can’t have them near my desk anymore! LOL

      Reply
      • Christine

        February 4, 2022 at 2:42 pm

        Hahaha! I try to avoid the chip isle completely. O.O

        Reply
  2. Sandi O'Connell

    February 4, 2022 at 12:08 pm

    Believe it or not, growing up, I was never good at small talk especially in a group of people I didn’t really know. My mind would just blank and even though I knew I should try to say something, I couldn’t think of anything relevant or interesting or funny to say. I would marvel at my Mom who could have an hour long conversation with any random person or a group. However, it still remains that if I know the people I am around and I am super comfortable with our relationship, I tend to do the exact opposite. I have no filter and blurt out every random unconnected thought in my head jumping from one subject to the next. I think I annoy my friends when I get in those modes. It is much worse if I am excited or nervous about something. I have been asked if I have an “on/off” switch. Author, Brene Brown, has spent the last 2 decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy. After reading her book, Daring Greatly and Dare to Lead, I have learned that being vulnerable and opening up with those you do not know can be a very rewarding experience and take small talk to a whole different level and even create a level of trust. She has taught me that being uncomfortable is okay and others will respect that if you share with them. So nowadays, you will hear me admit, “I am nervous.” or “I don’t know what to say.” or “I’m sorry I am so quiet.” I have found that I connect so much more when I don’t try to come up with the “perfect opening” and say something awkward or random. Part of it could also be age. As I get older I kind of am like, “This is me. Take it or leave it.” I have a little more confidence to say what is on my mind and I recognize when someone else is uncomfortable and that spurs me to try to make them comfortable. As you can read, I am doing the unfiltered ramble thing. Love the topic!

    Reply
    • Ashley Dowling

      March 30, 2022 at 5:57 am

      I really like this idea of not being afraid of sharing your own vulnerability. It sounds like it can be a powerful way to make initial connections!

      Reply
  3. Sparky Clark

    March 29, 2022 at 7:08 am

    Ashley — SWEET!

    I don’t have time to keep this brief.

    I grew up shy in a small town with an even smaller circle of male friends. I was intimidated by people of the female persuasion.

    When selecting my alma mater (Miami University – Oxford, Ohio) my priorities were”
    – a place I knew no one – and to far from home for drop ins
    – a large residential campus – preferably isolated enough students stayed close

    My stated major was American Studies, but my stealth major was Social Skills. I started by forcing myself to run for dorm President. I made a few signs and a list, forcing myself shake hands with every resident – even those other candidates. Talk about uncomfortable – and the dorm was all boys. Meeting girls is a story for another time. By graduation I could talk to anybody about anything – and still do at 75.

    I am the most important person in the world – and so is everyone else especially you.

    Store clerks are paid to talk with you. Treat them as equals – which they are – and you both will have a better day. When one says, Hi. How are you.?” I answer with a smile, “Heathy. How are you!” Not only will you start short conversations – you will get healthier as you come to believe it!

    Am I a happy person? YES!!! Well, truth is, I don’t like R2T4 or audits – but otherwise happy.

    Call me. Write me a note. My day will be better with you in it. Maybe yours will too!

    Reply
    • Ashley Dowling

      March 30, 2022 at 5:53 am

      Aw Sparky I love your story thank you for sharing it! My day is better already! =) Stealth major of Social Skills is my major for life! lol.

      Reply

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