Two acquaintances meet on a busy street. They pause to say hello, but stand awkwardly, not knowing what to say to each other. Finally one says, “Did you see what so-and-so posted on facebook yesterday? Pretty funny, huh?” They smile, and the conversation dies again. After an uncomfortable silence, they quickly excuse themselves and walk away, vowing to never say hi to that person again.
We live in a time when so much of our communication is electronic: phone, text, email, fax, social networking, messaging, tweeting, and so on, that we are losing the skill of communicating in person, one-on-one, in warm casual conversation. As a result, many avoid personal conversation as much as possible. They’d much rather send a text than pick up the phone or walk down the hall and talk with someone in person. Many avoid social situations at all costs. In some ways, technology has actually become a barrier to, rather than a facilitator of, personal communication.
I’ve seen teenagers sitting in the same room, sometimes on the same couch, texting each other rather than talking. I once asked a group of teenagers why they like to text more than talk directly. Their answer was illuminating. They said they prefer texting “because face to face, you have to listen. But texting, you can say what you want and you don’t have to listen.”
No, I’m not saying that technology is bad. I use it as much as anyone. There is no better way to distribute information quickly to a large number of recipients. However, I do believe that we need to make it a point to foster one-on-one conversation opportunities and develop the skill of casual conversation. Otherwise, when we find ourselves at a dinner party seated with people we don’t know, it can turn in to an uncomfortable, conversational disaster.
What do you say when you meet someone on the street, at a dinner party, or in the grocery store?
Debra Fine was an engineer (with the stereo-typical social skills of an engineer) who found herself lurking in corners at social events when she couldn’t avoid them all together. Finally, she said, “Enough is enough” and began to study and learn the skill of casual conversation. Here are five tips from Debra Fine’s excellent program (featured below) to help you develop The Fine Art of Small Talk.
- Make it a point to learn and use the other person’s name. Help them by repeating your name in case they forgot it. One of the largest barriers to conversation is embarrassment because you forgot someone’s name.
- Be genuinely interested in the other person. Ask them about their family, what they like to do for fun, or what their opinion is on a current topic. Ask clarifying questions so they know you really care.
- Listen. Half of conversation is listening intently to what the other person says. This is not the time to be thinking about what you are going to say next. If you can develop the skill of listening, you’ll immediately position yourself in the top 10% of conversationalists.
- Be a good detective. Use what you know and can observe about the other person to engage them in conversation that will be interesting to them.
- Take responsibility to initiate the conversation. Play the host. The more you make others feel at ease, the more at ease you will feel.
Success Tip: Make it a point to develop the art of casual conversation. You’ll begin to enjoy social situations, expand your business opportunities at networking events, and improve your personal charisma.