Can you instantly fascinate strangers? Produce sparkling conversation at will? Make friends with ease? Always talk others into doing what you want?
No? Thank God – you would be insufferable! But without aspiring to those heights, most of us could exploit the enormous power of speech to attract, explore, persuade and comfort more effectively than we do. The art of small talk, taking the first step which may or may not lead to a friendship can be hard, but if you make a little effort, you can talk your way to a happier social life. Of course, it’s a social skill that sounds a little trivial, even meaningless. Nothing to do with the real communication you yearned for. But small talk is what opens the door to more important talk. Probably, most love affairs and life-long friendships began with it.
It passes time when two strangers get the ‘feel’ of each other and decide whether to remain strangers, or get closer. It gives what psychologists call ‘strokes’. Both participants feel stroked, noticed and warmed a little. And, if you ever want to deepen the relationship, to ask a favour perhaps, the basis of mutual goodwill is laid. That’s why the ambitious person in the new job takes time to exchange small talk with everyone from the receptionist to the peon upwards.
For small talk to deepen, the conversation must be like a tennis game, with the all-important difference that you’re always careful to aim the ball so the other person can easily lob it back. Some people grab the ball e.g. you ask where they live and get an overload of information on their neighbour-hood, where they lived before and how convenient it is for work! Ouch!
Others leave you nothing to say. Always give the other person an opening for a question or comment. It can be as simple as saying, “I am a housewife. What do you do?” Or “I’m not so keen on jazz- I prefer classical music.” Shy people tend to answer questions with ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ or flat statements- the kiss of death. The ball never comes back over the net!
Another fault is showing off your serve. If you are a woman, don’t ever make the adolescent mistake of trying to impress a man by insulting him. It can possibly work only in Hindi films where the heroine says “Shut-up”, “Get Lost” or may be, “Ek Thappad Doongi.”
In real life it doesn’t demonstrate that you are hard to get, just hard to like!
Usually, the progress towards a deeper relationship is carefully graded. You reveal a bit of yourself – something impersonal to start with, an interest or a like or dislike. They reveal about the same amount and so on. But sometimes a gut feeling enables you to cut right through the conversations and speak to the real person under the mask.
These days when we go to a high society party, we mostly find trivial shallow ‘cocktail’ conversation which does nobody any good. There’s hardly any meaningful communication following the breaking of ice with small talk. It all sounds so superficial. But I’ve learnt to make the best of that too.
For starters, if some strange person comes to me at a party saying, “I have heard so much about you”, I would probably reply, “Yes! But they haven’t been able to prove a thing!”
If a strange gentleman came up to you at a party saying, “My wife doesn’t understand me.” You can move away with a smile saying, “Neither do I!”
Once there was a social butterfly, covered with more make-up than clothes, who asked a guy for the fourth time, “What time is it darling?” “It’s time you bought yourself a wrist-watch darling,” I replied on his behalf.
So don’t just sit there, say something!