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In a situation where people are gathered together, it always involves people trying to talk to each other. In these moments, we often fall short and can't think of anything to say, or worse; we fumble through with the aim of not crashing.
However, we can soar in conversations and learn to turn small talk into big ideas.
Ask open-ended questions that invite people to tell stories, rather than one-word answers.
Instead of "How was your day?" try, "What did you do today?" Other open-ended questions to try:
When small talk dries up, it's often due to "mirroring." In our efforts to be polite, we answer questions directly, repeat their observations, or just agree with whatever they say.
For example, one person would say, "It's a beautiful day," and we might answer, "Yes, it's a beautiful day." Instead, we could practice the art of disruption. To move the dialogue forward, we could reply: "They say that the weather was just like this when ... happened (insert a historical or personal moment)"
A way to carry on a conversation is to skip over the expected response.
Ron: "How was your flight?"
Carlos: "My flight was good."
Carlos could be bold and say, "I'd be more intrigued by an airline where your ticket price was based on your IQ."
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Anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski noted in 1923 that a great deal of talk "does not serve any purpose of communicating ideas" but "to establish bonds of personal union." He also said that small talk was merely a way to fill the silence.
He was wrong. Small talk is not just for those seeking companionship. It enacts and reinforces social roles in a whole range of social, commercial, and professional settings.