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Why small talk is so excruciating

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https://www.vox.com/2015/7/7/8903123/small-talk

vox.com

Why small talk is so excruciating
This essay was originally published in 2015 and has been lightly updated. I hate small talk. Hate it. And when I say I hate it, what I really mean is I'm abysmal at it. Just a total failure. Here's how I experience small talk.

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Small talk

Not everyone enjoys small talk. It is not that they are not comfortable talking, but one-on-one, small talk remains an issue.

Small talk precedes big talk in the normal course of human af...

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Small talk has meaning

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 sai...

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Speech operates on two levels

  • Speech communicates information or ideas. It is the semantic content of speech.
  • On another level, talking is a social behavior. Every speech does something. It reassures,...

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The social function speech

The daily human interaction speech is a social, relational behavior. It reveals the social fabric.

Small talk is not void of semantic content. Even saying "I am doing well" has ...

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Two talking skills

To "talk well" in the social sense is to send the correct social signals and is different from "talking well" in the communicative sense. 

Few people can master both. Most people ...

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Not for everyone 

Not everyone needs small talk. For some small talk feels like their head is a haze of white noise and they desperately want to escape the interaction.

But, they feel comfortable if you dive s...

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SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Small talk

It’s a brief conversation between you and someone you don’t know very well. 

Small talk is an essential stage of a casual conversation, especially in English-speaking cultures.

How to get better at small talk

  • Have a genuine interest in getting to know a person you’re talking to and learn from them.
  • Ask open-ended questions. It encourages the other person you're speaking with to open up.“What do you do?” followed by “Why did you choose that type of work? How did you enter that profession?”
  • Never talk about something too personal.
  • Practice active listening. By paying attention to the speaker’s words, you’ll create much stronger connections.

Our brain while listening to words

Our brain while listening to words

Our brain uses two separate areas to identify the mood and the real meaning of the words. Words are passed to the left temporal lobe of the brain...

Words only count 7% Myth

The myth purports that we use 55% body language, 38% tone of voice and 7% actual words.

The research of Professor Mehrabian had nothing to do with speech, but to guess emotion based on the recordings of a single word. 

Actual words "must dominate by a wide margin", argues famous author Philip Yaffe.

Facial expression in speech

Smiling is one of the most powerful elements when thinking about speech.

The smiley face is rated with the highest positive emotional content. The painting of the Mona Lisa with her contented smiled is one such example.  

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Preparing For Small Talk

If you often find yourself participating in small talk about topics you have no interest in or have already discussed to exhaustion, the solution may be asking people unexpected...

Small Talk Questions About Work

  • If you weren’t working here, what would you probably be doing right now?
  • How did you become a [job title]?
  • What’s the craziest thing a boss has ever asked you to do?
  • If you were guaranteed to be successful, what job would you want?
  • What was your first job? Did you like it?
  • What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? How about the worst?

Small Talk Questions About Entertainment

  • Are you reading any good books right now? How about shows?
  • Are there any apps on your phone that you can’t live without?
  • If you could only watch one genre of movies for the rest of your life, what would it be?
  • Do you have any podcast suggestions for my commute?
  • What’s the last movie that made you cry? Or laugh aloud?
  • Who is your favorite person to follow on Instagram?

4 more ideas

Gestures and Speech

  • Gestures are closely linked to speech.
  • People seem to gesture naturally and even blind people who haven't seen anyone gesturing, are able to do so.
  • Our words and gestures close...

Gestures Aid Thinking

  • Just as speech puts our thoughts into words. pir gestures put our thoughts into our hands.
  • Gestures aid our thinking and many problem solving tasks are done in a better way through the help of gestures.

Happy/sad music

Our brains respond differently to happy or sad music.

One study revealed that participants interpreted a neutral expression as happy or sad to match the tone of the music they heard. 

Ambient noise can improve creativity

A moderate noise level is ideal to improve our creativity. It increases the processing difficulty which stimulates abstract processing, leading to higher creativity. 
High noise levels impair our creative thinking because we feel overwhelmed and struggle to process information properly.

Music and personality

Different genres correspond to our personality. For instance:

  • Blues and Jazz fans have high self-esteem, are creative, outgoing, gentle and at ease
  • Classical music fans have high self-esteem, are creative, introvert and at ease
  • Opera fans have high self-esteem, are creative and gentle
  • Rock/heavy metal fans have low self-esteem, are creative, not hard-working, not outgoing, gentle, and at ease

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Our mental processes and habits

E-thinking has moved us into habits of grabbing our phones to answer the simplest of questions: finding the map directions to a known address, or calculating the square root of four.

...

You can’t pay attention to anything

Attention is selecting which elements you look at, interact with, and remember. Attention can get tired, like a muscle.

The internet is a very powerful stimulus for attention. It offers information constantly, demanding and overloading a system that was designed to function in the low to medium social networks of the natural world.

The burden of task-switching

Trying to protect oneself from boredom and the fear of missing out (FOMO), has caused people to switch from tab to tab, or screen to screen on the desktop. 

People switch between content on computers every 19 seconds, viewing the content for less than a minute. Multitasking this way breaks concentration. You lose time with this and context-switching and deplete your available mental energy.

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Turn Small Talk Into Intriguing Talk

Turn Small Talk Into Intriguing Talk
  • Twist a “light topic” with a serious tone: use what you already know to ask more personal questions or go deeper into topics.
  • Play it straight: admit that you don’t like ...

Narrative Habits

The way we talk to ourselves about the events in our lives is subject to the same laws of learning and habit formation that physical behaviors are.

That means we can learn to talk to o...

Events + Thoughts = Emotions

Our emotions are always mediated by some form of thinking. 

If our thoughts determine how we feel, that means how we habitually think will determine how we habitually feel.

Mind Reading

It happens when we assume we understand what other people are thinking without any real evidence.

It is a failure of imagination because we often only imagine and focus on the negative aspects.

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An icebreaker that works

The only icebreaker question that'll work every single time: Tell me about yourself.

It is more effective than "So what do you do?" Posing a broad question lets people lea...

Stay curious and engaged

After the initial breaking, you have to really listen to how the other person responds. What are they excited about? Ask them more questions about that.

Pay attention to body language. You will be able to tell if someone is losing interest, for instance, eyes wandering, crossing arms or turning away from you.

Exit gracefully

Not every conversation will be a big hit. You will run out of things to say. Be honest. Say you've got to go to the bathroom or say hi to your other friend. Then go.

Even though it might feel rude, remember that it will free up time to start another potentially interesting conversation with someone else.

A TED Talk is 18 minutes long

A TED Talk is 18 minutes long

TED curator Chris Anderson explains:
The 18-minute length works much like the way Twitter forces people to be disciplined in what they write. By forcing speakers who are u...

Give a TED-style talk that gets a lot of views

  • Arrange your message onto the 9-up format: same size as sticky notes, until you are happy with the flow.
  • Solicit feedback from effective presenters that you trust to give honest, unfiltered feedback on your narrative and slides.
  • Rehearse with a great (honest) communicator that is not afraid to speak up.
  • Articulate each point clearly.
  • Practice with a clock counting up the minutes, to know how much you're over. Then trim it down.
  • Once you're within the timeframe, practice with a clock counting down. Know where you should be at 6, 12 and 18 minutes.
  • Let your coach jot down what you say well and what you don’t.
  • Don’t be camera shy. Practice by videotaping yourself.
  • Do one more full timed rehearsal right before you walk on stage.
  • Pick two natural places you could stop in your talk, then demarcate those as possible endings.