How are you with small talk? Are you happy diving in and discussing weather, sport and news with complete strangers, or does the idea of making superficial chatter fill you with dread or boredom?
I'm not great at small talk and would rather avoid it if at all possible. But, I have learned that it has its uses: it is a great way to put someone at ease, to connect with strangers, to start off a conversation and to extend ourselves to others. And it's important.
People will form their first impressions about us pretty quickly through how we act and what we say in those first few minutes. So, we need to make sure we are transmitting the messages we really want them to receive. For example, a warm smile conveys that we are friendly, open and warm. Making introductions shows we are interested, talking about topics people can join in with helps them feel safe around us, and asking questions and showing interest in what the other person is talking about shows we value what they have to say. Inviting and allowing others to speak helps them to know that we are trying to connect.
Conversely, if we don't smile, but look as if we'd rather be somewhere else, or if we look over their shoulder to spot someone we know, then people may well perceive us as disinterested, closed off or rude. If we stand around and wait to be introduced they may think we are passive or aloof. Opening with a topic that is a bit off the wall or provocative may make people think we are unsafe. Dominating the conversation is likely to lead people to conclude that we are self-absorbed or boring. These may or may not be the messages we wanted to convey, which is why it helps to be aware of how we come across.
If you are unsure when to take risks or dive deeper in a conversation, my tip would be stay on the same level or just one step ahead of the other person. This helps you to make sure that there is trust on both sides before opening yourself up further. If for any reason you don't feel the other person is trustworthy, stay on the level that you are happy with and don't proceed any further even if they choose to.
Next time you need to jump in with a bit of small talk – why not put your focus on the other person and get a curious about who they are? Concern yourself with making them feel comfortable and you might just forget that you are even embarking on small talk. Ask God to show you one way that you can bless this person in front of you through your conversation. It might just be the best conversation they'll have all day. You just never know.
Sarah Abell is the founder of www.nakedhedgehogs.com Her passion is helping people to live, love and lead authentically. If you want to find out how authentic you are – you can visit her website and take her free quiz.