Step Up Your Small Talk
Whether you are at a networking event or out on the town for mingling, you will most likely engage in some form of semi-forced small talk. People seem to engage in small talk to be polite and conform to social norms. Many people are put into situations where they would rather not talk to others but will be perceived as rude if they do not engage in small talk. Small talk is very surfacy and tends to cover topics that people don’t really care about — the weather, why they are at the event (party, work gathering, business conference, etc.), and the ever popular and shallow “how are you?” When people use “how are you” in small talk rarely are they ever actually interested in a genuine response from the other person, whom they probably don’t know at all. The person is not likely to give a detailed answer other than “fine” or “great,” followed by the obligatory “How are you?”
An alternative conversational idea introduced by AskReditt called medium talk encourages people to have interesting conversations with each other that decrease the awkwardness of small talk. People can feel when others are being fake or genuine. When we are fake in conversation we instantly turn others off and can create awkward situations. When we engage in more genuine conversation (medium talk) instead of small talk we realize that the person asking questions might be interested in an actual conversation rather than socially required small talk. I don’t support intrusive or crass questions as medium questions (AskReditt readers posted almost 4300 examples), but instead questions that help you learn something new about the person, even if you are never going to see that person again. People are so used to superficial and meaningless conversations, which I believe are fueled by too much screen time and not enough IRL time, that they have a hard time actually connecting with one another in sincere ways.
When I work with clients who experience social anxiety I encourage them to think about questions that are not a part of traditional small talk. For example, when people attend networking events the same old questions come out: “Who are you?”; “What do you do?”; “What kind of business are you in?”; “Where is your business located?” Questions that are more likely to spark memorable conversations such as “What advice would you give to your younger self when thinking about your career?” or “Would you encourage you own kids to go into your industry?” These questions can be followed up by additional questions that will keep the conversation going in a non-dry small talk kind of way.
The next time you find yourself stuck in a small talk rut step it up to witty medium talk — the event will become more interesting for you and for those with whom you interact.
What are your favorite (non-small talk) questions to ask others?
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