I was not good at small talk before the Pandemic. And certainly have not improved since. At the first true party I was at, I was noticing one tactic that I want to get better at: throwing out a topic about someone else.
Hanah was hosting a “post-Apocalypse” dance party at her place last weekend. There was a mix of friends from various parts of her life there, many of whom had not met each other yet.
In the middle of doing various host duties, Hanah turns to me and says, “You need to talk to this person. She made all these amazing cake pops, with her sister over there.”
In that moment, Hanah was doing a lot of things:
- centering the conversation about someone else
- complimenting someone
- inviting me to talk to that person
- offering a topic of conversation
Hanah could then exit the conversation and go on with other host tasks, knowing that we would happily talk for awhile about baking.
It’s such a little thing. But it involves several levels of relational awareness. Who knows who? What is something that two people might share in common? (E.g. cake making) What is an opening topic that feels organic and part of the flow of the event? (E.g. not about Israeli-Palestine relations.) What is something that lots of other people might be interested in? (E.g. the snacks at the party.) What is something that the person themself wants to talk about? (e.g. maybe she is embarrassed about the cake pops.)
The other thing I realized is that while there’s some 3D chess involved, you can just get close enough, and rely on people to get the intention and make it work.
A couple of days ago, Kristin and I were having dinner with some family in LA who don’t know Kristin. During a lull in the conversation, I mentioned that she had just opened up her own vintage clothing store. Everyone grew excited, asking questions, suggesting people Kristin should meet, and expressing admiration for my friend.
Did my family know anything or care much about vintage clothing? Not really. But it certainly sounds interesting. Certainly not your normal job that most people have! And it allowed them to get to know better a friend of mine. And my friend to talk about something she was very excited about.
There’s nothing small about small talk.