Author Topic: God I suck at small talk  (Read 10089 times)

Lentils4Lunch

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God I suck at small talk
« on: August 17, 2017, 07:25:34 PM »
Does anyone else find small talk extremely difficult? I would really just like to be able to have a normal, pleasant conversation with acquaintances, neighbors, co-workers, but I am just sooooo terrible at thinking up something to say in the moment.

Then I think about the conversation afterwards and just cringe. Absolutely cringe thinking about how awkward I am. I'm just not great at telling little light-hearted anecdotes about myself that relate to whatever the small talk topic is. And sometimes I can't think of any good follow up questions to ask when the other person tells me their light-hearted anecdote. It's not that I don't care about their story, my mind is honestly not producing any further inquiries. A lot of times, people don't really want you to all follow up questions because that forces them to admit they have embellished a bit, and that's embarrassing for all parties. So then I'm left with nothing to say...

When someone asks me what's new, my mind either goes completely blank or just can't come up with anything appropriate. "Uhh, let's see, my kid poops in the potty now, so that's been a real highlight of our lives lately......no, that won't do."

anyone else feel this way? Any tips? I'd like to just not be so damn awkward all the time.

bwall

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2017, 07:35:54 PM »
Can you give a (brief) example?

Miss Piggy

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #2 on: August 17, 2017, 07:47:11 PM »
I don't find small talk particularly difficult, but I really hate it. I dunno...maybe it is difficult. How's the weather by you?

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #3 on: August 17, 2017, 07:49:18 PM »
I think a lot of people feel like this.

When I was younger I worked on this by purposely chatting to people who work at the mall or stores (they often approach you anyway.) 

I think on one hand you can just accept if you're not into small talk.  (I went on a short trip with an extroverted friend of mine recently & it made me realize SHE TALKS TO EVERYONE ALL THE TIME NON-STOP, EVEN PEOPLE SHE BARELY KNOWS - i found it a bit exhausting!)  Each person is different.

On the other hand, it's a skill you can practice a bit. And don't be too hard on yourself. (DIAGNOSIS = HUMAN! :)




curlyfry

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #4 on: August 17, 2017, 07:49:54 PM »
Haha Chuckle MissPiggy!

batemama

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #5 on: August 17, 2017, 08:05:50 PM »
I also hate small talk. I feel like it's really superficial, but the more you do it the more things you can find to connect with a person, which then makes it easier. I find two things make it easier to get the ball rolling: ask people about themselves or tell them an embarrassing story about yourself. Some people aren't interested in ever making small talk, but I think most people want to talk but aren't sure what to say (so in the same boat as you?).

pbkmaine

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #6 on: August 17, 2017, 08:21:13 PM »
All you have to do is ask questions and show interest. Most people love to talk about themselves. For a primer on this, there's no better book than Dale Carnegie's classic: " How to Win Friends and Influence People."

Optimiser

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #7 on: August 17, 2017, 09:10:41 PM »
OP, I feel very similarly to the way you do. I've found it really helps if I know I'm going to be in a social situation, to think of a few questions in advance to ask each person there so I can pull them out when things get quiet, but I usually don't plan ahead that well.

Chippewa

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #8 on: August 17, 2017, 10:27:40 PM »
I feel ya all the way on this. Catch me off guard and I say the stupid things. I cringe later pretty much always. Or I second guess if what I said came across the way I intended.
A friend once taught me to figure out what they are interested in and ask them something about it. Then usually that person will take off with the conversation. That tip helped a lot.

Dollar Slice

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #9 on: August 18, 2017, 12:04:29 AM »
How many times in your life have you had a minor conversation with someone, and hours later you are still thinking about how awkward their small talk was? Pretty much never, right? No one really thinks that hard about what we say in situations like that except ourselves. I think everyone with anxious tendencies probably does the "talk now, cringe later" thing, but it's 99% in your head.

I have a few fallback questions that I use to start or continue conversations, depending on context (Doing anything fun this weekend? Been to any good shows lately? Read any good books lately - I need some new reading material! Man, can you believe what Trump said today? Etc). And if anyone asks you what's up or what's new, just say: not much, same old same old, how about you - how is the (wife/baby/job/dog/new car/whatever)? Most people like talking about themselves. It comes across as humble if you don't talk about yourself and ask about them instead. With the added benefit of not having to think of anything interesting to say!
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koshtra

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #10 on: August 18, 2017, 12:26:08 AM »
I think the people who are good at small talk don't think of it as small talk. They think of it as "wow, a chance to find out what this person's life is like and what kind of story they're making about it for themselves!"

You sort of already decided nothing interesting is going to happen, when you decide you're going to engage in small talk. But this person -- any person -- has amazing experiences in their past, and is living a story that feels really intense to them. Find out about these things! It's a huge opportunity! You don't have to agree with them or like them or anything. But think of it as a huge opportunity, a window into a whole new universe of experience, whole new ways of thinking. Nothing small about it.

whatupjeffy

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #11 on: August 18, 2017, 12:46:51 AM »
I'm a big fan of "small talks" but personally have nothing against. of course, people sometimes annoying by asking the same questions, but I guess this is just the way they are showing their interest in you

gooki

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #12 on: August 18, 2017, 03:23:26 AM »
I'm in the same boat as the OP.
Follow me on my journey to FI.

A Definite Beta Guy

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #13 on: August 18, 2017, 09:18:37 AM »
I've found I can do small talk, just not when I am feeling under time crunch (which is all the time). Like, I won't make small talk at work...feels like I should actually be working, not talking to people.

You know, unless it's actually lunch or something.

I just talk about whatever random crap comes into my mind. Blueberry muffins today. Someone doing some home reno. Weekend plans. Weather. Weddings.

Watch more Seinfeld. Sounds stupid, but we take cues from art, and Seinfeld is all about this kind of stuff. Osmosis that mindset. (And yes, I know Osmosis isn't a verb).

Spork

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #14 on: August 18, 2017, 09:22:08 AM »
I feel exactly like you do, OP.

Over time I have decided I have mild autism/aspergers.  It doesn't really help with the conversation, but it helps with my own acceptance of myself.
Some will sell their dreams for small desires
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jooniFLORisploo

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #15 on: August 18, 2017, 09:30:56 AM »
I suck at small talk, but I have great exchanges with strangers almost every day. So, I think you can engage with people without standard small talk.

I feel wildly frustrated if people mention obvious things like the weather or issue pat phrases. I just say a random yet benign thing, the other person usually responds, and off we go. Maybe for 10 seconds, maybe for 45 minutes. Yesterday it was about a tea bag I decided not to accidentally steal after all, and a cashier's groovy response. So basically, I just say out loud things a lot of people would store in their heads. (Seinfeld indeed! lol.)

I don't really like when people ask me impromptu questions IRL (super slow processor, plus I have no idea where I live, so I just get all kerfuffled). I don't generally do that to others, either, unless it's a very "here and now" matter. "The book you're reading has a super trippy font. Does it say what it is, and why they chose it?"

Once in a while (a.k.a., three days ago), I'm a touch mortified at what came out of my face, but then I remember the other person laughed, so I shrug my weirdness off.

Noodle

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #16 on: August 18, 2017, 09:59:42 AM »
I don't mind it too much, although I will admit that I find the "regularly occurring acquaintance" version harder than chatting with strangers, because you have to remember what they told you last time and which material you have already used.

Totally banal conversations about the weather, etc. don't really bother me, because I always think of them as code for "Hello, fellow human. I courteously acknowledge that you exist!" rather than actual exchanges of meaning.

In situations where I need to have a longer conversation, "Are you a local?" (Or, if I know for sure they live in the area, "Are you from around here?" also works) is usually a good innocuous way to get people to talk about themselves. If I happen to know they are or were happily married, "How did you meet your spouse?" brings out some good stories (the ones who don't care to talk about it usually have a vague comment prepared.)  Also, asking for advice, but you have to be careful how you phrase the question to make it neither too vague or specific...something along the lines of "My mother is coming to visit and I want to take her out to eat, is there anywhere you particularly like to go?" usually works.

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #17 on: August 18, 2017, 10:13:16 AM »
I think small talk is difficult for thinkers. We're thinking all the time.
I usually just ask questions to make small talk.
When they ask 'hows' the day' or whatever, don't overthink it.
"Awesome. I tied my shoes this morning first try" or some silly response.
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megaschnauzer

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #18 on: August 18, 2017, 11:13:46 AM »
All you have to do is ask questions and show interest. Most people love to talk about themselves. For a primer on this, there's no better book than Dale Carnegie's classic: " How to Win Friends and Influence People."

+1. that and alcohol.

Optimiser

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #19 on: August 18, 2017, 11:28:06 AM »
In situations where I need to have a longer conversation, "Are you a local?" (Or, if I know for sure they live in the area, "Are you from around here?" also works) is usually a good innocuous way to get people to talk about themselves. If I happen to know they are or were happily married, "How did you meet your spouse?" brings out some good stories (the ones who don't care to talk about it usually have a vague comment prepared.)  Also, asking for advice, but you have to be careful how you phrase the question to make it neither too vague or specific...something along the lines of "My mother is coming to visit and I want to take her out to eat, is there anywhere you particularly like to go?" usually works.

I hate it when people ask me questions like this, because I don't like being put on the spot and talking about myself. I've come to realize they are just trying to make small talk and fill the silence, but it still makes me uncomfortable. I guess I should ask more questions so I don't have to answer as many. I prefer people who are comfortable with silence or who just start talking about themselves, but I guess others probably find those people boring or annoying.

I do genuinely like when I'm talking to someone who has the same interests as me. I remember reading a book that said small talk is a way to find out that we like the same stuff as others, but it's still hard for me until some sort of common interest is found.

dycker1978

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #20 on: August 18, 2017, 11:30:46 AM »
I think this is a personality thing.  I love small talk.  I am fairly extroverted though.  I find getting to know some one, or learning something new is invigorating.

My partner, however, is very introverted.  She does not like small talk.  We have had times where we are out.  I will be chatting it up with people I know or have met in the recent past.  She patiently waits for the conversations to finish.  Sometimes she just chooses to stay home, and let me deal with groceries or what ever.  It is interesting.

jooniFLORisploo

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #21 on: August 18, 2017, 11:47:33 AM »
I'm like Optimiser.

I get squicky with the questions (especially given it's always one of the ten same ones I get over and over and over again, and are generally things I don't feel like talking about).

I, too, prefer the people that reference themselves or a something outside of both of us. Their own kerfuffliness this morning (as someone did on my walk just now, delighting me to no end), a dog passing by, a headline in the paper, anything. When they do that, I'm totally game to play!

nereo

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #22 on: August 18, 2017, 12:00:58 PM »
Does anyone else find small talk extremely difficult? I would really just like to be able to have a normal, pleasant conversation with acquaintances, neighbors, co-workers, but I am just sooooo terrible at thinking up something to say in the moment.

Since your goal is to improve interactions with acuqintances, neighrbors etc. I've found that there are some topics that almost always work.  you can usually ask just one or two leading questions and then just sit back while they talk about it.  Examples:

parents like to be asked about their kids - "hey, what's little Bobby doing"
most everyone will talk about their hobby "have you made any new ____? what are you working on now?"
homeowners want to talk about their home "how do you like your sun-room? Plan on renovating anything?"

these topics are open ended and rarely result in a single sentence response. 
weather is a bit hackneyed and politics is a minefield, best to avoid bringing up both in casual encounters.
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Lentils4Lunch

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #23 on: August 18, 2017, 12:02:31 PM »
I don't mind it too much, although I will admit that I find the "regularly occurring acquaintance" version harder than chatting with strangers, because you have to remember what they told you last time and which material you have already used.

OP here.
I actually think this is exactly my problem. When I see my neighbors, I'm usually a little bit caught off guard (because we run into each other on the sidewalk or in the backyard or something). Usually engrossed in my own thoughts and then having to quickly jog my memory about what's going on in their lives plus what's going on our lives. The quick thinking kind of stresses me out. 

BlueHouse

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #24 on: August 18, 2017, 12:34:38 PM »
+1 to Dale Carnegie

Ha!  Talk about awkward, one time at a funeral I saw an acquaintance that I didn't expect to see there and as a greeting said "What are you doing here?" in a big, happy-to-see-him voice.  I still kick myself. 

In addition to being genuinely interested in finding out some new information about the other person, make it a habit every day to read the news and have four things on the tip of your tongue to bring up in conversation: 
1.  Weather or a recent weather event
2.  Local or domestic news event
3.  International news event. 
4.  A recent film or book of interest

EVERY DAY, you should have four new items to talk about. 

When there is a lull in conversation, you can use them as a starting point.  This makes you a well-rounded person and one who is easy to speak with.       
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Optimiser

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #25 on: August 18, 2017, 01:09:08 PM »
In addition to being genuinely interested in finding out some new information about the other person, make it a habit every day to read the news and have four things on the tip of your tongue to bring up in conversation: 
1.  Weather or a recent weather event
2.  Local or domestic news event
3.  International news event. 
4.  A recent film or book of interest

EVERY DAY, you should have four new items to talk about. 

When there is a lull in conversation, you can use them as a starting point.  This makes you a well-rounded person and one who is easy to speak with.     

I'd rather have awkward conversations than consume the news with regularity. http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/10/01/the-low-information-diet/

jooniFLORisploo

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #26 on: August 18, 2017, 01:26:57 PM »
Yes, the first three on that list would make me crazy :)

I like when people talk about:
*their struggles
*a book they loved on a topic they believe I'd be interested in
*an event they're inviting me to
*the dog nearest us
*a "stupid" thing they just did and feel embarrassed about
*what they love about this tree
*a quirky thing they just found on the sidewalk

If they simply burst into song, that's great too.

koshtra

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #27 on: August 18, 2017, 01:43:14 PM »
I don't mind it too much, although I will admit that I find the "regularly occurring acquaintance" version harder than chatting with strangers, because you have to remember what they told you last time and which material you have already used.

OP here.
I actually think this is exactly my problem. When I see my neighbors, I'm usually a little bit caught off guard (because we run into each other on the sidewalk or in the backyard or something). Usually engrossed in my own thoughts and then having to quickly jog my memory about what's going on in their lives plus what's going on our lives. The quick thinking kind of stresses me out. 

Yes, this kind of interaction is a LOT harder for those of us who switch context slowly. The names of people's kids and spouses are somewhere in my brain, and they'll come to the surface eventually, but it can take twenty minutes. By that time you're supposed to be done with your small talk and moving along.

MBot

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #28 on: August 18, 2017, 09:47:08 PM »
I think the people who are good at small talk don't think of it as small talk. They think of it as "wow, a chance to find out what this person's life is like and what kind of story they're making about it for themselves!"

You sort of already decided nothing interesting is going to happen, when you decide you're going to engage in small talk. But this person -- any person -- has amazing experiences in their past, and is living a story that feels really intense to them. Find out about these things! It's a huge opportunity! You don't have to agree with them or like them or anything. But think of it as a huge opportunity, a window into a whole new universe of experience, whole new ways of thinking. Nothing small about it.

This.

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #29 on: August 19, 2017, 02:00:16 AM »
I am hopeless at small talk.  I don't sweat the really small stuff - if I see a neighbour while walking past their house I stick to the boring but perfectly socially acceptable "hello", "how are you" and "nice/rotten weather today", expect the stock responses "hello", "fine" and "yes".  What you are doing here is just reaffirming and validating an existing situation.

For anything more substantia I find listening much easier than talking, so when appropriate I try to reframe small talk as "big listening".   Questions like "how are things at the moment?" and "how are your family?" work just fine, and then you pick up from what they've said with the next question - eg kids are off to college can spin off into study subjects and geography and study habits and moving and kids today and so on and so forth.
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wenchsenior

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #30 on: August 19, 2017, 10:58:49 AM »
In addition to being genuinely interested in finding out some new information about the other person, make it a habit every day to read the news and have four things on the tip of your tongue to bring up in conversation: 
1.  Weather or a recent weather event
2.  Local or domestic news event
3.  International news event. 
4.  A recent film or book of interest

EVERY DAY, you should have four new items to talk about. 

When there is a lull in conversation, you can use them as a starting point.  This makes you a well-rounded person and one who is easy to speak with.     

I'd rather have awkward conversations than consume the news with regularity. http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/10/01/the-low-information-diet/

Yup.  I don't actually care if people find me easy to speak with. 

If I can boot my brain fast enough, I try to adopt the strategy of asking other people something to allow them to talk at length.  My brain only boots that fast occasionally, so if I had to do a lot of small talk (shudder) on a regular basis, I would probably arm myself with stock questions until it was automatic to deploy one. 

GuitarStv

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #31 on: August 19, 2017, 11:28:57 AM »
Small talk is all about letting the other person do the heavy lifting.  Pick your target carefully, you want someone who seems like they might have something in common with you if possible.

So, where do you live, where did you go to school, what do you do, what kind of music do you like, what are you drinking, do you have pets/kids/grandkids, that's a nice car/hair/shoe/shirt, etc.  The goal is to wind up your target and keep them spitting stuff out until you chance upon some slightly interesting comment/common interest.

If nothing's working/clicking after 15 minutes, pretend to go to the bathroom and leave the party.  Head home, curl up with a nice book, and enjoy what's left of your evening.  (I only have the effort to try small-talking once, maybe twice a night.)

dcamnc

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #32 on: August 20, 2017, 05:52:05 AM »
I hate small talk too. I look like (and am) a pretty athletic guy, so other guys always want to chat about some sports game that was on.

Them: So who are you pulling for in the super bowl?
Me: Uhh, who's playing again?
Them: (Stunned "you're an idiot" face)....Nevermind....(crickets).

aperture

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #33 on: August 20, 2017, 06:42:53 AM »
I don't mind it too much, although I will admit that I find the "regularly occurring acquaintance" version harder than chatting with strangers, because you have to remember what they told you last time and which material you have already used.

OP here.
I actually think this is exactly my problem. When I see my neighbors, I'm usually a little bit caught off guard (because we run into each other on the sidewalk or in the backyard or something). Usually engrossed in my own thoughts and then having to quickly jog my memory about what's going on in their lives plus what's going on our lives. The quick thinking kind of stresses me out. 

Yes, this kind of interaction is a LOT harder for those of us who switch context slowly. The names of people's kids and spouses are somewhere in my brain, and they'll come to the surface eventually, but it can take twenty minutes. By that time you're supposed to be done with your small talk and moving along.

I am awful with names.  I forget the names of people in my own office all the time (I am sure Dr. Freud would have something to say about that).  Before going into a meeting where I am going to see person X, I often rehearse names of person X's spouse and kids.  I programmed my contact list on my phone to include this info.  When I am with my DW, I will ask her "What is his wife's name?" as we are approaching. 

Often people want to discuss the local football team.  I nod appreciatively and smile.  If it gets to it, I may have to admit that I did not see the game or even, God forbid, that I don't watch football.  When you are interacting with one of those super 'handshakefulness" types, there is usually pressure to then name a topic that is an alternate masculine activity - another sport you enjoy watching/playing or a car obsession or something.  "I was cutting the grass while listening to a podcast" is not what satisfies the turn of conversation.
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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #34 on: August 20, 2017, 11:25:47 PM »
I think the people who are good at small talk don't think of it as small talk. They think of it as "wow, a chance to find out what this person's life is like and what kind of story they're making about it for themselves!"

You sort of already decided nothing interesting is going to happen, when you decide you're going to engage in small talk. But this person -- any person -- has amazing experiences in their past, and is living a story that feels really intense to them. Find out about these things! It's a huge opportunity! You don't have to agree with them or like them or anything. But think of it as a huge opportunity, a window into a whole new universe of experience, whole new ways of thinking. Nothing small about it.
Yup, my wife is like this. She loves to get to know people, learn what they are like, what makes them happy, get inside their head and learn about the actual them. She always sees the good things about people and forgets most of the rest. "I have heard there are seven wonders of the world, but there must be an eight which is you because you look so young" is an actual line she used earnestly in routine small talk to a coworker's wife after learning she was 60, and then walked away absolutely convinced it was true. In case things get slow she has a million hilariously humbling true stories about things she accidentally did sometime. She looks especially happy to see and make small talk with routine acquaintances. I doubt she could even conceive of what she does in a way which I could describe.

...I prefer people who are comfortable with silence or who just start talking about themselves...
Whereas I am more like this.

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #35 on: August 21, 2017, 02:01:56 AM »
I think koshtra nailed it.

Yes, this kind of interaction is a LOT harder for those of us who switch context slowly. The names of people's kids and spouses are somewhere in my brain, and they'll come to the surface eventually, but it can take twenty minutes. By that time you're supposed to be done with your small talk and moving along.

About the slow context switching, would you say slow context switchers are better at deep focus and get deeper relationships, whereas the fast context switchers are more volatile and more superficial? How does that personality trait play in long-term relationships?

koshtra

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #36 on: August 21, 2017, 08:46:56 AM »
Well, I think it makes us better at solving problems that don't require context-switches. I'm not sure how many relationship problems fall under that heading :-)

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #37 on: August 21, 2017, 09:06:30 AM »
All you have to do is ask questions and show interest. Most people love to talk about themselves.

This is on the mark.
Ask about family, kids, grand kids, etc.; where they live, what they do, etc. and they will usually take over the conversation.
When I was selling and took clients to lunch I tried to never bring up business and left that up to them.   A good opener was always "so what do you do for fun".

koshtra

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #38 on: August 21, 2017, 09:44:41 AM »
I do think that small talk will be easier for us slow-switchers if we accept that we're not going to remember what Suddenly Appearing Acquaintance's name is, how many kids he has, or what his spouse does for a living. Just not going to happen, and it's just how we're wired. It's not because we don't care about people and it's not even because we don't have the info filed away somewhere. We just don't work that way.

If we try to imitate the people who DO think that way, we'll just distress ourselves and make the sort of cringe-worthy blunders OP mentioned.

Everybody hates doing things they're bad at. We're bad at recalling a cluster of names and recent events and appropriate light anecdotes for Suddenly Appearing Acquaintance. So we just have to do it a little differently. I don't even try to do that stuff. I say things like, "Hey, how are you?" and "It's good to see you!" that are sort of all-purpose. And you can always admire something about them, however inane it might be. Their shoes, or the fact that they walk around town, or how they tuck their shirt in, or whatever. There's generally only one thing that people really want to know, and that's whether they're approved of. So approve of them.

Lentils4Lunch

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #39 on: August 21, 2017, 01:53:53 PM »
All you have to do is ask questions and show interest. Most people love to talk about themselves.

This is on the mark.
Ask about family, kids, grand kids, etc.; where they live, what they do, etc. and they will usually take over the conversation.
When I was selling and took clients to lunch I tried to never bring up business and left that up to them.   A good opener was always "so what do you do for fun".

But if it's someone like a neighbor or a co-worker that you run into on a semi-regular basis, they start noticing when you ask them what their vacation plans are for the sixth time. And they notice that you've forgotten what they said last time. So while you are trying to be earnest and get them to do the taking, it occasionally backfires because you start having a conversation that sounds vaguely familiar and they will sometimes say "yeah, remember when I told you X" and you feel like a jackass.

So it isn't as simple as asking questions to discover the unique story that each individual has to tell you. You also have to remember the answers to those questions and build on those answers during your next encounter with different questions that show that you retained what you learned about them in your previous conversation.

My sister used to work for a dentist and she told me that they write down key small talk "talking points" about each patient in their chart after every routine visit: "Has three children. Oldest just started high school. Plays in Bon Job I cover band." That way the hygienist has a more personal conversation with you at each visit. Do I need to start doing this?

koshtra

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #40 on: August 21, 2017, 03:13:29 PM »
I would totally do that if I thought it would work. Make flash cards or something. I don't think it would, though, I'd remember the flashcards, just like I remember the names, five minutes after the person walked away :-)
« Last Edit: August 21, 2017, 03:40:24 PM by koshtra »

ketchup

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #41 on: August 21, 2017, 03:30:16 PM »
I find I'll sometimes "try too hard" at small talk.  Like I'll find something to latch onto (in a desperate bid to find *something*) and just keep the conversation on that thing I'm comfortable talking about, no matter how inane.  To the point where it probably sometimes looks like I'm the one that wants the worthless small talk to continue. -_-

pbkmaine

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #42 on: August 21, 2017, 06:41:58 PM »
All you have to do is ask questions and show interest. Most people love to talk about themselves.

This is on the mark.
Ask about family, kids, grand kids, etc.; where they live, what they do, etc. and they will usually take over the conversation.
When I was selling and took clients to lunch I tried to never bring up business and left that up to them.   A good opener was always "so what do you do for fun".

But if it's someone like a neighbor or a co-worker that you run into on a semi-regular basis, they start noticing when you ask them what their vacation plans are for the sixth time. And they notice that you've forgotten what they said last time. So while you are trying to be earnest and get them to do the taking, it occasionally backfires because you start having a conversation that sounds vaguely familiar and they will sometimes say "yeah, remember when I told you X" and you feel like a jackass.

So it isn't as simple as asking questions to discover the unique story that each individual has to tell you. You also have to remember the answers to those questions and build on those answers during your next encounter with different questions that show that you retained what you learned about them in your previous conversation.

My sister used to work for a dentist and she told me that they write down key small talk "talking points" about each patient in their chart after every routine visit: "Has three children. Oldest just started high school. Plays in Bon Job I cover band." That way the hygienist has a more personal conversation with you at each visit. Do I need to start doing this?

Yes, if that works for you.

Bicycle_B

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #43 on: August 21, 2017, 10:13:31 PM »
All you have to do is ask questions and show interest. Most people love to talk about themselves.

This is on the mark.
Ask about family, kids, grand kids, etc.; where they live, what they do, etc. and they will usually take over the conversation.
When I was selling and took clients to lunch I tried to never bring up business and left that up to them.   A good opener was always "so what do you do for fun".

But if it's someone like a neighbor or a co-worker that you run into on a semi-regular basis, they start noticing when you ask them what their vacation plans are for the sixth time. And they notice that you've forgotten what they said last time. So while you are trying to be earnest and get them to do the taking, it occasionally backfires because you start having a conversation that sounds vaguely familiar and they will sometimes say "yeah, remember when I told you X" and you feel like a jackass.

So it isn't as simple as asking questions to discover the unique story that each individual has to tell you. You also have to remember the answers to those questions and build on those answers during your next encounter with different questions that show that you retained what you learned about them in your previous conversation.

My sister used to work for a dentist and she told me that they write down key small talk "talking points" about each patient in their chart after every routine visit: "Has three children. Oldest just started high school. Plays in Bon Job I cover band." That way the hygienist has a more personal conversation with you at each visit. Do I need to start doing this?

I say no!  You can if you want, but it's not necessary IMHO.  Because:
1. It's up to you whether you even play this game.  It's nice and might help on occasion, but most of the time your life will be ok even if people think you're a weird antisocial ditz, which is likely the worst outcome.  So you decide whether the time and effort investment is worthwhile.
2. You can accomplish a lot through such efforts, but usually at some point your schtick will run out.  After raising the bar, you may just disappoint them again.
3. The essence of "small talk" IMHO is bonding or at least respecting the person's humanity.  To fake bonding or respect via detailed attention works sometimes, but the effort to results ratio is high.  Maybe focus instead on simpler techniques.
4. If you can read moods, just do one or two sentences of low-content stuff ("nice day today") in a tone that responds to their mood.  If they're happy, be happy to them and move on ("see you later").  If they're not, "Hi there" and moving on past them may be ok.  "You doin' all right?" would be a responsive version of showing care... no data needed.  All of these are efficient basic bonding/respect with little need for data retention.  You won't become mayor just by operating at this level, but you will be acceptable and probably not weird; a tie, basically, not a loss.  That's plenty for most normal purposes.
5. If you can't read moods, of course all success percentages drop anyway.  Sorry, that's how it is.  I think you can usually make one or two informative/explanatory remarks and move on anyway, though.  "Hi there.  Good to see you.  I gotta go walk the dog, busy schedule today!" 

So there are options other than "massive data processing" and "being the kind of jerk who totally ignores people."  Good luck!!

PS.  I used to be world class terrible at small talk.  I now vary between excellent and nope-still-a-weirdo.  But most often, people perceive me as somewhere on the normal-to-nice spectrum now unless there are other cues.  Years of slow improvement.
« Last Edit: August 21, 2017, 10:24:32 PM by Bicycle_B »

oldtoyota

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #44 on: August 21, 2017, 10:31:01 PM »
I felt the same way and came up with questions. I often ask people what's making them happy these days. Or what is something good that happened to them in the past week? I love to talk about books, so I might ask if they're reading anything they'd recommend.

Today, I had a 15-min conversation with a 13 yo about four books he read over the summer. I see him fairly often, and he rarely talks that much to me/us. I enjoyed hearing what he liked about the books.

You need the small talk to get to the big talk.

One person--a professor of mine--used to ask me the same question whenever I saw her: What are you reading? A few times, I drew a HUGE blank and felt pretty stupid. So I changed things...If I knew I'd see her, I'd plan ahead and remind myself of what I'd read recently. And then I'd ask HER, and people do love to talk about themselves, so that worked well.




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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #45 on: August 21, 2017, 11:28:16 PM »
I'm terrible at making and continuing small talk. I find that their responses are rarely interesting. "How's you day/weekend/life?" "Ohh same old same old work all day everyday"
If I'm talking with an extrovert I can usually keep up and pick out something to follow up on or tell my own story that's connected to what they were talking about. But it's really hard for me to make friends because it's really hard for me to strike up a conversation with someone.

FINate

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #46 on: August 21, 2017, 11:28:47 PM »
This was me to a tee a few years ago. OP, I'm going to venture a guess that you, like me, are highly introverted and live in the US.

If you haven't read it already, my first recommendation is to pick up a copy of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain. This will give you a new appreciation for your introversion and make you aware of how US culture is strongly biased toward extroversion: lots of group projects in school, open offices, idealizing people who can work a room of strangers making witty small talk (if I recall correctly Susan references "How to Win Friends and Influence People" as an example of extroversion bias). Many cultures do not emphasis gregariousness to the degree US culture does - it's not normal, and even in the US is a relatively new development of the early 20th centry. The book also clarifies that introversion is not the same as shyness. The introversion/extroversion spectrum is really about how you process information and stimuli.

My second recommendation is to ignore advice from extroverts to simply act more extroverted, to fake it until you make it, or to just force yourself to be more sociable. If you are only somewhat introverted this approach may work ok, but it's likely to leave you frustrated and exhausted and feeling ashamed if you're just not wired this way. At least that's what happened to me when well meaning folks pointed me down this path. I ended up feeling even more socially awkward.

So I stopped worrying about it and accepted that I'm never going to be the chatty social butterfly in the room...and that's perfectly ok. Then a weird thing started to happen. I stopped critiquing every little social interaction and stopped putting pressure on myself. After a while I stopped having anxiety about going to social functions and meeting new people. Not stressing out meant that I didn't go into these situations preloaded with fight-or-flight emotions so I could be calm and think and make conversation.

I'm still not super sociable and you'll never find me working the room like some folks - I simply have low social needs and I'm okay with that. I can make small talk in a room of strangers, even enjoy it in small doses, but I don't stay at social events for very long because they are draining. On the other hand social functions are energising for my extroverted wife. Over the years we've found a happy medium, which for us is about 2 hrs.
« Last Edit: August 21, 2017, 11:52:58 PM by FINate »

gerardc

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #47 on: August 22, 2017, 02:22:23 AM »
This was me to a tee a few years ago. OP, I'm going to venture a guess that you, like me, are highly introverted and live in the US.

If you haven't read it already, my first recommendation is to pick up a copy of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain. This will give you a new appreciation for your introversion and make you aware of how US culture is strongly biased toward extroversion: lots of group projects in school, open offices, idealizing people who can work a room of strangers making witty small talk (if I recall correctly Susan references "How to Win Friends and Influence People" as an example of extroversion bias). Many cultures do not emphasis gregariousness to the degree US culture does - it's not normal, and even in the US is a relatively new development of the early 20th centry. The book also clarifies that introversion is not the same as shyness. The introversion/extroversion spectrum is really about how you process information and stimuli.

My second recommendation is to ignore advice from extroverts to simply act more extroverted, to fake it until you make it, or to just force yourself to be more sociable. If you are only somewhat introverted this approach may work ok, but it's likely to leave you frustrated and exhausted and feeling ashamed if you're just not wired this way. At least that's what happened to me when well meaning folks pointed me down this path. I ended up feeling even more socially awkward.

So I stopped worrying about it and accepted that I'm never going to be the chatty social butterfly in the room...and that's perfectly ok. Then a weird thing started to happen. I stopped critiquing every little social interaction and stopped putting pressure on myself. After a while I stopped having anxiety about going to social functions and meeting new people. Not stressing out meant that I didn't go into these situations preloaded with fight-or-flight emotions so I could be calm and think and make conversation.

I'm still not super sociable and you'll never find me working the room like some folks - I simply have low social needs and I'm okay with that. I can make small talk in a room of strangers, even enjoy it in small doses, but I don't stay at social events for very long because they are draining. On the other hand social functions are energising for my extroverted wife. Over the years we've found a happy medium, which for us is about 2 hrs.

Good post. Introverts, don't force yourself if you don't feel it or if you feel uncomfortable, it would be awkard AF. Just display slight disinterest if that's how you really feel. People connect more with honest slightly mean people than fake smiles. Of course genuine smile is still better, but it will come with time.

Also 2 hours of any activity is usually plenty, if you think about it. I don't see why it would be different for social interactions.

jooniFLORisploo

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #48 on: August 22, 2017, 08:42:09 AM »
It's helpful for me to hear how many believe that people love getting a question about themselves. For 40+ years, I've hated this so much. I've felt frustrated and stressed by this habit in others.

Through this thread, I now understand that when people do this, they're not trying to be jerks/stress me out/be intrusive. They think they're being nice! This is eye-opening for me.

Learning this idea might help me stress less when people do it. I might come up with some responses to deflect it. Heck, I might even just toss it back. e.g., "Oh, I'm boring! What's YOUR line of work?"

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Re: God I suck at small talk
« Reply #49 on: August 22, 2017, 08:47:56 AM »
I kind of hate small talk, but I read something on this forum lately that changed how I feel about it.

I used to feel a bit like this guy: www.smbc-comics.com/comic/smalltalk. I genuinely love intense one-on-one conversations where people tell me all about their esoteric interests. But you’ve got to find some way of getting from “Hello” to “TELL ME ALL ABOUT YOUR MOTH CATALOGUE IT SOUNDS FASCINATING HOW MANY MOTHS DO YOU HAVE???” Small talk is like throwing out a series of conversational hooks until you get a bite.

So “Oh dear, looks like rain again” leads to “Yep, I’m glad I won’t have to water my giant coconut farm today!” to “TELL ME ALL ABOUT YOUR GIANT COCONUT FARM IT SOUNDS FASCINATING”.

Or “Got any plans for this weekend?” leads to “Yeah, I thought I might check out the tractor festival” to “Oh, you like tractors?” to “No, I’m more of a combine harvester girl. I’ve got a bit of a collection, actually!” to “TELL ME ALL ABOUT THE PAST PRESENT AND FUTURE OF COMBINE HARVESTERS IT SOUNDS FASCINATING”.

Or “How’s the family?” leads to “One of the kids is pooping in the toilet now! It’s such a relief! We thought it might never happen” to “Ugh, yeah, I remember those days. But honestly, you haven’t toilet trained anything until you’ve toilet trained a llama” to “TELL ME ABOUT YOUR PET LLAMA IT SOUNDS FASCINATING”.

Sometimes you have to have a few tries before something bites, but as soon as something seems interesting, you grab it and say “Tell me more about X! It sounds fascinating!” and you’re away. The best hooks are incredibly generic because it means you don’t have to remember anything from your last interaction and it’s on the person you’re talking to to bring it up/fill you in on the background.

I read a lot of conversational books that tell you to ask other people questions, but then it starts to sound like an interrogation. The conversational hooks idea is better for me because it means both people are both fish and fishermen. I’m still asking questions and seeing if something bites my line, but I’m also looking around to see if there’s anything for me to bite onto. (Disclaimer: I have never been fishing.) So I now focus maybe 60% on asking questions and maybe 40% on giving interesting responses.

I often work out “interesting” responses in advance if I know I’m going to be somewhere that has a lot of small talk – e.g. a wedding where I don’t know a lot of people, a new team at work… My categories tend to be:
1.   Book I am reading at the moment
2.   Thing I am making/DIYing at the moment
3.   Mutual friend I have seen recently
4.   Thing that is happening at work

So… “Looks like rain later!” leads to “Yep! Still, at least we’ve got rain! I’m reading this book about the Somalian famine at the moment…” or “I know, and I was really hoping to finish moving the topsoil in my garden tomorrow but I suppose I’ll have to wait to finish the raised beds for another few days” or “I am so over it! I saw Jeanie the other day and it was absolutely bucketing down. We’d planned to go to the park but…” or “I thought I was going to get soaked on the way to work yesterday, and thank heavens I wasn’t because I was carrying all the papers for Project Awesome in an open folder and just had to clutch them against my chest and pray!”

The hard part for me is then not monologuing about whatever it is for the next hour :) But it gets us into some actual talk.