I've worked for a long time to make small talk meaningful. From my experience, even standing in line in a supermarket talking to others can be a fascinating experience, if one of us can figure out what we have to offer each other in the time we have together to spend now.
What I look for in others to indicate what this "magic topic" might be, beyond the niceties of over-used one-liners. Now, how do I do this in such a short time? Turns out it pays off to examine the assumptions of social cliche` and come up with other avenues that yield high-interest answers.
To do this yourself, you would follow the same routine as others expect, but ask similar essential questions that are more to the point than the stock questions. I came up with these alternate questions by wondering, "Why is this common social question really being asked?"
For instance, "Where did you grow up?" This is a question with the motive to find out what environment made the person who they are. So I'd avoid asking that question in a way that will illicit the answer of a town or specific location. Instead, I might ask, "Can you describe environments that you most enjoyed playing in as a kid? What did you like about those sorts of places? Do you ever do something like that now?"
Different answers to the same question, (Why is this question being asked?) will point in alternate directions. Perhaps, this question of "Where did you grow up?" might be: to find out what subculture influenced childhood. So why not ask that as a direct question? "What sort of subculture shaped your early experience?"
Obviously, this is a technique that can offer high yield possibilities for any set of mundane conversations that would be under the heading of "small talk." It can also be a source of humor. "Where did you come from?" This can now be answered with a smirk, "My mother of course - wasn't that true for you too?"
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