Sunday, June 29, 2014

Day Twenty Nine: Small Talk

When life gets busy and I feel overwhelmed, I hide away and look after myself.  I like to make sure my home and work is organised, tidy and clean because that makes me feel better and more able to handle everything.

I spend my down-time reading, and I snuggle into bed nice and early.  It doesn’t make for a very interesting view from the outside, but I know it’s just what I need.  An acquaintance that I catch up with occasionally asked what I’ve been up to lately.  ‘Oh, working’, I said (because we were at the shop at the time).

She looked momentarily disappointed so I quickly asked her ‘what’s new with you’ and enquired after a big project she told me about a few months ago.  Her smile returned and all was well again.

Maybe it’s because I’m private or because I have a quiet life, but there’s really not that much to tell.  The kinds of things I like to do aren’t that social (knitting, reading, gardening, cooking etc), and I enjoy and need my own company to feel in balance.

I don’t particularly want to go into great detail about our business because it’s my business, not other peoples.  I know it’s a common question, but I find it really intrusive when people ask us ‘how’s business going’.  I would never ask that of someone!  And no-one ever tells the truth anyway.  If we’re going well, I don’t like to sound like I’m showing off, and if things are a bit quiet, I don’t want people feeling sorry for me.

Everyone’s different and I accept that.  But I think that the French way of conversation which is to ask about what books you have read lately, movies/theatre seen etc, rather than business questions are much better.  I know small-talk is important to get a conversation going and make people feel comfortable around you, I suppose it is sort of like kindling in a fire.

So maybe it’s important for me to train myself, just like you can train for anything, on  how to make good small talk.  I've picked up a few tips from people I know who are good at this.

Ask light, non-intrusive questions.  If they have children that’s a great starting point (how are they doing at school etc), or the weather, ‘how’s work going’, do they have any upcoming holidays.  I’ve noticed a lot of people use ‘do you have any holidays coming up?’ so I tried it and it's great.  It’s always good to spark off a conversation.  You can also piggy-back on someone's question if it's a good one and ask them the same one back.  Then put it in your question bank!

Compliment someone on something they are wearing, or their hairstyle etc.  I sometimes compliment a man on his tie if it’s distinctive or his watch (I always notice cool watches) or a colour a woman is wearing if it’s lovely on her.  I never lie, so if there is nothing much to compliment, I will talk about something else.

Be enthusiastic about what they’re saying.  A friend of my husband’s is known for being super-positive, to the point of ridiculous.  He’s not putting it on though, it’s just him and the way he has always been.  My husband says he would never take a restaurant recommendation from him because even if he'd had the worst meal of his life there, his friend would rave about it.  Funnily enough, everyone loves him, because they feel loved by him, I think.

I don’t think small talk is ever something that will come naturally to me, simply because I am too concerned with seeming nosy or crass so I limit myself to the types of questions I can ask.  Sometimes it’s really hard to think something up!  But just knowing that others are in the same boat and probably feel really awkward too, well that makes me feel a little more relaxed.  And, the more I practice it the easier it gets so I just get on with it.


  1. i like the compliment approach. There is always something pleasant that one can say.

  2. i'm like you in that i really don't like small talk. i find that moving the conversation to them works wonders. people love to talk about themselves (i suppose that's why i blog!) and so it works well for me.
    like madame, i think the compliment approach is a kind way to check in with someone. x

  3. Oh yes the business question, my last favourite.

  4. I learned something here. I thought "how's business going?" was a polite way to show interest. I know better now. I dislike small talk and avoid it like the plague if I can. But, an honest compliment is always a good start. If you can find a common interest that's the best.

  5. Deborah, the business question coming from you with a smile I wouldn't mind. But some people, and I generally don't know them well, will say something like 'how's business going for you, do you get much foot traffic around here?', with their two eyes drilling into you as they expect an in-depth answer. I feel like saying 'oh go away would you' because it's so nosy and quite rude.

    Instead I give them a big smile and say 'oh great thanks, what line of business are you in?' and then ask them how that's going! Beat them at their own sticky-beak game I say.

    Whether someone is in business or has a job I usually say 'how's work going' if I can't think of anything else and it seems less instrusive.

  6. After dating for almost ten years while in my 30/40's I think I quite mastered the art of small talk. I did have a series of questions memorized and ready. One question most always can lead into another as you get someone talking. This can apply to friend's and acquaintances as well. If you have a few general questions and ask another question in relation to their answer. Don't ask "yes" or "no" questions. Instead ask things like "how did you feel about that" or "what do you think about that". This also works well with teenagers :-)

  7. I lived in a boarding house and had to learn how to master small talk. We had people from all over, some of them only short-term visitors and others permanent residents. You never knew who you'd meet at the dinner table, and so you really had to get good at dealing with those regular questions. I usually had a couple of general talking points, then turned the conversation towards them- where they were from, what brings them to this location, ect.

    One of the other long-term residents really hated small talk and would be quite rude about it. A lot of the residents were students, though she was not, and she would get upset if she was asked if she was studying. (She once mentioned she'd dropped out of college and I think it was a sore point with her.) Instead of just saying she was working at X and changing the subject, she'd snap at the poor person like they'd kicked a puppy!


Merci for your comment. Wishing you a chic day!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...