How to transform small talk into powerful connection
Small talk terrifies my predominantly-introverted self. But in American culture, small talk is a social necessity.
I had this grand desire to have vulnerable and powerful conversations with the people I met. So, I tried to drop pointless conversations from my life and dive right into the core.
But this only left me confused and unfulfilled: thinking that people just didn’t want to talk about things that mattered…
“People mistakenly infer others’ attitudes from their behavior when their behavior is actually dictated by norms. In this case, people see everyone not talking and assume they don’t want to talk, but actually everyone is more interested in talking than they believe.” -Juliana Schroeder
It wasn’t until I changed my view about relationships that I realized how powerful and warm small talk can be. And how crucial it is to nurturing delicate relationships.
Center your relationships around giving
Relationships are the most vibrant when they’re giving-focused instead of getting-focused.
We have to let go of our ego-centric view to find connection and community and give value more than we receive it.
Instead of viewing relationships with a mindset of “what I can get”, we must choose each moment to give.
We must seek the collective prosperity of others so we can join a community: a community that pushes each other further through rhythms of giving and receiving.
“Relationships don’t happen automatically. Apathy, fear, awkwardness – all conspire to thwart connection. You have to be prepared to fight for your relationships.” - Daniel Wendler
Small talk connects us to the present moment
“I’m still making my voice heard in a way that inspires people to advance their lives” - Nicholas Kusmich
Small talk is the entrance into a deeper level of relational trust and understanding.
So often I would spend most of my time meditating on the things I was wanting to do in the future. Or meditating on what I’ve done in the past.
You know, that thing you do when someone talks to you but you’re not paying attention so you just smile and nod hoping that’s what they were looking for….
Small talk is a subtle reminder of the real people in front of us. In real places. With real jobs. And real problems.
And the seemingly unimportant talk about the weather is a gentle reminder that the present moment has true power and meaning when we allow ourselves to enter into that space.
I had to realize that the time I spent meditating on the future and the past is simply my lack of participation in the present moment.
So, even though I was physically with my family, I was mentally absent instead of bonding. Or, instead of seeking connection with someone who was hurting, I would give canned responses and be somewhere else mentally thinking of excuses to leave.
"Presence is experienced in a participative way, outside the mind. The mind by nature is intent on judging, controlling, and analyzing instead of seeing, tasting, and loving." - Richard Rohr
Small talks allows us to loosen the controlled grip on our lives and focus entirely on the person and presence in front of us.
Small talk catapults our well-being
Countless studies have proclaimed the benefits of social interaction.
But so often we act like we’re fine on our own. We think we don’t need more friends. Or we simply don’t want to engage with someone else.
Those who care, give, or help in an unsolicited manner feel more positive, alive, and have higher self-esteem (Weinstein & Ryan).
Connecting with others, even superficially, allows us to express our humanity that is deeply connected in the exchange of ideas and emotions.
And we knowingly neglect an aspect of our humanity and health when we choose to opt-out of our natural, communicative make-up.
“People mistakenly thinking that isolation is more pleasant than connecting with a stranger, when the benefits of social connection actually extend to distant strangers as well. Connecting with others increases happiness, but strangers in close proximity routinely ignore each other… Human beings are social animals. Those who misunderstand the consequences of social interactions may not, in at least some contexts, be social enough for their own well-being. - Epley & Schroeder
Small talk is an invitation to engage
We thrive on narrative. We love stories and events and people and places and how they all mesh together in a divine dance.
Before I learned the power of small talk, I always felt so disconnected from my environment. I felt like stories were whirling around me and only displaying glimpses of a connection I longed so deeply for.
The problem was that I never realized small talk was an invitation to engage in a story greater than my own.
Each day I was presented with an invitation to a story and always declined: wondering why I felt so lonely.
Some of the stories we’re invited to don’t end up being part of our own. And that’s ok. Sometimes the stories we’re invited to captivate and liven us. But we never know how powerful a story is unless we’re willing to take up an invitation.
“This progression from superficial to intimate is something that happens over the course of a relationship, not over the course of one conversation.” - Daniel Wendler
I think the biggest thing I struggled with was thinking that small talk always had to immediately transition into what I wanted to get out of a relationship.
When, in reality, strong relationships need to be seasoned by time and experiences to have meaningful impact.
I thought that an instantly deep conversation would be meaningful and valuable, but it was only dry and disrespectful. I had to change my mindset and focus on how I can serve others.
Small talk makes us giving-focused
“They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Carl W. Buehner
The biggest hindrance to my interactions was constantly thinking about what I want to say. I wanted people to think I was wise and that I said powerful, quotable things. Words that would be shared on Twitter with high distinction next to world-class tweets (like @realDonaldTrump…).
Instead of spending all my energy on getting praise out of a relationship, I transitioned my energy to understanding how I make people feel.
And I’m still not great at it. It’s a growing process.
But I’ve learned to listen more, and be empathetic, and show that I truly care with my words and actions.
Small talk grants a safe space to practice selflessness. Or, it can be a space where I try to get what my insecurities scream about...
Shifting my view of relationships to “what can I give” instead of “what can I get” meant that small talk needed to become an integral part of my life so I could always be exposed to people I can give to.
Small talk allows us to reclaim our intentions
I’m a recovering addict of my ego.
Left unchecked, our intentions will almost always drift to a getting-focused mentality.
Small talks allows us to reclaim our relational intentions. Every day I have the opportunity to throw away the desires of my ego and choose to give value and time and respect to the people I meet.
"People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions, & help them throw rocks at their enemies" - Blair Warren
At the end of the day, people want to enter into loving and safe relationships. And small talk gives up a place where we can reclaim our intentions in small ways that compound over time.
Small talk used to suck the life out of me until I realized I was only viewing relationships with the intensity of my ego.
Once you let go of yourself and choose to be a giving-focused person, you’ll realize that each time you communicate with someone, you’re being invited to a story that is about union and heartbreak and love and presence.
Small talk allows us to directly enter into the present moment and cast away our shame and worry as we serve the people in front of us.
Challenge yourself to continually view relationships as an invitation to something greater than yourself: a broader story with greater depth and meaning that we could ever create on our own.
You don’t always have to pursue the depths of a story, but you’ll miss out on vulnerable community if you don’t at least chase after the invitation for something more.