Have you ever found yourself thinking, “What in the world did I just say?” I have, way more times than I’d like to admit. For example, we were in college and I was meeting my husband’s RA. For whatever reason, I felt the weight of our age difference, the setting was awkward, and to make it even worse, I literally had just put lotion on my hands. We were at an assembly. He was in the row in front of me and turned around to greet us. It was horribly awkward and I said, “Oh sorry, my hands are creamy!”…it just came out as I was trying to fill space and there was no time to rope it back in. His face said it all! We have ALL been there. I’m not saying small talk and conversation will never be awkward, but let’s work through it and give ourselves a few more tools to prepare for it!
Picture the first few minutes of your conversation like speed dating! The clock is ticking and you have just a few minutes to make a connection or the ship sinks! Small talk has its place and actually, I think it’s important! It’s a necessary tool to ease into a conversation but we shouldn’t stay there! Why? Because talking about things outside of our own lives cannot lead to connection! They connect us to details outside our own lives instead of in them!
Here’s what you can do:
Start with small talk by asking about the new restaurant in town, how they know the host of an event, or comment on their shoes. Whatever it is that comes out, I’m actually fine with! Stay there a little while, while you and the other person get comfortable with conversation and making a connection point. But then, we all know the feeling of when it feels like we need to wave the white flag and pivot or run! This is when things can slip into an awkward scenario really fast! When that happens, designate yourself the intentional question-asker! What does this mean? It means that you are vowing to say, “This can either get awkward or shallow really quickly, and I’m committed to making sure that doesn’t happen.”
Somehow in our culture, personal questions have been deemed offensive, but they are the only way we become known! To start, please avoid anything controversial. Build relationships before talking about things that could lead to division. There’s a time and place for these dialogues and we’ll talk about those. To start in this type of situation, you need to begin by giving yourself the permission to shift focus. Here’s how and a few examples of questions you can ask:
“I know the pandemic has impacted small businesses. How are you guys holding up?”
“I know your son is going into middle school. Is he excited?”
“I know your mom comes and visits every summer. Is she coming this year too?”
When people are asked questions that touch on areas of their own life, it says, “Wow, they care!”
“Oh wow, they want to get to know me,” and much like a first date, it says, “Oh, there’s a spark of connection here!”
I had the privilege of being friends with some incredible question-askers a few years ago! The depth of those friendships far surpassed any others. You can be that, and lead in that too. Like anything that goes against cultural norms, it takes time. Don’t be discouraged if your questions land flat. You showing up in a new way will lead through example.
Give yourself space to practice this and watch sprouts of relationships start to pop up!