Published: Aug 19, 2016 12:00:00 PM

small-talk.jpgSmall talk is fascinating. You do it in the morning when you're still arriving at the waking world. You do it when waiting around beside another human in an elevator. Small talk is your mind stretching, staying limber, keeping loose.

There's nothing wrong with small talk, these simple pixie-sneeze conversations. In reality, you can capitalize on these tiny interactive moments with small declarative points.

Here are a few nuggets to elevate small talk from polite formality to full-on brain yoga.

\\\ Small talk is for discovery and miniature revelations.

When you're standing idle beside somebody and feel you should engage them, you're likely wondering one of two things:

  • What's this person's deal?
  • What does this person think of me?

It doesn't matter if you're leaning against a wall beside a total stranger or hitting a lull in conversation with your spouse of twenty-five years: the easiest route to achieving fulfillment out of small talk is saying what's on your mind, or understanding what's on theirs.

You can't ask what the other person is thinking because that is the world's crudest question. Instead, think of the most recent thing you did that brought you pride. It's a curious exercise. You aren't traditionally encouraged to be proud, but you're also traditionally dissuaded from eating pigs, so give yourself a break for the moment and be proud.

Think of the most recent thing that brought you pride. The more innocuous, the better. Tell the other person about it. There. You're done.

I won't go into finer detail or mention specifics because this is something you need to think of on your own.

\\ Say, "That sounds hard" often in small talk.

Do this all the time. If somebody is talking about almost any endeavor, there is no greater honor you can bestow than pointing out their task appears difficult. They will either be:

  • Pleased by your sympathy for their hard work
  • Proud by how difficult their work appears, even if it isn't

Maybe the person is raising a puppy. Maybe the person is planning to run 5 kilometers. Maybe the person is eating a homemade burrito. It doesn't matter if they think it's a difficult or simple achievement, your mention that it "sounds hard" will engulf them in validation.

\ Reveal your smallest discoveries.

Straightforward, innocent discoveries make good kindling for small talk. Don't put this responsibility on the other person. State your own tiny details, specifically your discoveries in media.

Suck it up, pop-culture is small talk engine oil. It's usually how you find common ground. However, you can take pressure off the other person by not asking them, "Have you seen MOVIE?" and instead reveal your own, teensy discovery.

"I watched The Get Down this past weekend." And we're off to the races. You'll have the chance to explain if it's TV or a movie, where you watched it, and what it is.

Make it even better by embracing more obscure media.

"I listened to the new episode of the podcast Thirty-Twenty-Ten yesterday."

Okay, now you're really down in the weeds. It's a good place to be, because it means you have taste and interest beyond the current weather and the sports results for the previous weekend.

Sharing undiscovered media is a truly honest thing when you introduce it as an invitation to talk, rather than a platform to shout superiority.

Think about the most unusual thing you discovered recently in:

  • TV
  • Movies
  • Podcasts
  • Websites
  • Local, independent events

Talk about that. It'll be time to end this conversation and start the next.

-- Alex Crumb
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