Small talk…what is the point?
Communicating with others when the purpose is to exchange pertinent information, to learn something, or to teach is clearly meaningful and worthwhile. However, the tedious process of determining interesting and appropriate information to share with a stranger or acquaintance can seem overwhelming and pointless to many neurodiverse individuals. Small talk is the key to opening and building connections with people in your communities, establishing social networks, and creating a ‘like-ability’ factor essential to building relationships with others. Efficacious small talk and the connections developed from it, lead to advancement in the workplace, successful friendships and partnerships, and allows an individual to feel confident in participating in any situation.
Where to begin?
Small talk has many components, and each skill can be learned through explicit instruction. Successful small talk starts with learning how to generate relevant topics of conversation. You must then monitor your audience to gauge their body, facial, and/or language clues to determine if they are interested or uninterested in the conversation. Strategies such as follow-up questioning and mirroring are used to engage your audience and continue the conversation. Finally, an appropriate ending point must be determined and a strategy for finishing the conversation implemented. These components proceed on a continuous loop, as an individual works through each step repeatedly to create successful conversation.
Often the first step of generating a relevant topic can feel overwhelming and may deter an individual from engaging. An easy-to-remember acronym my clients and I have developed as a starting point to help initiate conversation when learning this multifaceted skill is W.O.R.D.S.
W: Weather- Is it cold, hot, rainy, or sunny outside? It’s always a safe bet to comment on the current weather or ask about the weather where your audience is located.
O: Observations- Look around… what is the situation, what environment or context do you find yourself in? Are you participating in the same event, eating dinner at the same place, attending the same class/school, working at the same company?
R: Remember -What do you remember about this person? Do you have a ‘memory file’ or know information about this person from a previous conversation? Have you shared experiences together in the past?
D: Do -What does this person do for work? What will they be doing this weekend or this evening? What have they done over the past week/weekend?
S: Sports/Hobbies- Does this person follow any sports teams or participate in any hobbies?
Remember small talk is a complex process, and it can be difficult to feel confident in, so be patient with yourself, practice with people you feel comfortable talking to and ask for feedback. It’s important to take the time to determine what your motivation is for building this skill (Want to find friends? Get a job? Get promoted?), and use this self-determined motivation to encourage yourself to practice and push through the uncomfortable feelings to find the rewards of small talk. In time, with individualized strategies, and through practice implementing techniques, small talk can be successfully integrated into conversations, and your connections with others will grow! Communication is the key to connecting with others, building relationships, navigating the workplace, and thriving in your community!