A few weeks back, I received a Facebook friend request from Stephen Haggerty. I thought, “Huh, I’m not really familiar with this guy. Should I-OH WAIT look at his beard. Okay, we’re friends.”
And that is really all you need to know about Stephen. But here’s more info: he’s hilarious and poignant with his writing at The Bearded Idealist, and he also is half of an awesome musical duo with his wife, called The New Old Fashions. That’s the band name, not his wife’s name.
Today, Stephen has provided those of us with poor conversation skills with this handy guide: Small Talk For Beginners.
Dylan had it right- you don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows. And do you know why not? Because odds are you’ll get hit with the weekend forecast before you can make it from your front door to your car in the morning.
People love talking about the weather. It requires little-to-no thought but guarantees success, which is why I like to call this activity “Kardashianing”. This same ease-of-us concept is what makes all forms of small talk wildly popular. It’s not that we’re altogether shallow as a people, it’s just that we enjoy the obvious.
It’s not that we’re averse to talking about our “feelings”- it’s just that we’d rather talk about what we had for breakfast (it was tasty, don’t deprive me of sharing that experience with you. Sharing the retelling of the experience, rather. I don’t actually want to eat breakfast with you… unless you’re asking, in which case, yes, I’d definitely like to eat breakfast with you… are you free on Tuesdays?).
It’s not that we don’t care about the things that matter the most, it’s that we care more about whether Friday is coat or fleece appropriate. After all, it’s one thing to connect emotionally with your peers, but it’s something completely different to contract frostbite in the process.
So what do you do if you haven’t mastered the art of talking about last night’s Idol episode? One option is to avoid conversation with other humans like the plague. Thoreau did this, and people quote him on Facebook like every day. Another option is to adhere to the following free tips:
Tip #1: Stay on top of current events. I find one way to do this is to conduct a quick search for what’s trending, and then casually drop it into conversation like a stealth bomb. Let’s put this into practice. I just clicked on the “discover” tab on my Twitter home screen, and “Etta James” tops the list. Here’s how you might spark up some dialogue on the topic: “Etta James. Now there’s someone with a first name for a last name, and a not-a-name for a first name… I love talking about popular culture- don’t you?” There are countless directions this conversation could go from here / not go from here, but the point is, you started it. Success.
Tip #2: Understand that no one has ever turned down a weather conversation. Fact. If you tell someone it’s going to snow tomorrow, they will want to talk to you. At this point, you can either spill the beans and confess that you made this up and that you don’t actually understand how to read a weather map, or you can keep it going and later blame it on the fact that you get your weather from the Fox weather guy. It doesn’t matter what you know, it matters how you say it (like using italics, get it?).
Last Tip: Ask about the wife and kids. This in another one that works like a charm. But watch out – it’s also potentially embarrassing when you happen to try this on someone who has no wife and/or kids. So to save what could be a devastating social blunder, I find it helpful in these situations to explain that you meant it as a metaphor, and that by using “the wife and kids” you meant “are you excited about the upcoming season of Mad Men?” Trust me, this classic redirection technique is sure to take their mind off their lack of companionship and put it back on such unforgettable quotes as “hey there, gorgeous- be a doll and grab me a cup of coffee and the newspaper while I smoke this cigar and drink rum at 10 in the morning, will ya?”
I could go on to give you further small talk ideas, but remember- if you’re thinking too hard, you’re missing the point. With these tips and a little bit of practice, you’ll be talking about meaningless nonsense like a pro in no time. Give it a shot, and don’t be afraid to back out if you feel conversation start to get consequential.
So what about you – can you believe this weather we’ve been having? Who do you want to win the Bachelor?