Small Talk For Beginners – A Guest Post By Stephen Haggerty

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.

Bob Dylan- brilliant lyricist, ridiculous hair-comber.

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?”

Just another day in the office.

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?


31 thoughts on “Small Talk For Beginners – A Guest Post By Stephen Haggerty

  1. I’d like to go on record as stating that I detest small talk. I’m not good at it (which may be why I hate it). I just feel like it serves no purpose. I talk when I have something to say. There are people in my life who I know will bring up the weather, literally every time they see me. It creates these kind of conversations:

    Annoying person: “Sure is cold today!”
    Me: “Yep.”
    Annoying person: “Welp…you have a blessed day!”
    Me: “Ok.”

    Anyway, do you guys think it’s gonna rain? 🙂

  2. I agree. I am uncomfortable when someone asks me about my wife. I feel a little left out.

    Not only does no one turn down a chat about the weather, everyone loves to gripe about the meteorologist. If you ARE a meteorologist, I apologize. I am sure that YOU are spot-on every single time.

    1. That fact has always cracked me up. Satellites and computers come up with these images and predicted patterns, so CLEARLY if it’s wrong, the fault is laid on the guy with the teleprompter.

    2. Well if Dan McDoogleberry over at channel 9 would call it right for once I might give him a break. (I actually haven’t “watched” the weather in years. I have the “internet.”)

  3. This was most excellent. I found the best thing to do with small talk is to get the person talking about themselves. People love to talk about themselves. Once they do this you can tune out, check your smart phone, leave the room etc. They will go on and on and not think twice about your lack of interest.

  4. I’m a champion at starting small talk, but I fail miserably when someone tries to start it with me. Yesterday someone asked me how many children I have (none that I’m aware of). I just stared at him and didn’t say anything until he said, “Oh, so you don’t have any?” Sigh.

  5. I don’t mind small talk. I just hate the awkward silence that sometimes happens in the middle. I’ve found the best remedy to this is to stare at the other person, flare my nostrils, and breathe through my nose really heavily.

    1. I know what you mean about the awkward silence. I think when this is over I’m just going to make a mash-up of all the suggestions and make that my strategy. So far the mash-up would tell me to “stare at the person while silently flaring nostrils, disregard them and walk away so they can talk about themselves”… not half bad so far.

  6. The last play I did in college was Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” and from studying this famous Russian playwright, he too saw how conversations about the weather were an essential part of small talk. I feel bad for people who live in climates that basically negate seasons. How many times can you reply, “Sunny, as usual” or “Still raining …”? Thankfully in NY our weather has enough of a personality to warrant that aspect of small talk to be quite interesting. LOL!

    1. to be honest, I got to “Uncle Vanya” and then remembered how depressing Uncle Vanya is and couldn’t really make it through the rest of the comment because the tears messed up my vision.

  7. As a generally introverted soul–one who has to be gainfully employed–I’ve had to learn how to master the art of small talk. Le sigh.

    I’m with Kevin–I prefer to say something deep, meaningful, rather than “How about those Pats?”

    And “Be quiet, I’m watching T.V.” never works out well at all… Why is that?

    1. Since having small talk is quite possible to do without using any cognitive powers- so you may very well be able to do so without turning your attention from your show… Try it and let me know.

  8. I choose to end awkward convos in this fashion:

    Meaningless Individual: blah blah I’m really struggling blah blah I’m lost blah….

    Me: Woah, Big Gulps, huh? All right! Well, see ya later.

    [turn and quickly walk away]

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