Saturday, December 30, 2017

Small Talk & Social Graces

I am pretty lousy at small talk. I want to have deep interesting conversations about things that move people's souls, captivate their minds and the beauty that moves their heart.... or just really funny stories. Instead I end up asking a bunch of dumb questions about biographical information trying to piece together a mosaic about people without really getting to know who they are beyond the basic details (school, occupation, family structure, etc). I have really enjoyed the Art of Manliness Podcast and saw he had a ton of blog posts too. One entire section was on social graces. Some key excerpts/ideas I found particularly helpful are below:


  • It's not about you. The goal isn't to show off. While it make seem like it will impress people, it will probably just be a turnoff. Most of the time making the other person feel good will make them like you. Just be interested and listen. If you really do want to brag to get someone's attention, get a wingman to do it for you.  
  • Make people feel comfortable. If you can do this, you've accomplished 75% of the heavy lifting. People are naturally skeptical of strangers. Putting them at ease (especially women) is the hardest part when approaching a new person. Don't make them feel like you want something (a date, extracting intel, etc).   
  • Be positive: Commenting on negative events is only going to bring the mood down, especially early on. It's also going to help people to relax and enjoy being around you. Too much negativity and they will want to bolt for the door. 
  • Pay attention to the other person. People too often spend too much time thinking about what they want to say. In addition, pay attention to how the other person thinks about themselves. 
  • Be "generous" in conversation. Compliments go a long way. Also, bite your tongue. Let people meander a little bit. Trying to rush them to be more efficient won't do anything to help them relax and be comfortable and open up.
  • Comment on your surroundings.  This is the easiest way to gin up initial comments. You can also ask how they met the host or about their connection to an event.
  • Be Prepared If you know who you are meeting in advance, go ahead and do a little prep work. Look at Facebook. Think about your past conversations. It's easier to think about how to make the most of time together when you're not under pressure. 
  • Balance is important:  The classic advice to "seem interested in others" can easily devolve into outright interrogation if you just keep asking questions. It's important to also reveal things about yourself to give the other person some content they can ask questions on later in the conversation. 
  • Use the ARE method: The acronym stands for Anchor, Reveal & Encourage. Basically comment on something around you (an anchor), share your [positive] thought on it, and then ask the other person how they feel about it. 
When things get a little more intense:

  • Don't say anything you don't believe just to make a point (this includes things quite similar to it like making assertions where you have no experience or authority). Be genuine. Be authentic.  
  • Don't say anything when you're upset. You will make things worse and regret it later.
  • Kind words are the best response for mean comments directed at you. They will also preserve your reputation rather than injuring it. 
  • Introduce charged topics gradually and gently (I am particularly bad at this. I tend to lob molotov cocktails in conversation). 
  • Decide if it's a discussion or a debate. In a discussion you are trying to figure out the other person's views. You listen. Your mind is open. In a debate you are making an argument. You want to be heard. Very different goals. 
  • Ask "what" vs "why/how" questions. This will elicit details rather than emotional responses. "What make you feel that way?" is much more likely to elicit a clean response versus "How could you feel that way?" 
  • Invisibly meditate. Conversations will get tense. Breathe deeply. Relax. Remember you're engaging with someone you want to maintain a relationship with.