Small talk – if you master this communicative art, doors open for you. Pure superficiality or are you just likeable? As if. It is the first step to later, possibly really exciting contacts, maybe even deep friendship. It’s not like you walk up to strangers and immediately start a conversation about love, life and our innermost feelings. To be likeable to your counterpart in a few moments, whether in an elevator, at a party, at a corporate function – or currently in a Zoom meeting, you have to start small. Even with small talk. If you strike the right note, you come across as charming and charismatic. And you can practice this. These are the seven basic rules of small, quick conversation. (Read also: 10 things that will make you instantly more interesting as a man)
1. THE ICE BREAKER
The mantra of all charisma coaches: it’s not about how good I think I am. It’s all about making others feel good about being around me. Here you can definitely learn something from the Americans. In the USA it is part of everyday life to unabashedly and unexpectedly give each other compliments. Yes, you can walk up to another man and say, "I like your tie," if in the same breath you follow it up with a reason, for example, "Narrow ties just always look dynamic. Where did you buy them?"Nobody is too cool to be happy about a sincere compliment. It takes courage and openness, but it’s the best way to start a conversation. Then you introduce yourself officially.
2. ASK INSTEAD OF TELL
The legendary British politician Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) once put it this way: "Talk to a person about himself, and he will listen to you for hours on end." In fact, studies show that most people feel they’ve had a really good conversation when they’ve taken up the most speaking time for themselves. So ask. Listen. And you will be best remembered. Lay out a roadmap for engaging the other person in a sympathetic conversation. There is nothing banal in small talk. Just a beginning. You can still become profound. Tip: Questions to which you can answer yes or no do not work. "Did you have a good weekend?" – "Yes." – "Have you already planned your vacation?" "No."You have to lure monosyllabic interlocutors out of their reserve. Instead, use questions like the following as a guide. The concept for a good conversation is: S.T.I.L.! And so it goes:
S – Situation
How do you like the evening so far? How do you know the host?
T – Talent
What do you do professionally? How did you come to this?
I – Interests
What do you like to do in your free time? Which restaurant could you recommend?
L – Life
Where are you originally from? Why did you move away from there??
3. AND NOW: THE WEATHER
It will always happen to you that a conversation partner starts talking about the weather out of awkwardness. Supposedly the most banal topic of all. But it can also turn into an interesting conversation in seconds. The management consultant Asfa-Wossen Asserate describes how to do this in his best-selling book "Manners": "Starting with the statement that today is a cloudy day, you could go on to say that you saw a cloud that looked as if the Pope was riding a camel, or that it was strange, as beautiful as clouds are, you hate paintings of clouds." A bit offbeat, a bit quirky, but very funny. And that is exactly why the other person will react. It also works a little more conventionally. "The summer is pretty rainy again this year." Your answer: "True. I’m still waiting for a nice weekend to go hiking. Do you also like to go hiking?" This would then also be a good example of the art of not letting go. If your counterpart answers with "No", you say: "Oh, you don’t hike? Well then – tell me your hobby? I’m looking for a new one for myself right now and need some encouragement." You’re already in the middle of a social chat. (Also interesting: This is the best way to compliment a woman)
4. LOOKS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS
Minimal confirmations like "aha", "yes", or "interesting" are something like the gasoline for the conversation engine. So feel free to drop in a few of these every now and then to get warmed up. But that can only be the beginning. The basic conversational rule is to treat everyone as if they were an old friend. Good hosts know that. Of course, this does not mean that you should greet complete strangers or the chairman of the board with a jovial pat on the back. But if you make someone feel like they’ve seen you before, they immediately feel more comfortable: touch your interlocutor or date on the arm or shoulder in between. This earns charm points. And: keep eye contact. Not only in conversation for two. Even those standing in a group should look the others in the eye with a friendly smile. This builds strong sympathy.
5. SMALL TALK, BIG BUSINESS
In the job, the talent for conversation is particularly important – or actually the other way around: The lack of this talent is particularly bad. Whether alone with the boss in the elevator or in a group of colleagues in front of the conference room: you should always be able to make a short positive impression. If the boss asks "How are you?", you should be able to say something interesting. An answer like "Well, and to you?" limps rhetorically like the hunchbacked Hunchback of Notre Dame. Note: A short justification also fits into the sentence. For example: "Well, we completed project XY yesterday, and I’m totally thrilled with the result." By the way, the same applies when talking to your supervisor: Let him talk about you. You’ll also get to know your boss better. In the elevator, for example, three floors are enough for a short intermezzo: "I am just looking for a new book. Do you perhaps have a tip? What has excited you lately?" But, watch out for the small talk trap: You should always expect that your boss will counter with the question: "What have you read lately??" And then there has to be something other than Donald Duck’s "Funny Pocket Book". However: Maybe you have an original reason why everyone should read this one particular comic. Then it’s perfectly okay. The main thing is that the boss laughs with you, not at you.
6. AGAINST THE CURRENT
Small talk, chit-chat, la petite conversation de la table – the terms in different languages already signal what this is all about: relaxation. In the German-speaking world, however, many people think they have to make intellectual contributions of the quality of a keynote speech. The opposite is true: if you want to appear likeable, score points with charm instead of cleverness. French writer Francois de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) wrote: "Gallantry consists in saying empty things in a pleasant way." Act accordingly! Example: Whisky. A popular gentleman topic. But if you don’t really know your way around, you’ll get into trouble when you try to pronounce names like "Bruichladdich" or "Auchentoshan". It is much more charming to take the British concept of small talk to heart: Throw theses into the room that are not necessarily unfoundedly correct and are sometimes provocative. There is, after all, the word "stimulate" in "animated chatter". A conversation will be much more entertaining if instead of useless knowledge (i.e., the correct pronunciation of expensive single malts) you come up with a steep thesis: "Rum is the new whisky."Or set off a rhetorical atomic bomb: "I prefer to drink my whiskey filled to the brim with ice cubes." Maybe there will be tumultuous scenes. But maybe you also impress with your self-confident attitude. In any case it will be entertaining.
7. GET OUT OF THE NUMBER ELEGANTLY
When it comes to small talk, the same rules apply as with the Navy SEALs: in and out again. Just as it is best to rush up to a group of complete strangers by yourself and throw yourself into the conversation, it is also best to politely end a conversation when you realize that you cannot chat well with your counterpart. To this end, wait for a short pause in the conversation (in cases of hardship, a pause for breath is also sufficient) and politely point out that you would like to greet other guests. But: do not give any reason. It seems like a guilty plea. Better to follow up with a sentence like: "It was nice to meet you, I’m sure we’ll see a lot of each other today." Smile, turn away and walk away.