Geeks Guide To Small Talk

No I do not mean the programming language. I mean the social ritual hackers are stereotypically bad at.

Posted by Shikher Verma on May 28, 2016 Tags: CodeMonkey Life@IITK   6 minute read

After reading this guide you won’t ever feel like this.

social fear

I used to be a guy who hated talking for the sake of talking. I always believed that talking should be for a purpose not for the sake of doing the act itself. My perspective on small talk changed when I met my roommate at IIT Kanpur. Now when I look back and wonder how I got so good at small talk, I like to jokingly say “Labhansh happened”! Labhansh is by far, the most talkative person I have ever met till date. I got to notice first hand how small talk can help you build a humongous social network. In fact Labhansh’s network is so huge, that if I walk up to a total stranger in college campus, 9 out of 10, he would know who Labhansh is. Over the period of two years I have collected notes and compiled them in a list of what I like to call “Labhansh Talk Strategies”. These are some tricks that you can use now and again to spark up a dying conversation or escape the awkward silence when you meet your distant acquaintances. I will share some of his best tricks with you today.

The “Meta data”

What is meta? Every data that you have, has some meta data attached with it. Like any file that you computer has, will have a name, a last modified date, size information. That is, data about data. Remember the time when you finished discussing something and you had nothing else to talk about ? Well you could have easily extended the conversation by talking about META.
This is the best strategy anyone can learn to get good at small talk. While having a conversation we actively decide what is relevant to the conversation context and what is not. Most of us think that meta data of what we are talking about is irrelevant to the conversation. This is where we are mistaken. And this is where most of the small talk happens. When ever you get in a conversation with someone, think about what you are talking about. Mentally list the things you consider are meta i.e. not the data itself but data about data. Like if you are talking about how hard hiking is. Then be sure to talk about that one time when you went hiking with your friends. Now when you are done with that. Repeat the process. Think about what is the meta data for that hiking trip. Maybe you bought new shoes for that trip. Talk about what brand it was of. Now start talking about why you think that brand is better that others. This last part brings me to our second strategy.

The “Opinion Man”

Most of the time we try to omit any opinion from our conversation. That may be necessary for controversial topics like politics or religion. But people won’t be offended if you share your opinion about some trivial thing like the brand of shoes you prefer. Whats better, facebook or twitter ? Coffee or tea ? vim or emacs ? Okay maybe not the last one. Although everyone knows vim rocks :P
“Meta” will only get the conversation going. “Opinion man” on the other hand has to potential to rekindle a dying conversation by getting a response.

The “Daily News”

Just assume the other person has subscribed to your daily update feed. Don’t wait for them to ask “How was your day?” The are standing right in front of you, aren’t they? Thats sufficient. Start talking about how you woke up early today and though of going for a run but ended up snoozing and dozed off again. Or how you couldn’t find the other matching sock and had to wear two different ones. Anything about your day. The “Daily News” is your ace conversation starter. However I must warn you that it won’t work as a ice breaker, it will only work with people you already know. Then of course apply the “Meta” and get the conversation going.

This was all about one part of a conversation; speaking. Now comes the part about listening. Its difficult to imagine how you can control the conversation when not speaking but there are some neat tricks you can apply here too.

The “Curious Investigator”

Most of the people don’t like to listen to long speeches. But everyone loves to talk about themselves. All you would have to do is keep asking questions. If they are talking about something cute that they saw a dog do. Ask them about if they ever had or though of having keep a dog ? Don’t stop at the answer you get. Like the “Meta”, here too the key is too do this recursively.

The “Lousy Listener”

This one is pretty straight forward. When you are stuck and can’t apply any of the strategies above, just say, “What did you say ?”. Some time you aren’t that alert and the conversation comes to a halt unexpectedly. You weren’t attentive enough to use the “Curious Investigator”. You can’t think of any “Meta”. What you can do in these situations is to deliberately hear only part of what the other person said and ask for clarification. Or even ask them to explain an underlying assumption that they though would be known to you. Doesn’t matter if you know it or not, thats not the point.

With these five strategies you will gain the super power to keep the conversation going with or without the other person’s will. :evil laugh: Most of the people will try to reach a closure before leaving a conversation. However with your awesome talking strategies its you who decides when a conversation ends. But remember a great uncle once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Don’t bore someone just because you can. Seriously learn to detect when its too much and stop. Over time I have also discovered how to counter a small talk junkies. Maybe I will write a blog about that in future. Whats your strategy for small talk ? Do you have a trick ? Do share it in the comments :)