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J. Kelly Hoey - Build Your Dream Network

Ok Kelly,

I hate small talk. It’s boring and rather awkward, and typically I find myself at gatherings in a circle chatting aimlessly and endlessly about a topic (the weather or sports) with no obvious purpose, all the while wondering what I can add to the banality, I mean conversation.


Struggling with Small Talk

Ok Struggling –

I am sorry to disappoint you, but small talk is important.

There are health benefits – it is mood booster and can help dispel loneliness – when it signals to someone that they are “seen”.

It is the social lubricant to ease the friction of social atrophy (to borrow from psychotherapist Esther Perel). Regardless of endless Zoom gatherings, my guess is that as a result of 2020/2021, there are many people who suffer from social atrophy, and are still figuring out (uncomfortably?) what it means to work a room today.

To help you stop pissing on it, I’m going to encourage you to imagine small talk like a welcome mat. You can endlessly wipe your feet on or piss on it, all the while ignoring the signals someone is giving you to enter into a fuller conversation, or you can treat the small talk welcome mat with curiosity, as it is an anticipatory pause before the mutual possibility of choosing to step into the more expansive conversation, you seem to long for.

Dismissing the value small talk before it even starts, means you’re not listening, and when you’re not listening, you missing out on all the social cues which could indicate how to expand that “boring” small talk into bigger “meaningful” talk.

Not listening is a social epidemic – IMHO.

But focusing you YOU.

Listen – fully – to the answer your small talk question elicits (instead of wordlessly dwelling on how boring small talk is). “Fine” can be a small answer to a ‘How are you” small talk question, or the tone of voice (tired? mischievous? nervous? exited?) + body language etc. could make you just a little curious, leading to a follow-up question, then another…and before you know it you’re tumbling into bigger talk.

And aim to answer small talk questions meaningfully. If you’re dismissing the value of small talk, I suspect you may be spewing out very small answers too…I am right?

Give small talk another try, ok?


p.s. And one more thing. If you’re thinking after reading this “ok, Kelly, I hear you but I’m going to go find a list of ice-breaker conversation starters and have a few of those handy instead”, I can tell you this: IF the first question out of your mouth is “Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?” or “If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?”*, your question is likely to lead to more awkwardness than the “banal” small talk you dismiss.

*BTW I pulled those 2 examples from an actual list circulated of “favorite” big talk questions.

J. Kelly Hoey

Networking Expert + Career Transformation Coach + Author + Speaker, Kelly Hoey looks at "networking" through a new, modern, fresh lens, offering you (who are pursuing and perhaps struggling with your big ambitions), advice on how to connect for success in a hyper-connected world that is woefully short in its attention span. Her network-building advice is relatable, instilling confidence with actionable insights and practical information.