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The Fine Art of Small Talk

February 10, 2013

Decided to read Debra Fine’s book about small talk because of her transformation from a shy engineer into a public speaker. Debra Fine’s: The Fine Art of Small Talk

The beginning points out that we must break free from our childhood training of:

  • Good things come to those who wait
  • Silence is golden
  • Wait to be properly introduced
  • Don’t talk to strangers

Although these points are wonderful, when made to children to keep them safe, and obedient, they don’t really translate well into adulthood. Instead, in safe situations, you should talk to strangers.

Go out on a limb, that’s where all the fruit is. — Will Rogers

A list of conversational criminals: types of people that can derail a perfectly good conversation

  • FBI Agent – asking questions is good, but nobody like to be interrogated.
  • Braggart – somehow their list of accomplishments, or children’s accomplishments seem to be relatable to every part of the conversation.
  • One-Upper: An example 2 woman wearing similar dresses, 1 says she bought it from an expensive boutique, the other got hers at a steep discount at a thrift store.
  • Monopolizer: A person to eager to control and direct the conversation usually ends up not letting others contribute.
  • Interrupter: Interrupting people while they speak is just plain rude.
  • Poor sport: Don’t really want to engage in small talk, or haven’t learned how.
  • Know-it-all: Give your opinion only when you’re specifically asked for it.
  • Adviser: sometimes when people describe a difficult situation, they are not looking for a solution, instead they want understanding, support, and compassion.

Knowing all these types of conversationalist you might encounter, and how to deal with them has given me a new perspective on small talk. But the book isn’t all how to fix bad situations, it is also about how to get over the fear of engaging in conversation with strangers. Separate chapters devoted to networking events, dating, business functions, holiday partys, and non-specific events.

Tips I’ll try to incorporate: Be the first to say hello, and really listen so that you can respond in a more meaningful way leveraging the information you gather from careful listening.

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