December 7, 2005

Making small talk.

NPR has a piece about how to make small talk at an office party. Actually, I think if you hate small talk, the author they have effusing about small talk will probably just make you feel more negative about having to make small talk -- and she tells you right off that having a negative attitude will totally wreck your ability to make small talk. Anyway, the segment begins with some nice clips from "The Office." And, beware, it ends with some excruciating singing from Renee Zellweger, singing at an office party in "Bridget Jones's Diary." It's supposed to be hilarious but it's trying way too hard to be hilarious, as though they really don't trust us at all to recognize bad singing.


Jacques Cuze said...

Ann I am sorry to hear you say that, for I have learned from that piece, that most likely you will be missing an opportunity to thank your boss and employer for such a wonderful opportunity, and such a wonderful job, and such a wonderful restroom, and such a wonderful cubicle, and such wonderful meetings, and such a wonderful walk in from the parking lot, and such wonderful and interesting work!

Your loss really.

bill said...

Those icebreakers are both lame and intrusive. My knee-jerk response to most of those would be "who are you and why do you want to know?"

Of course I'm a Jonathan Rauch introvert and my wife is a classic extrovert. She talks enough for both of us at parties. Works out well.

Here's some of my classic icebreakers:
1. Hi.
2. Is that any good?
3. How 'bout them [insert local sports team].
4. Wow. That traffic.
5. I'm looking for the bar.
6. Nice hat, looks good on you.
7. Do they have valet service or did that guy just steal my car?
8. Try the puffy things with the green dip.
9. Excuse me, trying to get through.
10.Did you realize that for the cost of this party they could have given us another week of vacation? Yeah, the shrimp is good.

Dave said...

Well, count me as introvert who has learned the value of small talk.

I find, at least in business, which is where most of my small talk is done, that talking to people about nothing in particular is nonetheless a good way to get to know key people and to get my name out there.

I've had a number of job offers over the years merely because I "got to know" people outside of the coterie of immediate employees with whom I interacted daily.

The axiom "it's not what you know, it's who you know" is alive and well.

JBlog said...

Oh my goodness, did anyone see the "Christmas Party" episode of "The Office" last night?

Quite possibly the funniest show on TV right now.

But then, I don't watch a lot of TV, so what do I know?

Jonathan said...

What I don't get is people who won't hesitate to discuss with strangers all kinds of grimy details about their jobs, surgery, sex life, other people's lives, and so forth, but who won't discuss impersonal concepts related to politics or religion.

Dave said...

" impersonal concepts related to politics or religion"

What's more personal than politics or religion?

Jacques Cuze said...


I heard all of those statements at the orgy last weekend!

nunzio said...

There's always the ever-clever "meta-ice-breaker" where you can talk about making small-talk. For example, "I heard this piece on NPR about making small talk . . ."

Of course, after a few highballs (assuming the company permits alcohol) the small-talk problem seems to disappear.

Jonathan said...

What's more personal than politics or religion?

How's work going? When are you guys going to have kids? Are you dating anyone? etc.

Walter said...

I dissagress with

4. "Merry Christmas!" "What are your Christmas plans?" Not all of us celebrate Christmas.

for two reasons, first, it will start a conversation with normal rational people. Second, if the person goes off the deep end because they are not "Christian" then they are not willing to engauge in litle small talk and I'd just as soon not talk to them.

I've got Christmas plans with a group of friends, most of which are not Christians [They are Jewish, Wiccan and Athiests]. Here in the US, Christmas is a bigger secular holiday than it is a reglious holiday and people who thing they are beening offened by the use of the word Chrismas should lighten up and get a grip.

ChrisO said...

"Describe how this season of the year impacts your work?"

Jeez, what relaxing chit chat. Nothing like running into a job interview in the middle of a Christmas party.

PatCA said...

Well, it's only skimming the surface of the whole social whirl conundrum. Actually, small talk becomes much easier when you are recognized as "someone you should know."

Or maybe that's just LA.

Jake said...

I once asked a sales rep how she talks to all of the customers at a business party when she knows none of them. She said, "Start by asking questions and never stop."

It is good advice.

Kirk Parker said...

"Start asking questions and never stop" is pretty good advice, provided one understands that

"Describe how this season of the year impacts your work?"

is, as ChrisO says, ghastly, whereas

"So are you pretty busy this time of year?"

will most likely get a friendly reply.

Bruce Hayden said...

Usually, it is women who are good at small talk. But this morning, at 5:09, I got a call from my girlfriend. Seems she went a bit ballistic last week week when I suggested that we talk maybe once a week when she had something to say, instead of every day in a "hi, hi, how are you? how are you? bye, bye" conversation. I gave her a chunk of time that I was going to be free, etc. Apparently too controlling for her.

In any case, a big part of small talk is bonding (and that is why women are probably better at it than men, on average). Either you are trying to build new bonds, or are trying to renew old ones.

I think as guys we often think that it is meaningless noise. But that is because we really don't appreciate the value of the social interaction going on. Often, it is not precisely what is said, but rather that it is said that is important. As I said above - the bonding.

Jonathan said...

The interaction is different for men and women. Women bond by talking; men are more likely to bond by sharing experiences or doing things together -- talking isn't doing something, it's a method of transmitting information.

PatCA said...

I have a friend who is great at small talk and flirting--I bring her with me and bask in the circle she attracts. Sure, it's great to ask questions, but even then I ask something like, so what do you think about the war? You either got it or you don't. :)

Jonathan said...

For me (and here I am contradicting my earlier comment) one of the better bonding experiences is to meet someone at an event who shuns smalltalk, but instead goes right to the heart of an important controversy that I have a strong opinion about, and agrees with me. This happens once in a while and seems to be the antithesis of smalltalk, which to me usually feels false and oily -- a useful social lubricant, but also a way to maintain distance when you have no interest in getting to know someone.