Let’s talk about not talking so much small talk

Tuesday, 21 January, 2014

Small talk can open all sorts of doors, and that’s no bad thing. But at what point should we consider taking this often inconsequential chatter to the next level, so to speak? It could be that an over reliance on small talk stifles the ability to partake of far more engaging conversation:

I’m worried that small talk keeps seducing bigger talk into its cozy corner, too slowly for us to object outright. Small talk is leaking into our practical interactions, blurring the bottom line. In an effort to seem personable and socially “with it,” our business transactions transform into these huge, mushy orbs that we have to dig through to gather the message. These interactions might be clouding our happiness.

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We eat and we party but no longer at the same time anymore

Wednesday, 12 December, 2012

The dinner party, once the highlight of the busy socialite’s week (or day), looks to have left the building, so to speak. Do we like to think that we have that much on now that there’s no time to sit down, face to face, over a good meal and make conversation?

Trained from birth or on the job, the best hosts of another era commanded their tables as though part of the European Theater of Operations, emplacing and deploying and juxtaposing guests in charged combinations, going to the rescue when conversation flagged and a combatant went down. Of course, they made sure the blowhard mogul was seated beside the lissome ingénue. What else is a dinner party besides a comic operetta without a score? But they also orchestrated every element of the evening, arrival to departure, most crucially directing the conversation, which they either allowed to follow a traditional serve-and-volley pattern (20 minutes right, 20 minutes left), or else commandeered for so-called “general discussion” as provocateur hosts like the television journalist Barbara Walters still do.

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And since we’re here talking, how do you talk on the phone?

Monday, 11 June, 2012

Is there a separate skill-set required for conversing by telephone, as opposed to doing so face to face? A question like this, assuming it is legit, causes me to think either there is – or more worryingly, though hopefully unlikely – that schools are not teaching students basic communication techniques.

That’s changed. I’ve made a couple friends who prefer talking on the phone. I suppose if you measure by how long you stay on the phone with them it’s not a total failure, but I feel like I’m flailing around trying to fill the silences and saying really inane stuff as a result, and I feel like my voice comes off badly and I stutter and just make things awkward. I don’t know how you’re supposed to make conversations flow when it’s so weirdly distant and impersonal and you can’t see the person, and the connection breaks up so you can barely hear them sometimes and ugh. This is a basic life skill and I feel like I missed out on whatever part of a girl’s upbringing teaches you to have hour-long (or more!) phone conversations. We do see each other in person sometimes, but the rest of the time?

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Calling cards for mobile phone calls that are all too revealing

Thursday, 25 August, 2011

shhh card

Whether someone nearby is on an actual mobile phone call in a public place or not, you shouldn’t have to be privy to the conversation, and this is where cards designed by the Society for HandHeld Hushing, or SHHH, could be useful.

Download your own cards from here.

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Would spontaneous Q&As enhance presentations at conferences?

Friday, 22 April, 2011

How do you like your conference presentations? Do you prefer a speaker deliver their talk uninterrupted, and then take questions afterwards, or should the audience engage with the speaker, that is ask questions, throughout the course of the presentation? Could such an idea be effective?

Think about the whole format of having Q&A at the end of a talk. If near the beginning of the talk you get an idea for a question you want to ask the speaker, you have to keep your mouth shut for the next half hour. All you’ll be thinking about is “OOH! OOOH! I have this brilliant question I want to ask!!!” And then at the end, you may not even get to the microphone in time to ask about it: some blowhard may hog the mic to sell his product or make a speech.

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Call centre scripts, or dinner party conversation, any difference?

Tuesday, 19 April, 2011

Alain de Botton: if many of the conversations we have – particularly in social situations where we’re meeting people for the first time – are effectively the rehashing of questions and one-liners that are used constantly, isn’t it time we dared to differ, and introduced topics that are genuinely of interest of us, to the discourse?

And yet I hope I am not the odd one out in suggesting that the great majority of conversations we have are rather stale – and that it generally remains a mystery how, every now and then, they become more worthwhile; that is, more fun than reading a book or a magazine. Finding oneself in a good conversation is rather like stumbling on a beautiful square in a foreign city at night – and then never knowing how to get back there in daytime.

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Networking through one on one conversations over coffee

Monday, 21 February, 2011

Those who like to meet new people and network over a cup of coffee, but prefer to avoid the crowds some of the more organised coffee morning events draw, ought to check out Megan Gebhart’s year long project, 52 Cups of Coffee, whereby she arranges to meet someone new each week, in a get together that is of mutual advantage to both parties.

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Rejection, it’s not a second, it’s four seconds away

Thursday, 6 January, 2011

Awkward pauses or silences in conversation, the sort that usually arise as a result of one of the participants making what is deemed to be an inappropriate remark, in addition to embarrassment, bring about increasing feelings of rejection, anxiety, and low self worth, if the gap in the discourse lasts four or more seconds.

“Flowing conversations are associated with higher feelings of belonging, control, self-esteem, social validation and perceived consensus,” the researchers write. “Furthermore, disrupted conversations increase negative emotions and feelings of rejection, resembling ostracism experiences. This indicates that a brief disruption of conversational flow is interpreted as rejection, even when nobody is factually excluded from the conversation.”

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Fire up your cognitive abilities with some good conversation

Tuesday, 2 November, 2010

Curiosity appears to boost cognition after a study found that people who engaged in conversation in order to learn more about the person they were speaking to showed improved mental function.

They found that engaging in brief (10 minute) conversations in which participants were simply instructed to get to know another person resulted in boosts to their subsequent performance on an array of common cognitive tasks. But when participants engaged in conversations that had a competitive edge, their performance on cognitive tasks showed no improvement.

Go ahead therefore and chatter with your colleagues, you will in a way be doing your employer a favour.

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Telephone calls are dead, long live convenient communication

Friday, 6 August, 2010

Though you may have difficulty believing it – especially if the numbers of people seen to be using mobile phones in public is anything to go by – we are, overall, making ever fewer phone calls than before, after phone use reached a peak in 2007.

And when you think about it, phone calls are a very invasive form of communication compared to other methods of day to day corresponding, such as email or social networking:

Consider: If I suddenly decide I want to dial you up, I have no way of knowing whether you’re busy, and you have no idea why I’m calling. We have to open Schrödinger’s box every time, having a conversation to figure out whether it’s OK to have a conversation. Plus, voice calls are emotionally high-bandwidth, which is why it’s so weirdly exhausting to be interrupted by one. (We apparently find voicemail even more excruciating: Studies show that more than a fifth of all voice messages are never listened to.)

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