Oh yes, it’s that wonderful time of the year again! A time which thankfully brings us together for several festive events. All those dazzling conversations with everyone you meet! Isn’t that absolutely amazing? It is, except if you happen to find small talk dreadful.

Sure, you can talk about the food you’re eating, the horrific traffic or perhaps the event host. Chances are though, that at times, it becomes dull and dreary and the voice in your head starts saying, ‘I don’t give a damn about this right now. I would be so much better off lying on my sofa right now!’

I confess that at times, I have been in this situation too. Yet, we need to keep in mind that ultimately, small talk is all about connection.

Communication is all about connection, from connecting our ideas to connecting with other people. We connect with each other through conversation and we get people to like us and trust us by building rapport.  We build rapport by spending time asking questions, listening and answering. Through small talk, we get to know others by discovering more about them as the conversation unfolds. Small talk is like a surface warm up for deeper conversations to develop.

The challenge is that research into the science of conversation and interaction tells us that the human mind is built to wander. It’s not built to focus on one person for long stretches of time, and yet that’s what conversation demands of our mind. It requires us to pay attention.

It can feel like tremendous work to stay focused on a partner as the whole conversation unfolds. It is worth recognising though that if you’re putting in the effort to listen attentively to somebody, show it to them. Don’t just assume that they know.

There have been numerous studies on active listening, from focusing on aspects like eye contact, nodding, smiling, laughing at the right times and leaning towards your partner. All this is a great starting point. Yet recent research into the science of conversation shows us that when we express our attentive listening with our spoken words, we become more compelling communicators. So for instance, you could say, “I heard you saying earlier on that you love sushi. Are there any Asian speciality restaurants that you would recommend?” This shows that you were listening to what they said and by asking a follow-up question, you demonstrate that you have actually heard what they said, processed it and you are repeating it back to them.

When you put in the work to listen to someone, and then you forget to show it, it can be a huge missed opportunity. Some of the ways to show that you are a great listener include follow-up questions, call-backs to earlier topics and paraphrasing what your conversation partner has said.  If someone has said something that is confusing, you can ask a question that helps to fix a quick misunderstanding by asking, “Can you explain that a little bit more to me?” All of these things show that you are listening attentively to someone and that you care.

Do not fear being bold. You can ask some deep stuff as well. If you are not real, the majority of conversations can hover on surface-level topics. It can be refreshing to talk about more meaningful areas of our lives. Particularly if the conversation is progressing well, I encourage you to go for it. You never know what you may find out!

My final communication tip for you for this year is to seek to be more interested than interesting.  It’s really not about you. It’s about them.  A conversation is a means by which we express our humanity to each other and our caring for other people. Remember that this idea of being more interested in others than trying to be interesting yourself is a good tactic to move forward and beyond. It’s not about you. It’s about the people that surround you and the relationships that you are building with them. Cheers to joyous conversations and meaningful relationship-building!

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