Advertising
Advertising

Never Underestimate The Power of Small Talk

Never Underestimate The Power of Small Talk

Small talk is a vastly underrated occurrence.

Although dreaded by most people, it does, in fact, play a vital role in establishing relationships – whether that relationship happens to be in business, in a social context, or in a client/provider situation.

Can you imagine a world without small talk?

Think about it.

Small talk is our first attempt at getting to know someone. Not one relationship you have had, apart from that in a close family setting, has started with anything other than small talk. That seemingly insignificant ‘passing the time’ with someone gives us the first inkling of whether we have anything in common with another person.

Advertising

Would you have gotten to know your husband or wife, fallen in love and married had you not both exchanged small talk at the beginning? If you can think back to the very first contact you had with someone who became a ‘significant other’ in your life, what do you remember? Did you immediately fall in love with them? Highly unlikely.

Did you bump into each other at the bar and know without any shadow of a doubt that you would be in a relationship with them, within the first minute of seeing them and without having exchanged a word? Of course, love at first sight does happen, but it’s rare, and most times we have to get to know somebody first before we can decide to take it further.

And the way we do that is through small talk. Just like listening skills, being good in small talk is an essential interpersonal skill for everyday life. Take, as another example, that most famous of small talk venues – the hair salon. They are, for the most part, notorious for it, and on the surface it’s as annoying as hell.

But – just imagine what it would be like without it. You would go in, take a seat, explain what you wanted, have your hair done, pay, and leave. Ok, so straight to the point and no messing. But wouldn’t you much rather share a much friendlier hour or so, with someone who greets you by name and with a smile?

Advertising

Small talk is vital in keeping our social connections alive.

Isn’t it much nicer to pass that time talking about things which require no effort, with another human being who asks after your family, who remembers that your youngest has just started school? Someone who is interested in whether your holiday to the Caribbean was as good as the pictures you showed her in the brochure the last time you were there?

In these days of screens and virtual reality, human interaction is diminishing, which is why small talk is vital in keeping that connection alive. How dull and unfriendly your first day at a new job would be without small talk. Nobody to give you snippets of office politics. No-one to tell you where the tea and coffee is. Not a soul regaling you with stories of the difficult customers, or the grumpy manager.

It is small talk which makes the days go faster and feel more interesting. It is small talk which makes you feel noticed, and included, and part of the human race. Even a job interview will start with small talk, likewise a visit to the doctor, or the dentist, or the bank manager.

Small talk puts us at ease.

Some people can go days and weeks without talking to a soul. Just think about that for a moment, days and weeks without hearing another person’s voice apart from on the TV. Can you even begin to imagine how important small talk is to that person? Again it is that human contact, the interaction with another person.

Advertising

Indulging in an insignificant exchange with a lonely person can make all the difference to how alone they feel. Five minutes swapping pleasantries will probably mean the world to an elderly man who finds himself alone after 50 years of marriage, or to an old lady whose family has emigrated and who she rarely hears from.

Giving them a few moments of your time, while tiresome to you, can be the light at the end of the long tunnel of solitude for someone who has nobody else. Sadly, right now, the world is troubled by prejudice – whether it is because of race, religion, colour or sexuality. Somebody who belongs to one of those ‘minority’ groups can feel unsafe, or unwelcome in their own town, or workplace, and that must be a terrible way to feel.

So can you imagine what a relief it would be to be on the receiving end of a smile, and a few words of insignificant conversation? Those passing comments cost you nothing, but could be enough to lift that person’s spirits, give them a feeling of belonging, and acceptance. How powerful is that, to make another person feel safe?

There’s a magic around the corner…

And small talk can give rise to the most serendipitous of happenings.

Advertising

Let’s suppose you have just finished work for the day and you emerge from the building and it is raining. You stand for a moment under cover of the doorway while you look for your umbrella. A man standing next you remarks that it’s nice weather for ducks. You assume he is bemoaning the fact that it’s raining, whereas it’s your favourite kind of weather, and you tell him so. He smiles, and admits that it’s his favourite too, and you notice his smile.

Now maybe this conversation ends there. At the very least, your day has been brightened by a stranger’s beautiful smile.

Or, possibly, you stay a while, indulge in more trivia which ends in exchanging phone numbers, or going for a coffee around the corner…maybe you end up together, with this handsome man with the beautiful smile and a love of rain.

And that, right there, is the magic of small talk.

Featured photo credit: Dan Cooper via stokpic.com

More by this author

The Angry Spouse: How to Use the Anger to Increase the Intimacy Never Underestimate The Power of Small Talk

Trending in 30-Something

1 One Solid Practice for Tackling Low Self-Esteem 2 5 Essential Activities That Will Make Your Brain Healthier 3 7 Tools to Optimize Your Next Long-Term Traveling Experience 4 The Battle Of The Voices In My Head 5 How to Have the Best Spring With Your Pets

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on August 12, 2020

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

Learning how to trust your gut, otherwise known as your intuition, can keep you safe. Your gut can guide you and help you build your confidence and resilience. My own gut instinct has saved me on more than one occasion. It has also guided me into making sound career choices and other exciting, big decisions. I’m also aware of the times when I’ve gone against my instincts and really regretted it later, wondering why I didn’t tune in to that valuable internal voice that we all have within us.

In this article, we’re going to explore why and how you should listen to your gut, as well as some concrete tips on how to make sure you’re making the most out of your gut instincts.

How to Listen to Your Gut

The key when making any big decision is to always take a minute to listen well to yourself and your inner compass. If you hear your actual voice saying yes while inside you’re silently screaming no, my advice is to ask for some time to think, or simply take a breath and pause before the yes or no escapes your mouth.

Use that moment to breathe, check in with yourself, and give the answer that feels congruent with who you are and what you want, not the one that always involves following the herd. Trusting your gut means having the courage to not simply go with the majority. It can be about holding your own. Here’s how to hone that skill for yourself and reap the rewards.

1. Tune Into Your Body

Your body gives you clues when you’re faced with a big decision. There are many visible and obvious symptoms that we feel in uncomfortable situations. Our body’s reaction is often something that we might try to hide, for example, blushing, being lost for words, or shaking. There are things we might do to try and hide that physical reaction, whether it’s wearing makeup, having a glass of wine or coffee to perk us up a bit, or learning to control our nerves.

However, paying attention to your body when you experience these feelings of anxiety can teach you so much and help you to make sound choices. Some people will experience an actual “gut” feeling of stomach ache or indigestion in an uncomfortable situation.

Ask yourself what’s really going on here, and explore what is happening behind your body’s response to the situation. What can your reaction or instinct teach you? Understanding that can be a clue and can help you either learn something about yourself, the situation, or other people. The answers are often within us.

Advertising

Sometimes we’ll get this “something’s not right here” feeling and cannot quite put our finger on it or explain it. That can still be incredibly useful and really guide us away from danger, even if we don’t know the reason.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell also argues this, making the point that sometimes our subconscious is better at processing the answer we need, and that we don’t necessarily need to take time to collect hours and hours of information to come to a reliable conclusion[1].

2. Ensure Your Head Is Clear Before Making a Decision

Energy, sleep, and good nutrition are so vital to nourishing our minds, as well as our bodies. There are times when your instinct could lead you astray, and one of these is when you are hungry, “hangry” (angry because you’re hungry!), tired, or anxious. If this is the case–and it may sound obvious–do consider sleeping or eating on it before making an important choice.

There is, in fact, a connection between our gut and our brain[2], which is where terms like “butterflies in the stomach” and “gut-wrenching” originate from. Stress and emotions can cause physical feelings, and ignoring them might do more harm than good.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You Think and Feel

Listening to your gut and really paying attention to it might involve standing up and being counted, calling something out, or taking a stand. As someone who works for myself, I’ve become used to following the less-travelled road, and that’s given me the chance to strike out on my own in other ways, too.

As they tell you in the planes, “put your own oxygen mask on first,” and part of that self-reliance is knowing what you really want and like and what is safe and good for you, including what resonates with your personal and business values. Making good decisions with this in mind means making choices that do not go against your own beliefs, even when it may mean taking a stand. This is part of trusting yourself and trusting your instincts.

This does not always mean taking the “safe” option, although keeping ourselves safe is an important part of the process. This is how we learn and grow, by following our own inner compass. When you do take risks, go outside of your comfort zone, or choose the less popular option, spending some time researching the facts can stand us in good stead, too.

Advertising

4. Do Your Research If Something Feels Off

As well as listening to our instincts, we can also back up the evidence for our chosen course of action before taking the leap. I had a gut feeling about the need for a learning and development network when I noticed my clients getting stuck with the same problems. I set up and now run such a network, but instead of simply going for it, without evidence, I followed up on my instinct with research.

Having confidence in your gut instinct through these kinds of tests can help to minimize your risks, as well as spur you on. It will encourage you to trust your gut again in the future and trust that you are an expert with foresight and experience. You are!

5. Challenge Your Assumptions

When you look at the assumptions your making, this could be the clue to mistakes you are making.

In order to check that our instincts are wise, we need to ask ourselves what blanks we might be filling in, either consciously or unconsciously. This is true not just when it comes to our own decision-making. It’s also true when we are listening to someone explain a problem or situation, and we’re about to jump in and give some advice. If we can learn to be aware of our own assumptions, we can become better listeners and better decision makers, too.

A useful tool to become more aware of your assumptions before making a final decision is simply to ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making about this situation or person?”

6. Educate Yourself on Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is something we all have, and it can trip us up big time!

There is a vital caveat to bear in mind when wondering about whether you can trust your gut and the feelings your body gives you, and that’s having an awareness of your unconscious bias. Understanding your own bias–which is hard to do because it literally does happen in our subconscious–can help you to make stronger, better, decisions instead of re-confirming your view of the world over and over again.

Advertising

Bias exists, and it’s part of the human condition. All of us have it, and it colors our decisions and can impact on our performance without us realizing.

Unconscious bias happens at a subconscious level in our brains. Our subconscious brain processes information so much faster than our conscious brain. Quick decisions we make in our subconscious are based on both our societal conditioning and how our families raised us.

Our brains process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information daily. We unconsciously categorize and format that information into patterns that feel familiar to us. Aspects such as gender, disability, class, sexuality, body shape and size, ethnicity, and what someone does for a job can all quickly influence decisions we make about people and the relationships we choose to form. Our unconscious bias can be very subtle and go unnoticed..

We naturally tend to gravitate towards people similar to ourselves, favoring people who we see as belonging to the same “group” as us. Being able to make a quick decision about whether someone is part of your group and distinguish friend from foe was what helped early humans to survive. Conversely, we don’t automatically favor people who we don’t immediately relate to or easily connect with.

The downside of that human instinct to seek out similar people is the potential for prejudice, which seems to be hard-wired into human cognition, no matter how open-minded we believe ourselves to be. And these stereotypes we create can be wrong. If we only spend our time with and employ people similar to ourselves, it can create prejudices, as well as stifle fresh thinking and innovation.

We may feel more natural or comfortable working with other people who share our own background and/or opinions than collaborating with people who don’t look, talk, or think like us. However, diversity is not just morally right; having a mix of different people and perspectives that can be genuinely heard is also a valuable way to counter groupthink. Diversity stretches us to think more critically and creatively.

7. Trust Yourself

It is possible to learn how to truly trust yourself[3]. Like any talent or skill, practicing trusting your gut is the best way to get really good at it. When people talk about having great intuition or being good decision-makers, it’s because they’ve worked at honing those skills, made mistakes, learned from them, and tried again.

Advertising

Looking back at decisions you’ve made, what you did, what the outcome was, and what you’ve learned can help you become a stronger decision maker and develop solid self-trust and resilience. Making a mistake does not mean you are not great at decision-making; it’s a chance to grow and learn, and the only mistake is to ignore the lesson in that experience.

If you are in the habit of asking others for their input, then the trick here is to choose your inner circle wisely. Having a sounding board of people who have your best interests at heart is a valuable asset, and, combined with your own excellent instincts, can make you a champion decision maker.

The Bottom Line

The above tips are all actionable and easy to start immediately. It’s simply about switching your thinking around, slowing down, and taking great care of this amazing machine that is your body and mind!

Learning how to trust your gut is one of the most fundamental ways to make decisions that will help you lead the life you want and need. Tune into what your body is telling you and start making good decisions today.

More Tips on How to Trust Your Gut

Featured photo credit: Acy Varlan via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Science of People: Learn to Trust Your Gut Instincts: The Science Behind Thin-slicing
[2] Harvard Health Publishing: The gut-brain connection
[3] Psych Central: 3 Ways to Develop Self-Trust

Read Next