Toolbox: Biggest Myth With Small Talk & 3 Mistakes to Avoid

In today’s episode, we cover the science of small talk with AJ and Johnny. 

Small talk can feel like a chore these days, but why is it important that we make small talk with people throughout the day, how do we make it fun and engaging, and why is it detrimental to our relationships and community to avoid or ignore small talk?

What to Listen For

  • The science of small talk and acknowledging others – 0:00 
  • What are the benefits to making small talk and why does avoiding small talk erode the strength of relationships and community?
  • Why do people go to extreme lengths to have their existence acknowledged?
  • Why is it detrimental to think of small talk as useless or a waste of time?
  • Why is small talk stopping you from being successful – 8:22 
  • Why do people think small talk is boring and how is that mindset hindering them?
  • In what way does small talk satisfy one of our most basic needs as humans?
  • How can we use small talk as a jumping off point for engaging conversations?
  • What pitfall do we need to avoid when making small talk?
  • Why is it so important for us to make small talk – 16:00
  • Does small talk require you to be positive and bubbly?
  • What is small talk really about?
  • What can you do to be more likeable?
  • What negative signals are you conveying when you ignore the attempts others make at small talk?
  • What one word can you add to make your small talk more fun and conversational?

Small talk is one of our more important tools in initiating engaging conversations. You can make it fun, but at times it can be awkward. That discomfort at the thought of awkward small talk leads people to opt out altogether in the age of smartphone proliferation. It feels much safer to stare at your phone than strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know. Unfortunately, this is leading to a lack of any small talk, even with friends and family. Over time, this leads to a total disconnect within communities as neighbors don’t talk to each other, friends sit on their phones when they’re out to dinner, and families resort to texting rather than calling each other.

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Resources from this Episode

Speaker 1: Welcome back to the art of charm podcast, a show designed to help you win at work love, and life. Now we know you have what it takes to reach your full potential, and that's why every week, Johnny and I share with you interviews and strategies to help you develop the right social skills and mindsets to succeed.

Speaker 2: That's right. And you shouldn't have to settle for anything less than extraordinary. I'm AIJ and I'm Johnny

Speaker 1: Bootcamp is back Johnny and we are so excited to be kicking off weekend experiences and none other than your new hometown, uh, Las Vegas.

Speaker 2: That's right. And there's no better way to see a city than an artist charm bootcamp. We go out, you're walking the street, you're talking with people. And I get to say that Las Vegas is the center of socialization and America. If not the

Speaker 1: World. Absolutely. This weekend experience is fully hands-on and experiential. We're talking social skills, drills and exercises in classroom, including being filmed, breaking down body language, conversation skills and more. And then we're going to take those skills out into the main streets of Las Vegas. We're going to be going out together, working on developing your social skills for success. If you want to learn more head to the art of charm.com/bootcamp. And we only have a handful of plan this year and seats are limited

Speaker 2: [inaudible] programs are designed so that the skills and curriculum sticks with you for years after your program, this speaks to the transformation that will come with spending a weekend here in Vegas.

Speaker 1: That's right, Johnny, over the last 15 years, we've trained thousands of clients in our in-person experiences and we can't wait to bring them back. So if you're looking to finally supercharge those social skills and unlock that confidence in yourself, we'll head on over to the art of charm.com/bootcamp to apply today. Now today's toolbox episode is all about the one biggest mistake you are making during small talk. We know the world is reopening. Everyone is starting to go back out and socialize, and we want to make sure you have the skills to succeed. This episode is dedicated to small talk. It doesn't have to be boring. It doesn't have to be on eventful and it certainly needs to be more impactful. So if you might have avoided small talk, you viewed it as boring, or you'd just want to strengthen this skill. Then keep listening. We have our head coach Michael on board to break down the science and give you a simple strategy to take that small talk to the next level. Thanks for joining us, Michael, John and I are excited to dig into the science behind small talk. Now, Michael, there's some really important science that we want to kick off today's episode with because many of us are not thinking about small talk in the right way. What is the science? There's actually a lot of science around this, but I picked one study because it has to do with coffee and Starbucks and love that.

Speaker 3: And this study is from 2013 and it's called is efficiency, overrated, minimal social interactions, lead to belonging and positive affect and effect. It's just a fancy term for emotions. And this was done by Tilian Sandstrom and Elizabeth Dunn. And what they did was they waited in front of a Starbucks and they asked people if they were so kind to volunteer in their little study, and if they did, they got a $5 gift card. And all of those that volunteered were put into two groups, one group was asked to be as efficient as possible. Just go in there, wait in line, or do your coffee and get out. And the other group was asked to have a what's called a genuine interaction with a cashier. That's how they title it. So to go in there and you know, I have a little bit of small talk with a barista and as they came out, they were asked, Hey, how do you feel now? And what they found was that those participants that actually had an interaction with a barista felt a lot more cheerful afterwards.

Speaker 2: Well, it's nice to have the science, but we've known for our existence, that we are social creatures and even micro interactions, such as talking to your Breeza is shown to have a profound effect on our wellbeing. It makes us happier why we're signaling to others and we're getting back signals. So we're beaming out. Other people are beaming back at us. It shows us that we're alive. That we're real, that we're here. And that acknowledgement goes a long way into allowing us as human beings. The Phil's safe without that acknowledgement. It's difficult for us to grasp our reality. It's probably the first step that allows us to know that we're in the world, right? You beam out and you get a signal back. And there's this story that I've brought up before in this podcast, but I want to reset it because it goes a long way.

Speaker 2: And just how important it is for human beings to feel acknowledged. And this is a story of you and I. We were in Los Angeles. It's very well known that there is a homeless issue that is going on there. And one of the things that you might see an unstable unwell homeless person doing is they just walk out into traffic and they stopped traffic. And they're yelling at people and you see this quite common. And for a lot of people, they don't think much of it. They just see the homeless person and they think, what is this guy doing? He's obviously crazy. He should be somewhere getting cared for. He needs to get out of the road, but there's something much more profound that is going on there. And what is going on is this is a person who has been stepped over. Who's been laying in the street and has not had any acknowledgement and person after person after person has walked by without showing any acknowledgement.

Speaker 2: And if you live in Los Angeles, you're trying to keep your own situation together and focus on the task at hand and what you're doing. So you sort of block out that Travis D because you don't want to have to see it or deal with it or let it enter into your psyche. But for that person who hasn't been acknowledged, the only time that they're getting that signal back is when they walk in the traffic, they're able to stop it. And for maybe the first time that day or a few days, they have signaled out, they are being seen, they are being heard. And this is the lens at which we will go to have that acknowledgement so that we can understand where we are and what is going on.

Speaker 3: Human needs to belong. You find it in Maslow's hierarchy of needs as well, right? The need to belong is just there. And when you go into new school into a new job, the first thing you want to know is am I part of the crew? Am I accepted? And even if this is just a small conversation with just someone over coffee or in the bus, or while you wait at the checkout line at the grocery store with a little bit of small talk, you create this feeling of, Hey, we belong together. We're in the same grocery store. When the same checkout lane, we belong together, we're a part of this tribe together. And that gives us that feeling of belonging and strength.

Speaker 1: Absolutely. Right? Michael, it makes both of us happier. Now this is socially. This is romantically, and this is professionally. So whether you work in sales, whether you're on a date or you're hanging out with your spouse's friends, if you can master small talk, you make both you and the other person happier. So how many of us right now are labeling small talk as boring. You are actually diminishing the value that small talk has in your life and the impact that it has on others. And that's why we have to dispel this myth today, because I know I made that mistake in the past. I labeled smalltalk boring. And in turn, I looked at it as really inconsequential and not really a useful tool in my social toolkit. And I was robbing myself of happiness and missing out on incredible opportunities in my career, socially and even romantically.

Speaker 1: So imagine if you're able to light up your spouse's friends or your partners, friends, or maybe that potential boyfriend or girlfriend's friends, they're going to go back and say, Hey, Jay is awesome. You should date him. Oh my God. He makes me feel good. All because I invested in small talk. So this is not a skill that you want to look past. This is not something you want to label boring. This has an essential in making both you and the other person happy. And that's why we want to help you master this skill. Now, over the last 15 years, we've worked with thousands of people in person in our boot camps, corporations, military, special operators, and even CEOs and executives all because they understand the value of small talk and mastering this skill. So now that we've dispelled that myth, that it doesn't have to be boring. It actually can make us and the other person happy. Let's talk about maybe some other things that you're thinking about smalltalk that are keeping you from being successful socially.

Speaker 2: There's a reason why people call it boring. And the reason that people call it boring is because if you're not used to it, if it's not something that comes naturally to you or that you go out of your way to do on a regular basis, it's uncomfortable. And anything that is uncomfortable, we label it something that we can determine that we don't need to do. So if we're uncomfortable speaking with people that we don't know that we label it as boring or in consequential and awkward, and now I don't have to participate in it, I have labeled it. It has a bad connotation. And now because of that, and that's the way I view it, it is now something to avoid, but at the same time, I'm also hurting my own happiness, my own wellbeing, because it is a basic function of being a human being, which is the acknowledgement that it provides.

Speaker 1: That's absolutely right. Think about it as delivering a small gift of happiness to everyone you meet, and you will change that mindset going into every interaction and smalltalk plays a very important role. And that's called synchronicity, right? Michael? Yeah.

Speaker 3: It's the idea of synchronizing conversation partners and the best way to explain this as maybe if you imagine the pandemic is over and you meet me at a party because I'm going to be super happy and I'm going to bounce with energy. Now, I don't know where you are when you come to that party. Let's imagine there's Michael. He's super happy to be finally out of the house, super high energy. But I run into someone who on that Friday just had a little bit of a bad day at work. Maybe that person, you know, had a bad discussion with a teammate or the numbers, weren't that good? So now you have high energy, super happy. Michael, starting a conversation with someone who's a little bit down, a little bit low energy. How well is that conversation going to go? Not very well. It's going to be a complete show because we will not find common ground, but not think about this.

Speaker 3: What if we start with very inconsequential talk with small talk and we shoot a couple of questions back and forth. What are you thinking about the weather? What do you think about the Lakers game? What do you think about and so on and so on and so on. And that allows me to recognize, Oh, the other person is a little bit down and I can adapt to that. But at the same time, the other person might get a little bit infected by my happiness and by my energy level. And they come up a little bit and three, four questions into the conversation we've synchronized. And now we can take this conversation further and we can talk about stuff that is more meaningful.

Speaker 1: That's absolutely right. Small talk is a low stakes way to simply see if the other person is interested and emotionally available and having a conversation. And he'd understand that that should take a lot of pressure off of you. You don't have to personalize it. If someone's having a bad day, if someone's not interested in smalltalk, they're going to give you those signals, but you don't have to assume, Oh, I'm boring. I'm uninteresting. I'm not worthy. And if you think about it at a professional level, if you come in with a little bit more energy and you allow the other person to synchronize into your energy, well, they're going to be more likely to buy from you. They're going to be more likely to hire you. They're going to be more interested in whatever service you're offering. So this is very simple, low stakes strategy for you and the other person to start to synchronize and get in line with each other. And if you think about it that way, it actually opens up so much more possibility. Again, instead of labeling it as something I have to do something I don't look forward to, or even worse, something that's just boring and useless.

Speaker 2: Well, anything that you're going to do when you're in a social environment, that synchronicity is going to be important. Because once again, it shows that signaling that acknowledgement. It allows people to begin the work of getting comfortable with somebody. And if they're comfortable with you, they're going to open up to you. If they're open up to you, it's an opportunity to deepen any sort of relationship that you might be having. So if you were a sales person or a lawyer, or in a leadership role, your work is going to depend on how well you interact with other people. That small talk is a very important piece of gathering information that you're going to use later, allowing people to get comfortable synchronization and the signaling and acknowledgement to say, yes, you and I are both in this room or in the same place. And this is where we're going to begin our work.

Speaker 1: And that's right. So many of our clients try to skip over the step. They try to avoid it and just go into whatever they need, whether it's professionally, I got to get this task done. I need my team to focus on this. And when you skip over that small talk, you don't actually read the emotions of the other person. You can't figure out is their head in the game. Are they on the same page? Are they interested? So small talk has a benefit in the professional setting. It certainly has a benefit in a social setting, and it even has the benefit romantically to allow you and your partner to actually suss. Are we ready to have this conversation before jumping into wants needs, desires, and all the bigger stuff that of course matters to you? So we want to avoid that mistake or pitfall of thinking.

Speaker 1: Small talk is boring. I can just skip over it. It's non-consequential so why do I even need this skill? It's a very important skill. And as I said earlier, I made that mistake as an introvert. I used to look down on small talk. I used to think it was completely useless. And in turn, I never practiced it. I never gave myself an opportunity even get better at it and utilize it as a skill in my tool belt. Now, I realize if I go to a networking event, if I'm out socially, or even if I'm waiting for Amy to arrive on a date, I know that I can engage anyone in that room in a simple way. And it makes me happier. So it starts to alleviate whatever stress your feeling in your life. It's not a step to skip in conversation at all. It also establishes commonalities. And this is really important when we start to think about, well, why do we want to connect with people? Why do we want to welcome more people into our lives? Well, of course, we want to find some common ground. We want to have that ability to create those moments of connection, to bring emotional bids out in the other person and allow them to feel really good around us. We need

Speaker 3: To have that feeling of we're in the same tribe. We belong together. That feeling of belonging makes us feel safe, which sounds weird, but there are evolutionary reasons for that, because for the longest part of human history, whenever we saw a stranger that automatically meant, Oh, danger. And the only way to feel safe around that stranger is knowing, Hey, we're from the same tribe. So we're not going to kill each other. And the modern day equivalent of we're in the same tribe. That's that commonality that we find in small talk. It's the fact that we both watched the Lakers game. It's the fact that we both enjoy spring. It's the fact that we both enjoy strawberry ice cream. And the moment we make that connection, there is this feeling of belonging. And there is this feeling of safety. Now here's an important part of small talk because without the other person feeling safe, there's not going to be a connection, hence that need for commonality.

Speaker 1: And here's a fun side note on this. Write your examples, Michael focused on things. You enjoy things you're excited about, but guess what? Even sharing negative emotions, things you're afraid of or things that make you nervous again, create that commonality in the other person. So don't look at smalltalk as, Oh, I have to be bubbly and I have to be this false positive person to draw people in. Sometimes acknowledging that, Hey, these networking events, especially after the pandemic, it make me a little, are you feeling a little anxious now that we're all out in about, because I certainly am. You take that little step asking that question, showcasing a little vulnerability. You can still establish that commonality. And I know that many of us want to be that Doseck he's guy. You may have seen those famous commercials, the most interesting man or woman in the world.

Speaker 1: And we go into smalltalk thinking, well, I have to nail it. I have to be charismatic. I have to be bubbly and confident. And it's all about me, me, me. And if you go in with that mindset, you're shooting yourself in the foot. Smalltalk is actually about showcasing interest in the other person. When you are interested, you are actually in turn interesting. So don't look at this as like scripts, you got to memorize or canned openers, or you got to have this amazing story ready to go. The second you meet someone, because if you put that spotlight and focus on yourself, you're actually not engaging the person in an interesting way. And they're never going to get to that point where they actually like you more, you become more likable. The more interested you are in other people

Speaker 3: Ha the perfect example for this. And this has happened just recently. And it, maybe it shows how much of a chess game small talk can be. So I was at the train platform was waiting for a train and I figured, well, we're doing this episode on small talk, right? Let me try out some things. And it turned to the person next to me and I say, Hey, it's so great that the sun is out. This person turns to me and says, no, we need rain. It needs to rain. And I'm thinking to myself like, Whoa, you know what a fun kill who wants it to rain. But then I thought, okay, there must be a reason, right? I'm going to be interested in that. I'm going to find out. And I thought, why would someone want it to rain? And I looked at the person. I said, are you gardening? Do you have a garden? And his face lit up. And he started talking about the tomatoes he's planting and our herps and the thing here and how his wife is helping. And the kids are helping. And we had a 10 minute conversation about this guy gardening. And it was just because I was interested in what he had to say and also looked at what might be the topics that he's actually interested in talking about.

Speaker 1: And if you're an introvert, let's think about the signal we might be sending by not responding to people. Small talk by looking back, looking the other way and not engaging in small talk. You're actually showcasing active disinterest in that person. Do you want to be carrying yourself in that way? Is that the signal you want to be sending not only robbing yourself and that other person have a bit of happiness or a moment of joy, but many of us being introverted or being a little shy and not responding or actually telling the other person I'm not at all interested in you. I'm not at all interested in conversation. And some take that as a judgment on them. That was me in the past, in college, I avoided small talk. I thought, ah, it's useless. It's boring. Why do I need to engage? I didn't realize the impact that was having.

Speaker 1: And it's exponential. If you Rob people of those moments, you actually are disconnecting from them and everyone they know they're not gonna want to showcase their network and share their connections with you. They're not going to want to open up and actually get more vulnerable with you. They're simply going to write you off and say, Oh, age is uninterrupted has boring. Oh, what's AIG's problem. I don't think that's what many of us want to be sending as a signal as we're going about in the world. We actually want to make sure that we are connectable, that we are interesting. And of course that we can have great conversations. You can't do that. If you're skipping small talk, it's an important step. The only thing

Speaker 3: Way to really screw up small talk is if you don't engage in it, which is a pretty cool thought because you can almost not screw it up unless you are so shy and introverted that you don't give real answers. For example, if I ask you, Hey, how was your week?

Speaker 1: And, and you say, great. What did you do when camping? Well,

Speaker 3: I'm going to assume that you don't want to have a conversation. If you keep your mouth going for a little bit longer than just that one word answer, you're going to signal to me that you actually want to make that clear.

Speaker 1: So if you find yourself answering these simple, small talk conversations with one word answers, and now you realize, wow, I might be making this mistake. Add the simple phrase because how's your morning. Great. Because puppers actually went on a walk and I didn't have to chase around the house to put on his collar. Great, because I actually got my Starbucks faster than I had in the last two weeks. The line was very short by adding that simple phrase because, and explaining your one word answer. You actually open up conversational threads for the other person to feel one you're interested in talking to they actually have more to maneuver on. And three, as we said, it makes all of us happier. So now we've understood that there are big mistakes you might be making in labeling small talk, boring, skipping over it, or focusing too much on yourself and thinking you have to be the most interesting person to light up that room. So next time you're out. Let's not overlook small talk. Let's actually look back with a smile, realize we're delivering that bit of happiness and that person's life. And simply explaining ourselves with a simple, because statement allows the other person, a world of possibilities conversationally.

Speaker 4: All right, before we, we have a huge

Speaker 1: Shout out to our bootcamp, alumni, Ian, he recently put his bootcamp social skills to the test with his entire special operators unit during an emotional intelligence training exam. And he was the only one that passed with flying colors. Now we love hearing from our bootcamp alumni about how their new found social skills have transformed their personal and professional lives, which is why we're so excited to welcome our military members back to our bootcamp experience.

Speaker 2: We look forward to hosting your unit in Las Vegas with us in October in, are you ready to supercharge your social skills and rock any social situation?

Speaker 1: Join us in Las Vegas for a truly life-changing experience apply [email protected] slash book.

Speaker 2: That's right. We're accepting applications for our 2021 bootcamp programs kicking off in August spaces limited with only six boot camps planned this year. So pause this podcast right now and apply today. The art of charm.com/bootcamp.

Speaker 1: Now we are excited to be kicking off more toolbox episodes this year, and we want to hear from you, what topics do you want us to unpack and tackle in our upcoming podcast episodes, email [email protected] or find us on social media at the art of charm on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, to let us know your topics before we go. Can you do as one big favor? That's right. Can you pause this podcast and rate it in Apple podcast? Let us know how you enjoyed it and give us a review. It helps us bring on great guests and of course share all this wonderful information.

Speaker 2: The term podcast is produced by Michael Harold and Eric Montgomery until next week. I'm Johnny

Speaker 1: And I'm a J go out there and rock some small talk

Speaker 4: [inaudible] [inaudible].

Check in with AJ and Johnny!

AJ Harbinger - author of 1173 posts on The Art of Charm

AJ Harbinger is one of the world’s top relationship development experts. His company, The Art of Charm, is a leading training facility for top performers that want to overcome social anxiety, develop social capital and build relationships of the highest quality. Raised by a single father, AJ felt a strong desire to learn about relationships and the elements that make them successful. However, this interest went largely untapped for many years. Following the path set out for him by his family, AJ studied biology in college and went on to pursue a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology at the University of Michigan. It was at this time that he began to feel immense pressure from the cancer lab he worked in and began to explore other outlets for expression. It was at this point that The Art of Charm Podcast was born.

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