Taking conversations beyond the surface to the level of more meaningful interaction requires some investment of your time and attention. It doesn’t happen effortlessly, but it can be rewarding, enabling the enrichment of existing relationships and helping you to establish special new ones. Everyone asks “How are you?” and “What do you do?” but small talk is exactly that.
You don’t have to elicit life stories or provoke intense debates on politics and religion with every chat. It’s not an interrogation. There’s a middle ground here between small talk and labored debate. We’ll call it medium talk. Medium talk means making the effort to dig beneath the surface-level pleasantries that strangers exchange on a daily basis. Eliciting a little more depth from these exchanges is a learned skill, and the more you practice, the easier it will become.
When people are drawn together – comfortably – they’re more likely to make the time and effort to engage on a deeper level. Getting comfortable, however, involves more than a relaxing environment with comfortable seating. Consider refreshments. Coffee, tea or even hot chocolate are internationally recognized, comfort-inducing beverages. Depending on the occasion and the company, wine, spirits or beer might be called for. Adding an appropriate snack to your beverages of choice can also help increase the comfort all around.
Ask Direct, Open-Ended, Engaging Questions.
It may sound a little forward, but once you’re comfortable, consider opening with something a little nontraditional. Leaning toward your conversation companion to say “Tell me about your passion,” is a lot more like medium talk than small talk. Though it might surprise your new friend, trying a more direct approach is likely to open the flood gates for more revelatory chats.
Don’t Be Afraid to Share.
If you’re asking for a little more than small talk, you need to be ready to share more on your end, too. Maybe the person you’re talking with asks the first question, and maybe it’s a predictable, surface-level, small-talk opener. That’s OK and is often expected, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be bold and seize the opportunity to elevate to medium talk. Try an unconventional response to a conventional question. Offer an intriguing answer to a mundane inquiry. Open wide those doors of conversational opportunity, and invite your partner to walk through with you.
Reconfigure Your Outlook.
Most people expect to learn very little about others via small talk. There’s a feeling of safety in noncommittal detachment, but deciding to fully engage in medium talk means re-evaluating your expectations for what casual conversation can achieve. It means resolving to learn more, to listen more, to share more and to be more comfortable being yourself when you’re with others. Reach a little outside your comfort zone and elevate small talk to medium talk. More often than not, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts and glad you tried.