What does everybody have but most people dread?
Small talk. You’re probably here because you want to get better at small talk and you’re in the right place because my name is Chad and my partner in crime and I wrote a book called Ask Powerful Questions Create Conversations That Matter. It’s been at the time of recording. It’s been sitting as a number one bestseller on Amazon for several years. I love hearing from people who it’s helped make conversations go beyond small talk to conversations that really matter.
In this video, I’m going to share if you were to pick out only one really key strategy to have better small talk. I’m going to share that with you in this video.
Blog Note: The following is an adapted and edited transcript of one of our daily YouTube tutorials. We know sometimes it is easier to scroll through written content which is why we are publishing here. Because of that, there may be typos or phrases that seem out of context. You’ll definitely be able to get the main idea. To get the full context, visit our YouTube channel here. And if you want to watch the video on this topic specifically, you can scroll down to the bottom of this post to access it as well.
Awkward Elevator Tool
The tool that I’m going to share with you I like to call the Awkward Elevator tool. The reason I call it that is that’s the situation that is typically associated with the most extreme painful small talk. You’re in an elevator, you’ve got nothing else to talk about except what’s in that elevator and even imagine that there’s strangers in there. Now, granted, most of the time you don’t actually spark conversation with those people. But if you had to, this tool would get you out of that rut. But it also is remarkably useful if you’re at a networking meeting or you’re at a work Christmas party or boss said you need to go team build and you’re stuck in some capacity with your colleagues. This tool will help you have more meaningful conversations in all of those contexts.
Before I just drop the tool on you, you have to unpack why have more conversations. Let me just get super nerdy for a minute and read you 2 sentences from the book that really stuck out to me when I was actually writing in this section of the book and doing the research on the science of asking really great questions and creating conversations that matter. The American Psychological Association did a study on over 20,000 audio recordings of people’s conversation in everyday life. What they found was that people who had more authentic, substantive conversations also tended to be happier. Which I love because I think that sometimes we think about creating conversations that matter as important to not have awkward conversation. I think that creating conversations that matter isn’t just fun. It’s actually essential to our health and well-being. This awkward elevator tool very simply is comes in chapter 2 of the book.
In the book, we unpack this layer and 5 different mindsets and tools to be able to ask better questions and create conversations that matter. I’m going to share number two with you. And it’s this idea of rapport which we define as a relationship of trust. Ideally, small talk is intended to establish a relationship a trust. The tool that we share is to follow your own natural genuine curiosity based on what someone is wearing, carrying, sharing, or presenting. How did we come up with those? A quick rewind.
Will and I created and taught this tool to people working for an organization that where we were training facilitators to walk into a room full of strangers and have meaningful conversations about difficult topics. They had no other context, there was nothing else to ask about other than what they walked in the room with. And what we found is that even though you think the conversation starts with words, the conversation started long before that with what people brought into the room with them.The conversation was started based on what they’re sharing, based on what they’re wearing, based on the jewelry that they have on. This means something. It has a story behind it based on people’s emotion, based on what they’re actually carrying with them into the room, based on how clean or dirty their shoes are might mean they’ve been adventuring or they have been cleaning their shoe.
There’s all of this data that’s actually shared with us before the conversation’s even begun. So, even though you think you have to start a conversation from scratch, there’s actually a whole bunch of stuff already on the table. Notice, be curious, and inquire. Ask a question rooted in your natural genuine curiosity based on what someone is wearing, carrying, sharing, or presenting.
The reason this tool is so incredibly impactful is that when you talk to people, typically they know that they were going to be out in public today. As human beings, we choose what we put on our bodies and bring with us to represent a little part of who we are. It’s a very safe way to skip past some of the like questions that people get very tired of which is where are you from, which usually ends with like you doing some weird geography game and then conversation done or what do you do and they answer that question and you’re like, “Not what I do”. Conversation over. Those are oftentimes conversation killers because people have already had those dialogues so many times. Even applying this tool though to what someone is sharing is really useful.”Where are you from?” -“Boston.”
Typically, we’d say, “Oh, I have a cousin that lives in Boston.” Not useful for small talk, right? You think it might be useful for small talk to jump in and share a commonality. What is more useful is if you follow your natural curiosity based on what they’ve said and ask them a question. “Oh, cool. Boston. What was it like growing up in Boston? I grew up in the midwest.” Do you see how that had a little bit of self-disclosure but also followed your curiosity? Just in case this idea is not really sinking in, take this question with you: “What are you curious about right now?”
As kids, we ask so many questions every single day and as adults, we’ve been trained to speak in sentences that end in periods rather than sentences that end in question marks. And the best way to get better at small talk is to tap into your curiosity. Curiosity is a choice by the way. We can choose to turn up the dial and pay attention to the things that are around us that a person’s wearing and follow that curiosity. This tool can be misused.
It’s really important to go back to the first level that we share in this pyramid and then we call intention. Your intentions have to be other centered, You can’t make people the objects of your curiosity. You’ve got to have the intention to really connect with them and really hear a little bit more about who they are. And that intention of curiosity makes a really big difference in the way that your conversations go.
I hope this was absolutely brilliant for you and that you take this tool and practice it in your own world and make conversations less awkward. We care about these ideas enough so like yeah sure the books available on Amazon. As I held up this giant question, there is a deck of cards that i’ve created called We! Connect Cards. They’re filled with 60 of the best questions to ask…
To skip past small talk and really create conversations that matter. If any of that interests you, check the links in the description to learn more. I’m Chad. This was awesome. I had a blast hanging out in cyber space with you. I hope that our paths cross at some point in pixel land or real life. Have an awesome day filled with zero small talk.