Many of us have a longing inside us to get to know others on a deep level. So, it's a shame we spend so many of our interactions engaging in small talk. But having deep conversations from the get-go can be intimidating. What, then, would medium talk look like?
"For a lot of people, small talk has become a burden because there’s this rigid formula one tries to use, completely discounting the fact that maybe the formula doesn’t fit their personality," NYC-based psychotherapist and entrepreneur Lilian Ostrovsky tells Bustle. However, it doesn't have to be like this. You can connect with somebody you've just met by talking about what's going on in the room or even the weather. The trick is to use topics like these as jumping-off points to discuss your own experiences and gradually go deeper.
"The acts of listening and free association and intention setting are the building blocks for small-talk plus — a little something extra that can create a sense of play or connection with the other person," Ostrovsky says. Here are four things to try if you want to take your small talk up a notch and feel connected, even in conversations with complete strangers.
1Set An Intention
Your intention will inform what you say, says Ostrovsky. If your intention is just to pass the time, it's going to be hard to get past small talk. Instead, find an intention like getting to know the other person, getting to know yourself, having fun, or learning something new. Then, during your conversation, ask yourself what question or statement might further that intention.
Whatever you're finding your attention drawn to in your immediate surroundings, don't fight it. That's where your curiosity is, and curiosity provides an opportunity for an interesting conversation, says Ostrovsky. Maybe, for example, there's something written on someone's shirt and you're wondering what it means. Go ahead and ask them. Once you become mindful of your surroundings, there are endless mysterious and curiosities around you.
3Practice Free Association
When we're making conversation, what we're really doing is freely associating, says Ostrovsky. This means essentially thinking of a topic, thinking of what that reminds you of, thinking of what that reminds you of, and so on.
So, we can become better conversation-makers by practicing free association in our daily lives. When you're walking down the street or looking out the window, ask yourself what different sights remind you of. Then, when you're in the conversation, ask what the other person's statements are reminding you of. For example, if they say "it's hot in here," you might think of the last time you were hot, and you might have a whole story about that day.
4Listen With Your Whole Body
"If you really listen to the person, you have an opportunity to free-associate not just with what they’re saying but the vibe they’re giving off in the context of what they’re saying," says Ostrovsky. "Let’s say somebody says, 'This room is so stuffy.' In that, you might hear that there’s some kind of a physical discomfort." Then, you might think about the last time you experienced physical discomfort or what would make you feel better.
That said, don't try to analyze what they're thinking or feeling, because that can take you out of the present and lead to assumptions.
These conversations may require you to talk quite a bit about yourself, but don't feel bad about that. If that's how the conversation goes, it's because you both co-created it that way, says Ostrovsky. But if it makes you feel less self-conscious, you can ask them if they've had similar experiences to you, Ostrovsky says. "Invite them into your world."