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The Secret Behind Effective Conversation


Published: 10/31/2021

Last Edited: 12/12/2021

Written by:

Alex Ikeda

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For all of us, I can say with confidence that the hectic 2020 pandemic left our lives scattered and our perception of time misplaced. If you’re an antisocial degenerate like me, it also granted us a few years of freedom from anxiety, fear, and the thought of conversing with another human being. But the beginning of summer marks the end of COVID-19 as an excuse for us antisocial and misanthropic individuals. With the concurrent declining cases and inclining vaccinations, we may actually have to talk to teachers and classmates in-person in the near future. Online communication is definitely easier and increasingly risk-free, so how does one make their face-to-face communication like our digital discourse, and as streamline and comfortable as we’d all like it to be?

Dealing with small talk:

Small talk defines an inevitable feature of conversation which surrounds the discussion of relatively insignificant topics: “How has your day been?” is a great example of small talk. It’s often the most difficult and awkward part of conversation. Therefore, it can seem extremely daunting to introverts, and even anyone in general—however, there are a few simple tips to dampen the difficulty of conversation in the void of small talk that seem quite obvious, but are oftentimes missed in small talk.

Avoid small talk altogether

I’m not promoting procrastination, since this is actually quite an effective tip. One thing you should be aiming to do is to--, from the beginning--, attempt to move the conversation towards any topics which were predetermined, topics which you have extensive experience in, or topics which you and the other interlocutors of the conversation have mutual experience / love for. For example, if you and a friend have mutual interest in toppling capitalist establishments, try to gear the conversation towards that topic! It’s likely both of you will feel more comfortable in that environment than in the Void of Small Talk. Small talk is sort of an introductory period of conversation that you should try to escape as quickly as possible, given that the entire population likely has a mutual feeling for burning Small Talk to the ground; however, you should still be prepared in case you get stuck in an eternity of it.

Don’t talk, let others talk for you

This is especially common in the world of podcasts and interviews, but also applicable in everyday conversation. If you can’t think of something to say, try to find someone else who can fill in the silence. People love to share their opinions and promote themselves—if given an opportunity, they’ll also feel comfortable doing so. This is almost the literal definition of small talk, but people often forget that, if you can’t beat it, join it. Be the one to ask the questions that no one cares about! Ultimately, you want to steer away from small talk into useful conversation, but you won’t always be able to do so quickly, so participating in small talk will help you navigate these waters until you’re able to take the conversation into a more productive zone.

“Opt-in” points

This technique is depicted in greater detail within the video How To Handle Small Talk As An Introvert, which, in addition, has a plethora of other useful tips for navigating small talk, all with examples. In the video “opt-in” points were described as pauses between conversations allowing people to interrupt you. All those times when someone has interrupted you followed by five minutes of “no, you first” can be finally dissolved with these opt-in points. You can create an opt-in point by creating a short, but not awkward, pause, before continuing on with your story. This way, if someone has something to say, they’ll feel comfortable saying it, and if the interlocutors are enjoying your story, then you can continue. You should also be looking for these opt-in points from others, and at some point, you’ll take an opt-in point and continue the conversation or take it from small talk to big talk, which I’m pretty sure is not the complementary element of small talk.

Keeping “Big Talk” in motion

Opt-in points 2.0

Wait! We just talked about opt in points! Well yes, but no. Opt-in points take on a different form in the context of meaningful conversation. As mentioned, opt-in points serve to prevent someone from having to interrupt you (try not to interrupt others as much as possible, while we’re on that topic). If someone has something to say, let them say it before their thought becomes completely irrelevant. Opt-in points can also serve to allow others to join and leave the conversation. This serves multiple benefits:

1) You don’t have to speak for as long of a period—just like earlier, let others talk for you and bring diversity into the conversation.

2) “Outsiders'' don't feel as awkward. You know the feeling. You sidle up to your friends, hoping to talk to them, only to have to wait fifty minutes as they talk about ant species. By the time they acknowledged you, you probably weren’t anymore in the mood to speak your mind, let alone speak your mind relevantly, and also likely felt ignored, unworthy, and completely bored out of your mind. (Ant species??? Seriously, ant species for fifty minutes sounds painful.)

“No self-promo allowed in #general

There’s a reason why we don’t allow self-promo in #general. It’s not that School Simplified has abusive moderators, it’s that it’s awkward both in Discord and IRL. Conversations are not opportunities for you to promote yourself. It’s okay to talk about yourself when prompted, but try to avoid making unnecessary and unprompted segues to yourself in the midst of conversation, related or unrelated.

Quantity over quality

There are a few things that can be grouped into this tip:

1) Don’t repeat yourself over and over again. Just because you don’t earn a response, doesn’t mean no one heard you.

2) Don’t drag on about a topic any further than its worth. You don’t want to keep trying to milk a conversation if there’s nothing else to talk about—you’ll more often than not end up repeating yourself over and over again and get nowhere in conversation, making for a very awkward topic.

3) If you need to leave, leave. Leaving without reason feels insensitive to both parties, so oftentimes people will end up staring at each for five minutes before someone gathers up enough courage to leave. Don’t feel obligated to stay in conversations like these, as often it will only make the discussion more awkward than not. Be the first, and be quick to leave and give reason for leaving when you sense conversations coming to a close, or if for whatever reason you need to leave. And on that note, I need to leave; I should probably sleep!

See what I did there? Yes? Very clever, isn’t it?





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