You go to the hairdresser. You're looking forward to a new look, the delightful head massage, and walking out feeling fresh and vibrant. But before strutting out of the salon, you have to engage in two hours of small talk.
It's that type of conversation that involves questions like, "what did you do on the weekend?" and "what do you do for work" and "what are you up to tonight?" The hairdresser is only trying to do their job, but you'd rather read a good book or text your friends. Does that sound familiar?
Small talk doesn't just happen at the salon. It happens everywhere. When we're buying our groceries, waiting for coffee, on public transport, at work, the gym and all sorts of places.
In and of itself, it's not a bad thing. It's a social pleasantry and part of life; especially in social situations with people we are meeting for the first time. When you first meet someone, asking basic questions breaks the ice and the answers give us context and help us get to know a person to find points of commonality.
However, I think there's a problem when we are rarely or never moving past small talk with people we see on a regular basis. Church is one of those places. We mostly see the same people every week, and yet many well-meaning Christians aren't great at moving past small talk.
The older I get, the less patience I have for it. But I've also realised that I am partly responsible for whether a conversation goes deeper or not. It's easy to blame others, but we can be part of the solution and make steps towards having richer, more fulfilling interactions.
Here are some ideas to get started:
Somebody has to take the first step to be vulnerable
One of the greatest ways to start a more open conversation is to be open. If one person is brave enough to share something personal, it gives the other person permission to do so too. It's a proven strategy for creating intimacy and trust between people—I encourage you to try it!
Ask better questions
It takes intentionality to ask meaningful questions and I think even the best conversationalists can always get better at this! Asking better questions hopefully means better answers, so spending some time thinking about specific questions you can ask a person before you see them, and simple things like asking open-ended questions will always help. For example, instead of asking, "did you have a good week?" you could ask, "how was your week?" The first question only leaves room for a yes or no type response.
Pay attention to body language and cues
A lot can be picked up from paying attention to what a person doesn't say and their body language, and those cues can help us to ask more meaningful questions. If a person looks sad, find a way to acknowledge it somehow rather than pretending you didn't notice. There's not much to lose if you go out on a limb and ask them, but a lot to be gained. They might have been waiting for someone to notice and care enough to ask.
Sometimes before meeting up with someone or going to a certain event, I'll specifically pray for the people I'm about to engage with—that God would guide my conversations and help me to be a blessing to them with my words. I wish I could say I do it all the time, but the times I do the conversations are noticeably more meaningful and productive.
Sometimes we're so distracted that we aren't really listening to what they are saying, and we are thinking about the next thing we're going to say, feeling anxious or just not paying attention. I'm guilty of this often—sometimes I am so busy thinking about the next thing I'm going to say or ask, that I'm not really listening. So making the conscious effort to have a clear mind to respond to statements is important.
Next time you meet someone that you see on a regular basis, make the effort to apply one or more of these techniques and see where the conversation takes you! We are all responsible for creating better conversations and connecting with people in deeper ways and we can all make a difference.
Teagan spends her 9 to 5 as a Social Media Producer in Sydney. After 5, she can be found running, drinking coffee, shopping, on the beach, or cooking up a storm. She studied Psychology at University, and plans to 'one day' complete her Masters and work as a shrink, but in the meantime, she is navigating her way through this thing called life and trying to stop and smell the roses along the way.
Teagan Russell's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/teagan-russell.html