Small Talk Is Big Talk

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Small Talk is Big Talk - Lunch at LMU

I discuss the consequences that the pandemic has had on us a lot in my blogs, especially in the ways that it’s affected our education and careers. But my professor friends and I have noticed a really unexpected consequence that we haven’t talked about yet: our poor students have forgotten how to small talk!

It’s understandable… Zoom classrooms with 20-plus students are not conducive to pre-class conversations, unless you feel comfortable with the entire class listening in. But now that much of the country is back to in-person learning, I want to empower my students (and students everywhere) to connect with each other again!!

Here Are My Top 5 Tips for Small Talk:

1. Take out the airpods.

I know how tempting it is to listen to Taylor Swift’s Red album in angst while you stroll into class. But airpods in your ears are a nonverbal nod to those around you that you are closed off to conversation. I know that some days are just not the day for social hour. Some days we just want to keep to ourselves…and that’s okay! But making an intentional effort a couple times a week to connect with those around you will go a long way.

2. Give a (sincere) compliment.

Do you like her shoes? The stickers on his hydroflask? Her opinion on a topic from the last lecture? A nice, sincere compliment is a great conversation starter. Not only is the compliment a nice lead-in for a conversation, but it also creates a positive energy that can blossom into more natural conversation in the future.

3. Ask open-ended questions.

There is nothing more painful than watching a conversation die because of closed questions. So keep it simple and keep it open:

Don’t ask: “Have you started the project?”

Instead, try asking: “How is the project going?”

4. Actively listen.

Have you ever been so excited to tell someone a story and about 30 seconds in you can’t even tell if they’re listening? It’s the worst, right?! Active listening really is one of the easiest, most powerful ways to form a connection! People like to be heard. So give eye contact, occasional nods, and appropriately-timed laughs.

5. Join a conversation.

The girls behind you are talking about a show you love. Do you join in? I say yes!

I have been in this situation, where you hear conversations happening all around you and you’re just not sure how to join in. But 9 times out of 10, if you find a way to seamlessly enter the conversation, people are excited to have a new addition to the group!

I think the key here is not dominating the conversation once you join. You want to make sure that you complement the chat, not overrun it. Just make sure you listen.

Your peers are valuable! In the best case scenario, the folks around you are possible friends! But at the very least, they are great connections. When you’re studying at a fantastic university (like LMU!), most of your classmates are going to end up with successful careers. So be present with those around you. It can make all the difference!

Follow me on TikTok at @ellen.ensher and let me know in the comments your best practices for small talk!