March 18, 2009

Talking about Small Talk

Met a patient in psych today who has social phobia. She seemed pretty comfortable talking in my presence. I can only imagine how weird it may feel for a patient visiting their doctor for a psychiatric problem to have an extra person in the office scribbling away on a clipboard. (I do try to be subtle about it, though.)

She talked about how she was challenging herself to perform in public (there are various venues perfect for this, Toastmasters, Choir, etc.) So I was pleased to come across an article in Lifehacker: Use Clever Questions to Ease Into Small Talk
Farley recommends opening any socially-forced conversation with a "wry observation phrased as a question," rather than jamming out your hand for a shake or blurting your name. You could, in certain situations, wonder aloud whether you're at a popular tech conference or a massive iPhone field test. Or wonder aloud what everyone at the office is thinking, with just a hint of rebellious humor.

My take on Small Talk:
I've never been very good at it. When I was a young kid, I hated the big parties with my parents where everyone would stand around and chat about the same stuff that they talked about last year. Plus, everytime we'd run into someone new, they'd want to know the exact same things as the last person! I found it tiring, redundant and wholly uninteresting.

In retrospect, I was quite a precocious kiddo.

The tip that struck me was: "As you listen to the reply, prep your next move. Aim for 15-second bursts that segue into further questions."

There is an art to conversation... and I am not comfortable with the idea of thinking ten moves ahead like a game of chess. You run the risk of not even listening to the person and instead you start thinking to yourself!

My psych preceptor said it best: think of your questions like balloons. Your job at the end of the interview should be to gather up all of the balloons you started with and the ones that they brought up.

That is bound to make for a satisfied small-talker. You engage them, you respond to them and you give them a bunch of their hot air right back. ;)

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