Small Talk and Mouth Gazers

Well one of my new years resolutions was to be better at small talk. I have never had any problem engaging with people about weighty topics (except for being too heavy handed in my criticism of other views), though I am quite terrible about engaging people when I first meet them. I need to bridge the wide chasm between "Hi, what's your name?" and "What gives your life purpose and meaning?"

On a related note, I also had a friend tell me that my lack of eye contact led to a lack of deep trust. I relayed that I never really stared at eyes because it was too much effort and I felt just as much emotion was revealed through the lips and mouth. I had never considered that I might have had a "trust deficit" with others because people have always comment on that aspect. I then asked her, "would you not leave me your house keys or trust me with your car for a day?" She replied "Of course I would, but that's not the kind of trust I am talking about. I mean I wouldn't trust you enough to be emotionally open." From there she gave some concerns about how openly critical I can be of others (good advice to reflect on), but her main point was that she just didn't have a gut feeling of trust, and that was mainly a result of eye contact. For the next few minutes I did my best to make eye contact and she responded that it felt like a completely different conversation. I on the other hand, found the process to be very emotionally draining, I find it difficult to form my own thoughts when I look into someone else's eyes. Maybe that's the point though. It's a chance to put yourself in their shoes and begin to experience their version of reality. Maybe that is just the process of piercing our own bubbles of reality. I know when I was on Strattera, that was one of the perks. I wonder if it's possible to develop this skill. I guess there is no other way than to find out.

I did share a little research on the topic that I found interesting. The article discussed the difference in Western smiley faces --  :)  :P :D  which tend to focus on mouths and those from Asian countries which tend to focus on the eyes -_-  ^_^  0_0   At the time it made me think what I was doing was normal, but after discussing with other friends over the past few weeks, it appears that eye staring is the more common preference among my social circle by a ratio of 3 or 4 to 1. Those who were also mouth gazers also shared a similar experience of being overwhelmed when staring at others eyes. Sounds like a great Seinfeld episode.

I also spent some time readings others suggestions for small talk. They are all rather obvious, but that hasn't kept me from making the obvious mistakes. The main thing is to ask questions that allow the other person plenty of room to talk (avoid yes-no questions seek out open-ended ones). Ask something that can elicit an emotional response. When they do this it's also important to pat attention.

At the onset, it's also important to be positive and keep an upbeat attitude. Compliments are nice here too. Just find something you like about the other person. Mood tends to be contagious. Along these lines it's also important to remember the importance of confidence (not arrogant). The main thing is to not be nervous, Think about the standard question "How are you doing?" This could be said nervously as a test to see if someone will talk to you. This could be used simply as an acknowledgement of another human (but with clear disinterest to the response). Lastly it could be said calmly and directly with genuine concern for another person. It's clear the final answer would be the most likely to elicit the most honest response from the other person.

A nice suggestion from one person was to plan an exit strategy (ie. I need to go talk to an old friend) so that you leave the person wanting more and don't over-saturate them from the onset. I tend to disagree too much at the onset. I also tend to ask rather stereotypical questions to avoid the nervousness of meeting a new person. 

Another good piece of advice was to avoid questions that come with assumptions about the other person (How is work? They might be unemployed). In some ways this assumption implies that you think this is a perquisite for being a worthwhile human being - it's ever so slightly judgmental.

Again, they all urged practice. Talk to strangers. Engage the people you meet on a daily basis. Don't feel pressure to be funny or charming. Just listen. Have a few questions that generally matter to you than you can ask people you meet.