As a follow up to my post Boundaries, here is a quick, non-comprehensive guide on how to identify if you have crossed the boundary line, what not to do, etc. Again, if you are one of those people who feel that you 'never feel awkward' or 'don't ever feel uncomfortable', you need this more than most of us.
Basically some people are really good at making you comfortable and getting to know you, and some people cross a line the instant their mouth opens. For some odd reason, these line crossers are also completely ignorant of body language and verbal cues.
So, here’s a quick run-down of what I would call “Cues that You Have Crossed the Small Talk Line”
- · The person gives short, one syllable answers
- · The person avoids eye contact (yes, this one is culturally based, but where I'm from it's a dead giveaway that the person does not want to talk.)
- · The person turns away from you after giving their one syllable, no eye contact answer
- · The person takes longer than 15 seconds to acknowledge that you have asked them another question and then give you a one-syllable-no-eye-contact-over-the-shoulder-answer
- · When you try to initiate conversation again they give you the OSNECOTSA then quickly excuse themselves, and make a beeline for an exit or person across the room
- · The leave the room when you enter the room, they act like they don’t see you, they change direction when they realize they are headed in your general direction, etc. on subsequent interactions
Small talk is something that is used to break the ice with people. It is not to dig deep into the person’s inner workings. You should not ask questions that could be considered too personal. Small talk is about superficial things such as:
- · How do you know so-and-so? (Nice and open ended, plus it establishes a common ground. You are both at a party thrown by someone, so you somehow both know the person.)
- · Your hair looks great. I’ve been looking for a good barber, where do you get your hair done? (The key to this is making it about you “I’ve been looking for a good barber”, otherwise you might come off as stalker material.)
And to help you out a bit more, here are some questions to NOT ask when you first meet a person, they are not appropriate small talk conversation starters. (Please note: every question in this list was asked to me or someone I know by someone who I/they just met):
- · Where’s your husband? (Seriously, the first thing out of the person’s mouth after learning my name.)
- · Are you single? (Another person in the same environment asked a more appropriate alternate to this question, “Is it just you?” Of course, this question came well into the conversation after they had established a level of comfort for both of us. For those wondering how to answer this without giving away too much information, give some vague answer such as, “I came with so-and-so” or “Well, so-and-so is here too”. They get an answer, even if it’s not the one they were fishing for. Bonus points if the name you can give them is androgynous, like Taylor, Jordan, or Casey.)
- · What are you most passionate about? (Yes, this one might be appropriate, but it really can put someone on the spot, and the person who asked it would not let it drop: ‘You don’t have any passions? Everyone has a passion, what is it for you?’ I also feel that passions are something extremely personal, and the point of small talk is to not get personal, it’s to break the ice.)
Some good resources:
The best part (for me at least) was the “Warnings”: Do not force people into having small talk with you; some people are introverts, and everyone is social at certain times and with other people. Some may not care about the weather or where you get your shoes.
This goes over a lot of things about small talk, even giving examples of full small talk conversations, as well as examples of what you might say that isn’t appropriate with the appropriate alternate right there for you to see.