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Master the Art of Small Talk

Know how to communicate and connect without all the awkwardness!

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So, we kind of suck when it comes to chatting with each other. Being on our phones and online all the time, and not communicating face to face have made us emotionless, less empathetic, and has killed the art of conversation.

As much as I hate making small talk, we still need to know how to talk to each other! Communication is key to all relationships (professional and personal). Since we as a society are going bust in this area, and I’m in a profession where I have to gain someone’s trust within a minute of meeting them, I’ve jotted down my own ideas for conversation starters so that you can avoid those moments of awkwardness and be more comfortable meeting and talking to anyone.

A Comment On My Profession

What do I mean when I say I have a minute to gain someone’s trust? Well, I’m an anesthesiologist. I don’t meet my patients until a few minutes before heading back to surgery. In those few minutes I need to meet them, gather and confirm information about their medical history and answer all of their questions.

At the end of all that I’m like “ok, your life is in my hands now”. Often, people aren’t even nervous about the surgery; they are nervous about the anesthesia. Patient’s who go to sleep nervous, generally wake up anxious as well. So what do I do to put them at ease?

I have to connect with them in a way that allows them to trust me, even though they don’t know me. Conversation is that way (along, of course, with the fact that I appear confident, and therefore incite confidence in them.)

Some Go-To Conversation Starters I use

The first way to connect with someone and gain their trust is to make a great first impression. As a physician, that means being professional and confident. Beyond the anesthesia conversation, when I chat about whatever, I need to come across as sincere. The second anyone thinks that you’re playing them, they will lose all faith and you’ll lose all credibility.

So, whats are my go-to conversation starters? I stick with what I know.

  1. When people question my ability or get nervous about the medications they’ll get and their affects, I reassure them that anesthesia is pretty safe (truth) and that I’m with them the whole time (truth), and then I throw in

think of me as your very expensive drug dealer.

They laugh. Every. Single. Time.

2. I start some sedative medication before heading back to the operating room for most all of my patients. I always get questioning looks, sometimes the nerves come up, and they alllll watch me. So, I distract them with a question:

What’s your drink of choice?

Whatever it is, I let them know, ok, that drink? You’ve just gotten some of that in your IV. Then they ALL chuckle (kid you not), and inevitably we chat about drinks we like, drinks we hate, drinks we will never drink again, and on and on.

3. As patients are going to sleep, I tell them that they’re on the beach with that drink in hand and bid them sweet dreams.

After employing these conversation starters and little bits of getting to know my patients personally, I feel that I’ve had much smoother patient wake ups, improved mood, and no one has ever complained of bad dreams.

How to Choose Conversation Starters

It doesn’t really matter what you talk about. But I think there are some general rules of thumb to consider, and this can vary depending on who you’re trying to talk to and the situation you’re in.

Always stay true to what you know

Don’t make things up. Whether you’re networking or on a date trying to make small talk and really want to come across strong, don’t say something just because you think it’ll impress someone. It’s the worst way to start a conversation and often will end badly.

Talk about what you know, what you’re comfortable with. On the same note, admit when you don’t know something about a topic.

Always tell the truth and maintain your sincerity

Don’t lie. This should be obvious, no matter what the situation. People have a remarkable way of figuring out if you’re lying. There are tells (everyone has them), and for me, my instincts start giving me warning signals that something’s off.

Be Courteous

For every bit of information you offer up about yourself, ask two questions. Conversation starters help get the flow going, but it’s not just about you (or them).

Don’t Force It

You may be the most suave conversationalist out there, but if someone doesn’t want to talk to you, then take it in stride. Reading those signals and following them is also a sign of respect and will just contribute the good impression you’re making.

Choose Open-Ended Questions

Don’t be super specific in your conversation questions. A great way to get people talking is to let them talk without restriction. Open-ended questions allow them to interpret your question and fill in the blanks as they see fit.

Just make sure you listen so that you can continue the conversation from there 🙂

What Are Some Good Conversation Starters To Use?

Actual topics will depend on you. What you know, what you want to ask someone, and how you feel most comfortable connecting with someone.

I use the “what’s your drink of choice” question because the vast majority of patients have either had a drink or do drink regularly. However, if the conversation is naturally flowing on some other topic, then I go with it.

Some ideas to help you figure out what your go-to could be:

What you choose to use to strike up a conversation will depend on the situation you’re in.

  • Travel stories, talking about recent trips, or commenting on popular destinations is one way to get started.
  • Asking about hobbies, or talking about them e.g. cooking, movies, music, reading
  • Depending on the time of year, questions about how holidays are spent, vacation plans, weekend getaways. On the same note, ask about someone’s new year’s resolutions, for instance, and if they ever really kept new year’s resolutions and followed through with them.
  • If you’re at a networking event and meeting mutual contacts, a great way to get started is by asking/talking about how you each know your mutual friends. Follow-up questions may be where someone is from, how they came to be at their current jobs, etc.
  • If it comes up, talking about your favorite sports team is a great conversation starter.
  • Depending on your audience and how the conversation flows, talking about trying new things or asking if they’ve done “anything exciting lately” is one way to break the ice and get to know someone.

Find Your Groove

It took me a while to choose the questions I use while at work. Knowing what works for you, and the majority of people and situations you’re in really just takes practice.

It can be intimidating to break the ice when meeting new people and get the conversation going, but don’t let that stop you from trying. The more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll be with yourself and how you speak, and you’ll be more comfortable in awkward situations.

Final Thoughts

Conversations starters are good to have in your back pocket so that you are prepared for that small talk when you’re with people you don’t know. If you hate making small talk as much as I do, then hopefully these tips will help you stay true to yourself, and make the conversation a bit more authentic and interesting.

So get out there, push the boundaries of your comfort zone, and find out what your go-to preferred conversation starters are.

Happy Chatting!

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