I have a secret to share. I love talking to people. I am genuinely interested in hearing people’s stories. Human beings are fascinating. They have fears, wounds, and successes. To make things even better I have been called to listen to people’s stories for a living. And frequently, especially on Sundays, I get to share life-changing stories. People tell me their stories. It is really gratifying, because I can’t stand small talk. They usually indicate that you find nothing in my life worth listening.
For the extroverts like myself, small talks can be frightening. I don’t do silence well. I prefer elaboration. “Tell me more…” I keep saying as someone begins talking. I want to leave this conversation, however short, with a better understanding of who you are as a human being. So, here is my secret to get people talking: I ask them questions. I don’t mean “what time is it?” questions, I mean “what do you think of time?” questions. I want people to flourish whether in my counseling room or at a coffee shop. I want to know why your children matter and what specifically makes them matter to you.
Recently, a couple of comedians shared my concern. They got tired of small talk. And so they offered some advice:
One way to get beyond small talk is to ask open-ended questions. Aim for questions that invite people to tell stories, rather than give bland, one-word answers.
Instead of . . .
“How are you?”
“How was your day?”
“Where are you from?”
“What do you do?”
“What line of work are you in?”
“What’s your name?”
“How was your weekend?”
“Would you like some wine?”
“How long have you been living here?”
Try . . .
“What’s your story?”
“What did you do today?”
“What’s the strangest thing about where you grew up?”
“What’s the most interesting thing that happened at work today?”
“How’d you end up in your line of work?”
“What does your name mean? What would you like it to mean?”
“What was the best part of your weekend?”
“What are you looking forward to this week?”
“Who do you think is the luckiest person in this room?”
“What does this house remind you of?”
“If you could teleport by blinking your eyes, where would you go right now?”
Go ahead. Answer the unexpected. Bring people into your story and help them open theirs to you. Let’s do away with small talk!