The Fine Art of Small Talk


Often, I am unable to start good conversations. Better yet, keep a conversation going. I am unable to foster good relationships with other people due to this reason. While browsing around in Chapters, I found this interesting book by Debra Fine, “The Fine Art of Small Talk.”. Even more surprising was that the author started off her career as an engineer! Just like me! How often do we come across books wherein the author’s expertise is related to ours? When I discovered who she actually was, I thought that this book might have some of the answers that I am looking for.

I am an unusually stubborn girl. Sometimes, I find it hard to take criticism from my boyfriend. I know he is teaching me for my own good, but I can’t help feeling defeated … ashamed … and all that crap. I am working on it, though. There’s just something about him that makes me angry and drowning for his love at the same time. Indescribable. Anyway, my point is … this book is a quiet, self-absorbing masterpiece in which I can slowly understand my prime mistakes in the art of conversation. Having graduated from university, I find that small talk is a very useful skill. It makes people around you feel welcome, connected, and happy. And, that’s the most important thing when it comes to making friends, upholding customer satisfaction, and impressing your boss! This is called the “feel-good factor.”

And another important lesson I learnt is that silence is a bad thing in conversations. Forget that old adage that silence is golden because it might just make other people think you are arrogant! Debra Fine explained her experience and the consequence was shocking! She lost one potential customer because she was really quiet (due to shyness) at a social event previously.

In short, there are eight sure-win rules to this game:

1. Use small talk at the beginning and end of business conversations
2. Express empathy. Everyone is entitled to be listend to, even when in the wrong.
3. Greet people warmly, make eye-contact, and smile.
4. Use the person’s name in conversation.
5. Show an interest in others.
6. Dig deeper. When you engage in a conversation don’t leave it to quickly. Always have follow-up questions ready.
7. Be a good listener.
8. Stop being an adviser. Never give unsolicited advice. Offer it only when you are specifically asked for it.

Here’s a really nice paragraph from her book:

I wanted to find a good print shop near my home and walked into one near the busiest post office in our state. I was greeted with a sign that read : LACK OF PREPARATION ON YOUR PART DOES NOT CONSTITUTE AN EMERGENCY ON MY PART. I thought, how many people would zip into this shop for a few photocopies before mailing off an imprtant package? I doubt they would feel welcome here.

I then visited a printing shop across the street. Two colourful signs posted there made my day. One featured a cactus and said, STUCK? WE’LL HELP YOU OUT OF A PRICKLY SITUATION. The other, showing a pot of jam read: IN A JAM? WE’LL HELP YOU OUT OF A STICKY SITUATION. You can guess which printer made me feel better about forming a business relationship.

This book is a perfect easy-read. It is very down-to-earth, concise, and full of top-notch tips! Of course, don’t expect to be a professional at small talk once you finish reading it. It takes a lot of practice and confidence.


3 thoughts on “The Fine Art of Small Talk

  1. 6. Dig deeper. When you engage in a conversation don’t leave it to quickly. Always have follow-up questions ready.

    I guess that’s nice, but I really disagree with asking things you don’t really want to know about. It’s like the question, “How are you?” when you really don’t want to REALLY know about how he/she is. Lol.

    Randomness is the base of conversation.


    Although, being too random might cause people to question your sanity …

  2. yunyun:

    That’s a good point. In different societies, the greeting “How are you?” Is more of a general greeting like … “Hello!”

    You can ask someone, “How have you been since we last spoke?”

    Better still, if you take the initiative to remember people and the events in their lives … you can ask how a specific event went? (e.g. holiday, family trip, religious celebration and etc …)

    I don’t like it when someone asks “How are you?” without showing sincerity. Then again, there are some people who take the extra step in listening how was your day. That’s what this book is teaching you. To be that extra person. Never wait for someone to come to be nice to you.

  3. tee hee.

    “Hi! HOw are you? ”

    “I’m fine, thank you! How are you?”

    “Oh, I’m fine too! What a coincidence!”

    Sweaat. LOL.

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