It was only a brief conversation. Passing by a craft beer brewery with outdoor seating, I noticed a woman sitting alone enjoying a beer in what appeared to me to be a brandy snifter. I remarked that the snifter added a touch of class to her beer. In response, she stated that in Belgium, her home country, beer was served in different glassware depending on the type of beer. The type of glassware affects the taste. In fact each brand of beer usually has a glass made especially for the characteristics of that beer. That glass ‘snifter’ she had was made especially for the beer she was enjoying. It was the start of a brief but rewarding conversation. I learned something new and expressed my appreciation for that before gracefully ending the conversation and continuing on my way. That brief conversation made my day more memorable and pleasant.
The Art of Small Talk
Small talk with strangers is becoming a lost art. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the art of small talk is becoming a modern-day casualty of personal technology such as smartphones and other portable media devices. Being plugged-in to technology when in public places is robbing us of social skills. However, small talk is an art worth cultivating. In fact, it is one of the best ways to make the most mundane day far more enjoyable. It is also one of the best ways to enrich your travel and vacations.
How Small Talk Makes Travel Better
I discovered the necessity of developing this art over a decade ago, when I embarked on a road trip that took me from New York to California. I was traveling alone, and spent three months on the road. I discovered rather early in that journey that if I was going to enjoy myself I had to speak up and initiate conversations with strangers along the way. The brief conversations I had with people in restaurants, at tourist attractions, and on the street added immensely to my enjoyment of the travel experience. Whether it was asking a passerby where to find the best barbecue ribs in Chicago or praising a slice of apple pie in a roadside Kansas diner, the art of small talk become my key to enjoyable travel.
Small talk converts you from being an observer to a participant in what is going on around you. A pleasant exchange is not so much about what is discussed as it is about the positive connection with others. Small talk humanizes others and reinforces a more positive view of people. You make others feel good and you feel great as well.
When it comes to travel, the full joy of the journey must include interaction with strangers. It unlocks a door to positive experiences and pleasant memories that would otherwise be missed.
Here are a few tips to help you cultivate the art of small talk:
1. Put the smartphone away. The smartphone is becoming a social crutch that cripples conversation with strangers. Just put it away.
2. Take a positive interest in the people around you. As a society, we are becoming increasingly insular and divisive. We are conditioned to assume the worst about people and cultures that are not familiar to us. Fight that tendency with all your power. Small talk should spring from a genuine interest in others. Look for the good in people around you. Look for reasons to compliment others. Be observant, and focus on the positive. Don’t assume the worst. Look for the good and you will often bring out the best in others.
3. Choose to have a positive attitude. Smile! People can sense that you are good-natured, and are naturally drawn to that. In any circumstance, you can choose to have a positive attitude. In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie said: “You must have a good time meeting people if you expect them to have a good time meeting you.” Keep negative thoughts in check. Occasionally, you may need to remind yourself to brighten your outlook.
Have a ready smile! Take the initiative to smile at others. Your smile encourages others to smile and respond kindly. “Not only do people deduce useful information from smiles, they also use this knowledge to direct their own behavior,” noted an article in Observer, an online journal of the Association for Psychological Science
4. Think less about yourself and more about others. It is easy to worry excessively about the impression you are making or how you are perceived by others. Resist that tendency. Think about what makes the people around you interesting. What do you want to know about their culture, interests, and experiences? Is there a bit of humor or a positive thought you can share with others? Let your curiosity override your self-consciousness.
5. Take disappointments in stride. You will have the occasional conversation that falls flat. A few may simply not want to talk or may even become irritated by your conversation. You will occasionally cross paths with a persistently negative person that is best left alone. Bow out gracefully and move on. Don’t mull over it. Let it pass and keep a positive attitude.
6. Dress for Success. Yes, I know everyone is wearing those ghastly Affliction T-Shirts and flip-flops nowadays. Truthfully, they do not make a good impression. Up your game. If you choose clothing that shows a measure of self-respect, others will respect you as well. Dress in a way that makes people of all cultures and backgrounds comfortable around you. Good taste has universal appeal.
Beyond these essential tips, having good manners, a sense of humor and keeping up with current events will give you plenty to discuss. Just be sure to be positive and respectful.
Whether you travel alone or with a mate, small talk brings you out of your cocoon. It makes travel a warmer more engaging experience and enhances your understanding of the world around you.
The good thing about small-talk is that it becomes easier with practice. The more you practice, the more skillful you become. You will discover over time that you become more comfortable with a wider range of people and cultures. Those brief conversations are certain to enrich your life in unexpected ways!