Seven Small Talk Hacks for the Holidays

20091125-family-talking-350x263This is a time of year where you are likely to be involved in human interactions. Knowing how to interact in a way that makes the other person feel validated without having to invest too much of your soul into the process can be valuable if this isn’t something that comes naturally to you. With that in mind, here are seven conversation hacks I’ve learned over the years to make this holiday season just a little less exhausting.

person eye

1. Humans who are engaged in small talk like to monitor each other’s eyeballs for signs of distress. As a listener, you should direct your eyes toward those of the speaker 60% of the time and watch for changes in pupil dilation which can display excitement, focus or early indicators of a stroke. The rest of the time may be used to glance around for somebody who can save you from this conversation or to monitor exits. If you are talking, it is acceptable to reduce your eye contact to 30%.

talk-to-yourself2. When a human is telling you a rambling story about people you hardly know, it is possible to indicate that you are still conscious by nodding or grunting when they pause to inhale. If you have mastered this, try repeating a random verb or noun from their sentence and repeat it back to them each time they breathe. This hack creates the illusion that you are participating in their monologue and will cause them to view you as highly intelligent and trustworthy.

person pinpointing pen on calendar

3. To end a conversation with a human, ask about what they will be doing in the near future. Once they have explained their plans you have an opportunity to wish them well in those plans and then immediately disengage. If they ask what your plans are before you’ve completed your escape, your answer should be something you can do immediately after stating it, like topping up your drink or patting that dog over there. Once you’ve stated an intention to do that thing, assure the human that it was a lovely conversation and you’d like to continue it later, then walk away to engage in your stated task.

tumblr_oqs3z1xpNr1rg89a6o1_1280.jpg4. In the event that step three has not granted your freedom it is possible that you’ve performed steps one and two excessively well and the human has become addicted to your presence. If this is the case, attempt to call another human over and summarise one of the stories you’ve just heard. Upon hearing the summary, the first human will immediately begin retelling their story to the newcomer which you can then use to conceal your escape.

Positions-of-feet_3.jpg5. Sometimes you will find yourself enjoying a conversation with a human. This is when another human will decide to add themselves to your conversation and take it in a new direction. To communicate respect to the first human, keep your feet pointing at them. Pivot your hips to acknoledge the newcommer and tell them that you want to hear all about their story when you have finished your current conversation. This utilises the future plans effect of point three to end a conversation and also establishes a context to end your current conversation. You can now choose to wrap up your current conversation or continue it. At this point, assure the newcommer that you will come and find them shortly or thank the first human for the engaging conversation and wish them well as you pivot your feet toward the newcommer. You can also use the technique in point four to instead include the newcommer in the conversation.

third-wheel-6426. If you are engaged in a conversation with a human and a second human begins talking to them and they both seem to be ignoring you, place a hand palm down on the original human’s shoulder and whisper that you’ll catch up later, and then walk away. You are not obliged to wait for a natural pause in the conversation to announce your exit. Simply walking away without saying anything is also acceptable.

img_4092-1.jpg7. If you find yourself talking to a human who enthusiastically interrupts you to tell a story about themselves, extend your hand toward them palm down with your fingers spread and angled slightly up when you talk to indicate that your point isn’t finished. If you intend to share multiple points, state the number of points you intend to make at the beginning and then number each one as you say it. This then allows them to relax because you have taken responsibility for maintaining the conversation for a set time. If you are going to tell a story, start by saying what the conclusion of the story will be so that it is clear when you’ve reached the ending. If a human continues to interrupt with these techniques in place, it is acceptable to cut them off mid sentence but saying “just a moment” or “let me finish”.

Hopfully these techniques will make the seasonal obligation to engage in conversation with people you’d never seek out on your own a little more tollerable this season. Have a bearable human interaction!

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