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5 Tips to Manage Small Talk During a Pandemic

Small talk may never recover from the rift that was caused by the pandemic. Chit-chat, on the brink of extinction, is now looking at the skies in fear of the final meteorite strike.

Since we must be careful of our health, we dare not shake hands, hug or come within six feet of anyone outside of our quarantine bubble. Our social lives have ground to a halt and making someone’s acquaintance seems less leisurely and more like an interrogation-

When did you last go outside? Did you meet anyone? I may be exaggerating a little — but in every embellishment, there is some truth.

While humor is therapy to some, it may feel thoughtless or inappropriate to others. Therefore, please read the following essay with knowledge of my good intention.

What do you ask next? Where are you from or Is this your first time here?

Tip 1) Use the Context.

If you ask the first question it could seem as if you are trying to locate them on Google Maps and maybe they don’t want to be pinned down. I’d say stay away from “Where are you from” unless it is obvious by their second head and green skin that they are from a planet far, far away. Otherwise, it is easy to offend if you guess wrong or your intention is wrongly interpreted. I’d advise you to go with: “Is this your first time at this event?”

Because it is a question in context, and it is safe to ask about the event as you are both present. It can give you lots of ideas for conversation. Plus, after being stuck in the house for so long, I am sure whatever event you are at (be it a knitting circle, book club, or bingo game) will surely feel like a rock concert.

Next, you are on a Teams call and one of your co-workers shares that she loves baking.

Now, do you ignore the remark as it is not on the meeting agenda and it is off-topic, or should you act like Alice and risk following her down a rabbit hole into Wonderland?

Tip 2) Go down a Rabbit hole.

If you and your team can squeeze out some time to talk on a personal level it will help the group feel more connected. You are not meeting in the office or in the hall any longer and sometimes it can feel like you are disconnected from your peers.

You could set aside additional time for personal group sessions together and that might be preferable. If you cannot say more than a few words plan to continue the discussion at a set time and date and follow up.

Okay, moving on.

You want to get to know one of the speakers at an event you attended. You see her/him standing next to a plant, or bush…something, it doesn’t matter really — use your imagination.

You’ve tried to make eye contact and get his/her attention. You even walked over to be in line to speak to him/her next, but she/he is deep in conversation and seems uninterested in meeting you.

What to do, what to do?

Tip 3) Project warmth by having a smile.

When you want to get to know someone better project warmth in your voice and smile. Have good posture and project confidence.

If you are at a distance from the person, you would like to get to know smile. If the person does not make eye contact with you make sure you’re not trying to lock eyes with them. Smile and look no longer than 2 -3 seconds at a stranger. If you move to be closer to someone and they move away from you, they may not have noticed you or they may not want to meet anyone new. We all seem a bit hypersensitive if I can say that. You should offer conversation, however, if it goes nowhere, then let it go…please. It would really be best for everyone involved.

Next scenario.

You have been on several calls with some team members, but they are never forthcoming about where they are, or what is going on with them.

You feel like they do not want to invest in a relationship.

Tip 4) Try to be engaging with others investing in the interaction even if it only lasts five minutes.

Some people are not particularly forthcoming and sometimes you have to carry the interaction.

“But,” you may ask “What do I do when my partner adds very little?”

Simple! Use leading questions.

“You must have a dog if you walk 5km every day? By leading the other person, they can correct you or answer you, and usually will happily do so and you have gotten to learn a little about them.

Or try to learn more about them by asking hypothetical style humorous questions:

“What would a jellybean say if it could talk?”

“If rapper-actor-comedian Will Smith was here right now, what would you do?”

Lastly, how do you ask, “How are you?”

Tip 5) Asking people how they are can be like stepping on a landmine in the current environment.

Also, culturally this question is received in different ways; however, if you respect people, and hold space for people to share their stories—you can hear some amazing things.

Sometimes that’s all we can do.

And it can be hard to hear someone’s loneliness or current state of desperation.

But, it is important to provide active listening. You may be able to loan them a shoulder or an ear. Practicing self-care is just as important. If people don’t want to talk about the pandemic or you don’t want to talk about it, be okay with changing the subject.

There is nothing wrong with saying you have COVID fatigue. There are other topics, and it is still possible to have a (gasp!) conversation. Use all your communication tools to meet people wherever they are and connect.

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