The weather was perfect, the setting glorious and the newlyweds beamed with happiness. I was thrilled to be a guest at a recent country wedding.
The day was going swimmingly until I found myself cornered by an obnoxious guest. His idea of chit-chat with me, a perfect stranger, amounted to making inappropriate comments about the bride’s generous proportions, while shovelling canapes into his mouth.
It’s a situation that will sound horribly familiar to many, especially at this time of year. Small talk — the featherlight conversations we strike up with people we don’t know when we are yoked together at gatherings — can be a social minefield. At times, it can be fun and diverting. At others, frankly, it’s hell.
And I’ve noticed that, after two years of social distancing, people seem to have forgotten all they ever knew about small talk — or how to extricate themselves seamlessly when it goes wrong.
Two years of social distancing have left many struggling with summer party chit-chat. Here an etiquette expert gives a refresher course
Which is what I did at that wedding, drawing on one of my fail-safe manoeuvres to detach myself from this mannerless boor. He took a bite of his asparagus mini quiche as I explained that I had to check on my children and pulled away. (My children were 20 miles away, at home, but why let facts get in the way of a tactical social escape?)
As an etiquette expert, who has written 15 books on the subject and spent a decade at Debrett’s, I’m often asked for advice on how to navigate social situations. So, to avoid small talk becoming a big problem this summer, here are some of my most effective tips…
THE CLEVER OFFLOAD
‘If you find yourself being offloaded, add sparkle to your small talk with harmless (but never mean or spiteful) gossip,’ Jo says
Go in knowing you have a way out. Be ready to say you need to nip to the loo, find your other half or are going to get a drink before drifting away. You can always offer the promise of more. ‘I’ll catch up with you later.’ (It’s OK, you don’t have to mean it.)
Alternatively, offload the person you’re trying to shake off by introducing them to someone else — why should you be the only one to suffer? You can do this by putting on your jolliest voice and saying something like: ‘Caroline! Have you met Tom? He was just telling me he’s been to the tennis at Wimbledon 15 times!’
If you find yourself being offloaded, add sparkle to your small talk with harmless (but never mean or spiteful) gossip.
Jo says that there are times when you need to park your opinion. She recommends that a swift change of subject is best if things are getting out of hand
With so many touchy subjects — from Brexit to whether you work or not — conversation can mutate from idle chit-chat about the weather to white-hot debate, often about politics.
Do you make your point if you strongly disagree? Or simply head off the discussion by proclaiming: ‘Boris/Blair/Thatcher was the best prime minister we’ve ever had, the end!’ before slamming down a mojito to make the point?
In my view, there are times when you need to park your opinion. I find a swift change of subject is best if things are getting out of hand.
But if that doesn’t work, marshal a bland ‘I never understood why anyone wants to be a politician’, before segueing into a question about what your opinionated fellow guest does for a living. (Never underestimate how much people love to talk about themselves.)
BAT OFF B**CHINESS
Jo says that one of her dislikes is when criticism and put-downs are used as a format for small talk
One thing I particularly dislike is when criticism and put-downs are used as a format for small talk.
I remember being at a wedding reception, sitting with people I didn’t know, thanks to the imaginative manoeuvres of the hosts, and having to listen to the guest on one side of me make awful comments about the bride’s dress. Instead of glacially turning away, find a way to make it a positive experience.
My counter-move was to talk about the number of weddings I’d been to where brides had opted out of traditional white gowns. This catalysed a table-wide discussion about bridal traditions and was far more palatable than listening to cruel comments about the people paying for our dinner.
JOIN THE PACK
Jo says to look at body language and see if the group is relaxed and ‘open’, rather than talking closely together
There may be times when you have to attend an event where you don’t know anyone other than the hosts — who can’t stay glued to your side all evening. You don’t want to be a wallflower, so how do you break into a huddle of people as the outsider without forcing yourself into the conversation?
Look at body language and see if the group is relaxed and ‘open’, rather than talking closely together. Be friendly and smile.
Approach and wait for a gap in conversation to introduce yourself, tell them who you are and how you fit in. ‘Hello, may I join you? I’m Jane, a uni friend of Bob’s.’ Don’t hog conversation or be shouty. Allow yourself to be gradually absorbed into the group and chip in when it seems right.
SEIZE ON SNIPPETS
A critical component of effective small talk is to be a good listener and then use a scrap of detail you find interesting (or not) to build a conversation, Jo says
A critical component of effective small talk is to be a good listener and then use a scrap of detail you find interesting (or not) to build a conversation.
Take the time I sat next to a woman at a summer cocktail party. Having asked if she’d travelled far, I was granted a simple affirmative nod. So I began to explore the subject. Where had she come from? Was she staying over? It turned out that she and her husband were using the opportunity to explore the area for a short holiday.
This opened the door for questions about where they recommended travelling. Before long, we were enjoying a lively conversation about the merits of British holidays. Seeking recommendations is a great way to boost small talk. One thing many people relish is to be made to feel like an expert in their field.
TENNIS MATCH HITS
Jo says to keep things flowing with questions, and then pick up on an element of their response
Small talk is a two-way game and to be successful both parties have to play their part. When someone bats a question at you, it’s important to hit it back with a twist. If someone asks how you are and you simply state ‘I’m fine’ it closes down the conversation.
Instead, you could say that you’re fine, you’re having a great time, and they didn’t get caught up in that terrible traffic jam, did they? Keep things flowing with questions, and then pick up on an element of their response.
If you ask someone what they do for a living and they give a boringly bland description involving analysing data or business development, peel away the layers. Ask what that means in real terms. Or as one friend told me: ‘When I don’t understand a job title I say, ‘Right, so it’s Monday morning at 9am, what will you do first?’ ‘
Small talk isn’t the only way of coming unstuck when attending summer parties. It’s all too easy to find yourself with your hands (and mouth) full just as someone tries to make your acquaintance
Small talk isn’t the only way of coming unstuck when attending summer parties. It’s all too easy to find yourself with your hands (and mouth) full just as someone tries to make your acquaintance.
A very useful tip is, whether eating canapes or holding a drink, do so with your left hand. This leaves the right hand free to shake the hands of others or replace an empty flute of champagne on a passing tray.
One thing I can’t abide is double dipping — the stomach-churning practice of dipping, say, a tortilla chip or chicken skewer into the guacamole, taking a bite and then dipping again. No, no, no.
And remember, nibbles can be a good recipe for small talk: ‘Have you tried spicy prawns before?’
Interview: ANGELA EPSTEIN
SEVEN RULES FOR BEING A CONVERSATION QUEEN
1. Keep it mainstream. Avoid talking about money, sex, health, religion and politics.
2. Small talk can be ‘small’. Asking about weather, travel, mutual connections, etc., is fine to get things going.
3. Listen carefully: this will allow you to move on to more detailed conversation.
4. Be interested. Never seem distracted, don’t look at your phone/smartwatch, or glance over the other person’s shoulder for someone else to talk to.
5. Don’t be nosy: there is a difference between a leading question to get people talking and an intrusive one that crosses expected social lines.
6. Answer questions with a little bit of detail. Monosyllabic replies shut down the chance of any decent conversation and will make you seem dull and boring.
7. Remember that small talk is sometimes hard. Your chat is only as good as the person you are talking to, and there may be times when it just doesn’t come easily.
- Nazi Art Hoard Just the Tip of the Iceberg for Lost Art
- Making Art on Top of the World
- F.B.I. Investigates Basquiat Paintings Shown at Orlando Museum of Art
- Long before baristas made coffee froth art China had chabaixi, and now it's back
- Norwalk Art Space Announces New Exhibition Opening In May
- The smartest summer etiquette advice that no one ever gives you
- The lockdown culture guide: Of theatre, music, food, art and books
- Long-lost Renaissance masterpiece found hanging in 90-year-old's bedroom
- Long-lost £255,000 masterpiece discovered hanging up in pensioner's bungalow
- Proposed FCC Rule to Level the Playing Field for Radio Ads Wins Praise from Trump's Tech Expert
- Q&A: Ryan Tedder Talks Collaborating With Kygo On The Bored Brothers, OneRepublic, Ozzy And More
- ‘The Lost Weekend: A Love Story’ Review: May Pang Tells Her Story, and a Piece of John Lennon’s, in a Compelling Documentary
- All Creatures Great and Small's Nicholas Ralph jibes at co-star 'Carried her through'
- Small Restaurant | Food Business : How to start and run a small restaurant or food business. Here are few tips
- Nine Steps to Take if You’ve Lost Passion for Your Business
- An Inside Look At The "Lost" Batman 66 Episode, Featuring Bane!
- UPSC Essentials: Expert talk- History optional in UPSC-CSE has many advantages
- Restoring the magical art of Children's Fairyland might be the best job in the entire Bay Area
- Tribeca Film Festival Music Events: a Taylor Swift Talk, J.Lo Doc, Machine Gun Kelly’s Acting Breakout and More
- The Small Big Pictures Of Rajamouli And Co
How to master the lost art of small talk - from an etiquette expert have 1896 words, post on www.dailymail.co.uk at August 10, 2022. This is cached page on Europe Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.