“Small Talk” and “Big Talk” – What is it? And how do you Master Both?

by | Sep 4, 2020

Perhaps you want to get better at making general conversation. Maybe you want to improve your networking skills? In any case, improving your understanding of the different types of conversation will be sure to help you, when you go out and meet new people.

This article is made both for introverts and extroverts, since I believe we could all benefit from becoming more aware of how we communicate with others. Knowing what conversation to make at the right time, is also relevant for both experienced employees and newcomers at the workplace. 

What is Small Talk

Small talk is often described as polite conversation, regarding unintimidating and less important topics. This lets us superficially get an impression of one another and get to know new people.

Typical small talk revolves around the weather, plans for the weekend, work, family and sports.

Small talk is often credited as being a good tool for maintaining and nurturing a larger network of people. Studies also show that people that are really good at small talk, tend to have long and succesful careers.

What is Big Talk?

Big talk is – compared to small talk – a type of conversation that seeks to dive deeper than the surface level, in an attempt to create a sense of deep understanding between the participants. This type of conversation is meant to further build on the relations established between the participants.

Typical big talk is characterized by three elements: Open, universal and meaningful. Open in the sense that there are no easy textbook answers to the questions. Universal in the sense that everyone can understand the topic and participate in the conversation. Meaningful, because you can take a deep dive into the subject and find many things to say about it.

What Connects Small Talk and Big Talk?

Both small talk and big talk are pieces of the puzzle – and both serve important functions!

It is difficult to engage in big talk without having established a mutual understanding and connection that can help you identify a relevant subject. Very few people open up for big talk without you having shown some interest in the more “superficial” activities they take part in.

Small talk is often the direct road toward a good big talk, since it helps us reveal information about one another. By becoming more knowledgable about each other, it also becomes easier to find a subject that’s both relevant and interesting to both of you.

Small talk helps us assess one another. In conjunction with our body language and facial expression, we figure out whether we are comfortable talking to the person in front of us.

Increased digitalization in the form of social media and virtual communication is especially suited for small talk. Take the 280 letter limit on Twitter, for instance. This sets a technical limitation on how “deep” we can delve into a subject. This means that now – more than ever – we have to make an extra effort to engage in big talk. 

Small Talk and Big Talk – How Much and How Long?

Unfortunately, there’s no golden rule as to how long either type of conversation is supposed to last. It takes practice, trial and error to find out how long a good conversation lasts, depending on who we are talking to.

‘How do I Get Better at Small Talk?

Small talk is far from dangerous, and at its worst, it’s only mildly awkward. Try follow some of the tips we provide underneath, and don’t be afraid to jump in head first!

 

  • Ask questions that show an interest in the person you’re talking to.
  • Provide personal anecdotes. By showing that you can relate to what your conversational partner is telling you, you provide a common point of reference for both of you.
  • Don’t be afraid to compliment the one you’re talking to. By praising others, you provide comfort to the conversation.
  • Engage in conversation with as many people as possible! The more you get to talking, the more comfortable you’ll get over time. You might be surprised at how many fun conversations you can have with strangers on public transport, or at the cashier at your local supermarket.
  • Copy others that are great at small talk. Try to remember what types of questions they ask others, how they listen, and how they reply. They probably got good at small talk in the first place, doing exactly that!
  • Find something you have in common with the person in front of you, right away. You might be drinking the same cocktail, in which case you might ask whether they like it. You might follow up with a story about the last time you drank that cocktail, or find out whether they prefer a different beverage.
  • Find your peace with the fact that many people consider small talk to be a little bit awkward.
  • Have some icebreakers ready, in case you’re caught off guard.

“How Do I Get Better at Big Talk?”

To get really good at big talk, you need to tear down the barriers that prevent deeper conversations from emerging. Use our list for tips and tricks to speed up the process.

 

  • Put yourself in positions that call for long conversations. You could invite a friend over for coffee or a glass of wine.
  • Put away your cell-phone and other devices, and encourage others to do the same.
  • Ask questions on topics that mean something to you.
  • Spend as much time listening as you do talking.
  • Avoid interrupting and over-simplifying fragile topics.
  • Look people in the eyes.
  • Be prepared on some topics you like to dive into yourself. At KNOWIE, we love TED talks, and find these a great format for exploring new topics.
  • Ask the people you’re talking to, what kind of topics they like.
  • Assume you are talking to someone who enjoys deep thought as much as you do.
  • Try not to push your own perspective onto others, but instead try to understand where they’re coming from.
  • Don’t be afraid to share something deeply personal about yourself.
  • Seek advice from the person you are talkingto.
  • Ask for stories rather than answers.

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