As strange as this might sound, one of my favorite aspects of traveling has been engaging in small talk with complete strangers. These strangers, after all, shared something in common with me--an interest in or reason for traveling and a point of departure or arrival.
In some cases, these happenstance encounters have led to ongoing personal and business relationships.
Over the past few years however, traveling has become an entirely different experience. Why? Our smart devices have caused us to disengage with life outside our digital world--and this does not only apply to traveling.
In general, we have lost the ability to small talk.
Now, some of you may think that a world without small talk is a better place. After all, not every experience with a chatty seat mate or an over-caffeinated stranger in a coffee shop turns out to be meaningful.
From my experience, however, small talk with strangers more often provides a pleasant and unique opportunity to meet someone new and, perhaps, create a long-term, prosperous relationship.
Anyone over the age of 30 who can remember a time without smart devices can surely remember what small talk was like. For digital natives and those who have fallen into the habit of allowing your smart devices to run your life (me included), I propose something:
Let's bring back small talk.
Before you rush out to talk to the next stranger you meet, let's go over some ground rules that will make the experience more meaningful--for both of you.
In order to maximize the benefit of small talk, you need to be open to it. That means putting away your electronics and headphones and actually consider chatting with a real person.
As uncomfortable as it may be without your phone--not knowing where to look or what to do with your hands--this is a healthy first step.
Read the situation.
In the past, headphones were the universal signal for "leave me the hell alone." Things have changed, however, and being plugged into or looking at a phone is now simply a default.
Do not be shy about striking up a conversation with someone on their phone, but if the vibe is unwelcoming, don't push it. Simply initiating sends the message that you are open to starting a conversation.
Get people to talk about themselves.
Believe it or not, the most effective small talk involves a great deal of silence--on your part. The easiest way to strike up a conversation is to get others to talk about themselves. Ask a sincere and probing starter question--then listen.
Master this starter question.
Getting people to talk can be a challenge--especially for introverted people. By and large, the greatest starter question is this: "Where are you from?"
Everyone has a response to this and, for the most part, the answer will instantly bring up warm, happy feelings.
Learn from our elders.
Once you are past the introduction, you need to keep the conversation going. Do you know who is really great at keeping small talk going for ages? Older, experienced men and women. Learn from them.
My dad, for example, is someone who could strike up a conversation with a mannequin. I used to poke fun at the fact that he could talk endlessly about any number of useless things, but in truth, this was a skill. Knowing a lot about many topics provides you the fuel to keep any conversation going.
Now, small talk is not for everyone, and for certain, small talk should lead to more meaningful conversations. Personally, I am introverted, and while I enjoy meeting new people, I can only stomach small talk for a short time. I always look for ways to connect on a deeper level.
In reality, to form new connections with new people, regardless of how or where or when, you just need to start. After that, serendipity will do the rest.
So how do you engage and meet new people? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.