By Mark Wolf
The Rocky Mountain Journal
You eye each other across the first-date dinner table. Mutual attraction is at least simmering and why not: You’re both intelligent, nice people.
So why cant either of you think of anything interesting to say to the other, instead pretending to be pathologically interested in the wontons?
For want of small talk, a relationship flounders.
“Small talk is the appetizer for any relationship,” said Debra Fine, master of the large art of small talk. “Whether it’s romantic, business or social, it starts with small talk.”
Fine is the author of The Fine Art of Small Talk (Small Talk Publishers, $12.95). She was trained as an engineer but has fashioned a career as a speaker and trainer for corporations and associations.
“It’s critical in the early dating process because we can fall into a clichéd conversation without even realizing it,” said Fine.
“You’re calling for that first or second date, and we tend to say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ Now where are we going with this?”
Debra Fine suggests taking the burden of conversation on yourself. It tells people you want them to feel comfortable when they’re with you.
Instead, Fine suggests, be more specific to get the conversational ball rolling. Ask “What went on for you since I’ve seen you?” and segue into asking for a date.
Preparation for conversation is crucial, said Fine, who lives with her family in the Denver area.
“As you’re pulling the car up, prepare yourself with things to talk about: current events or something you’ve done since you last saw him or her. The worst time to think about what to talk about is when there’s nothing to talk about,” said Fine.
“The real key to being a good conversationalist is deciding ‘It’s up to me to assume the burden of conversation, to make you feel comfortable when you’re with me.”
One dating conversation-starter that often works, she said, is to lead with self-disclosure.
“If you’re feeling really nervous because you don’t know what to talk about, say something like, ‘It always makes me feel awkward because I never know what to talk about on a date.’ When you self-disclose, the other person is going to feel better about themselves,” she said.
Once a conversation gets jump-started, a number of techniques can fan the flames.
“Show an interest in them, give them verbal cues like ‘I see what you mean; That’s good; What happened? If we don’t give verbal cues, people aren’t interested in talking. You’re telling them you’re interested in what they’re saying and you’d like to hear more.”
Given the plethora of holiday parties and other events, many people will find themselves facing a blizzard of small talk situations during the next month.
The key, said Fine, is to plunge ahead, lead with a smile, a handshake and a simple introduction.
“At singles events you can say, ‘Hi, I really wanted to meet you, but I don’t have a perfect line. I don’t know what to say in these situations,” she said.
“People decide whether they’re going to talk to you before you open your mouth. If they’re thrilled to be approached, it doesn’t matter how you open it up.”
Fine believes five out of eight people are afraid to start a conversation, with fear of rejection heading the list of reasons.
“You have to make yourself do it,” she said. “If you think she’s going to come to you, get over it. I used to be too afraid to walk up to people, so I didn’t do it. You’re afraid to being rejected, but you weren’t afraid of taking I-25 to the party. What’s worse?
“The worst that could happen is she rejects you. It is painful, it is hard, but you have to take the shot. People think attractive people aren’t shy, but that’s just not true.”