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Mind Over Chatter
Conversationalist Judy Apps simplifies small talk.

Spirit: Is talking different than conversing?

Judy: Most people prefer talking to listening, but conversation involves both. It goes two ways, like a game of tennis, and both people get something out of it, whether it’s pleasure, information, or a connection.

S: How can you get over a fear of making small talk?

J: Taking a big breath gives you confidence as well as some air to talk with. In fact, any sort of movement helps. Look outside at something. Wiggle your toes. It gets you out of your head and keeps you from being so self-conscious.

S: How should you frame questions?

J: The general advice is that you should only ask open questions, ones that can’t be answered without a full sentence. But some people are quite daunted by them, so a comment often works well because it gets the other person to open their mouth and make a noise, which for some is a start.

S: What makes people bad at conversation?

J: They think it’s only about having something to say. Books talk about finding the right topic and being entertaining, but you’ll get more out of it if you’re relaxed and curious. There are a million opportunities for small talk, and we shouldn’t treat each one as if it’s a matter of life and death.

S: Is it something you can practice?

J: Once you’ve convinced yourself to be lighthearted about it, practice all the time. When you’re shopping, don’t just silently hand over your change; make a comment about something in the shop. And it’s OK if not every encounter is successful. Not everyone is going to want to talk that day, and that’s fine.”


Judy Apps is a communication coach and the author of The Art of Conversation.



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