Click below to hear this episode!
Dan has spent the last 9 years studying social skills, and his passion is empowering shy people to talk to anyone and make new friends.
Founder of thefriendformula.com. The Friend Formula teaches simple, practical, and proven techniques to help shy people make connections everywhere they go.
Right now, he’s focused on teaching small talk mastery. Since most shy people avoid small talk, he helps them to uncover the power and use it to create meaningful conversation
Hey, welcome to today’s episode of the show. Today, we’re going to be getting into small talk mastery. Oh yes, oh yes. So, if you want to check out more about the show, make sure you go to shirnkfortheshyguy.com, you can get show notes, you can get information about the interview, you can get a transcript.
You can also check out ways to go deeper. You can get my e-book there, Five Steps to Unleash your Inner Confidence which will help you as the title suggests, unleash your inner confidence. So, go there for more and I’m super excited because small talk, as you’ll hear in the interview that I do today with Dan, I think is a superpower.
Now, most people and you might be in this camp kind of recoil at the idea of small talk. You’re like, ew, small talk, it sounds terrible, I don’t like it, I don’t want to do it. I just want to skip over it. And I get it. I used to hate it too. And I used to be pretty bad at it, that’s probably one of the reasons why I didn’t like it. But when you learn how to master it or at least, get okay at it, so many things change. So much of our social anxiety and our discomfort of meeting people and talking to people we don’t know that well, is not that … this is not a good fit or this person is going to hate me or I’m no good, it’s none of that stuff. We’re just … it’s a little uncomfortable because we don’t know where to connect or how to do it and we’re terrified of that awkward silence or we’re terrified of looking like we don’t know what we’re doing.
So, when you can learn just some of the basics about small talk, then doors open up like crazy. Doors open up in your social life. You can meet friends and friends of friends at a dinner party, in your business and work and career. I mean, before a meeting, what is everyone doing? Small talk. You’d chat with someone on the hall. Small talk. When you chat with your boss or a supervisor or a colleague or a potential client, you often will start the small talk. So, the more smooth and comfortable you can be with that, and the more comfortable you can make them, the more doors open up in your career and of course, I mean, it goes without saying that dating in relationships, you want to first connect with someone and you want to first start a conversation being able to do that small talk is essential to make it go smoothly so you can get into a deeper conversation and no one is more skilled than I know of, of helping teach people how to take small talk and make it meaningful, be able to create connections and so I’m super excited to have Dan in the interview today. So without further ado, let’s get into our expert interview.
Dr. Aziz: My guest expert today is Dan Chang. Dan has spent the last nine years studying social skills and his passion is empowering shy people to be able to talk to anyone and make new friends. He’s the founder of the FriendFormula.com which is a site that teaches simple, practical and proven techniques to help shy people make connections everywhere they go. And right now, he’s focused all of his attention on teaching small talk mastery. Since most shy people avoid small talk, he helps them uncover the power of being able to use small talk and then create meaningful conversations with it. So, I’m super excited I’ve got the chance to meet Dan recently over the last couple of months and I think he knows a ton about this topic which is extremely valuable. So, thank you so much for joining us today, Dan.
Dan Chang: No problem, it’s great to be here, Aziz, thanks for having me.
Dr. Aziz: Yes, so, small talk. This is … I think this is going to be a really powerful interview because I’m sure most people listening and I know I was there for many years, just the words small talk create this kind of cringy … it’s like you’re saying root canal. Maybe not that bad but like ew. So this is going to be so great because I know you have, not only the skills that you teach people how to do it but also how to see it differently so it stops being so unpleasant and actually can become something that you really can use in your life. But before we dive into the technical side of it, I’m just really curious about your experience. You’ve been studying it for nine years, maybe even longer. Why? What brought you to want to learn how to master small talk?
Dan Chang: Yes, that’s a great question. So yes, like you mentioned, definitely when people hear those words, small talk, definitely very cringe-worthy and I think as, if you go on Google and you just Google small talk, it’s probably one of the most divisive social skills topics ever, right? You have some people that support it and love it, say that it’s so important and then, on the other hand, there’s a lot of people that say it’s pointless and it’s a waste of time and I think most people, probably 80, 90% are on the latter, right, where they feel like small talk is just a waste of time.
And so I think there’s a lot of misconceptions and for me, the reason I got into it and the reason that I was really interested was because I’ve been shy since I was a kid. As long as I can remember, just naturally quiet and it didn’t really bother me that much. I thought it was … I was fine being quiet and shy but then as I started working, which was about nine, ten years ago when I started getting into this stuff, I realized as I looked around the room, I noticed that all of the managers, the executives, they were all really, really good at small talk and that got me thinking and that’s what kind of got the ball rolling, got me interested.
Dr. Aziz: Yes, so interesting. So seeing how the people that were higher up are more successful seem to all have mastered the skill.
Dan Chang: Exactly yes and I thought, there must be a reason for that. Personally, I thought small talk was just meaningless conversation, didn’t really do anything, I didn’t really understand why people did it but it seemed to be that it was an important skill for a lot of people and I want to figure out why that was the case and how exactly they were doing it.
Dr. Aziz: Awesome. Well, I mean, success leaves clues and so when we see people that are maybe more successful or where we want to be, it’s always great to study and model. And in fact, I think there’s one thing that I need to ask you right now before we even begin this discussion about small talk which what exactly is small talk? Is it just the first few moments of conversation that you have with someone you don’t know or what is it?
Dan Chang: Yes, great question. We should definitely get everyone on the same page here and just define what it is. So, if you do a Google definition of small talk and you look at, for example, Wikipedia, Urban Dictionary, you’ll find definitions that say things like they’re conversations about nothing with acquaintances that you don’t really care about. They’re useless, unnecessary conversations to fill those awkward silences. That’s probably the most popular definition and I don’t necessarily agree with those definitions but for our purposes, let’s say … we’re going to say small talk is those first few minutes of an interaction with somebody. We don’t really know them too well and you’re kind of easing into a conversation with light topics.
Dr. Aziz: Great. Okay.
Dan Chang: Does that make sense?
Dr. Aziz: And I like how your definition … I mean, some of those other definitions are obviously pretty skewed and their disdain for small talk which is oozing through [crosstalk 00:07:55.7].
Dan Chang: Yes.
Dr. Aziz: So, that’s great. I like yours. It’s a lot more neutral, in a way. And so given that, that initial interaction, let’s start where probably, you said 80,90% of people are and most people listening are … which is ew, so what … let’s see here, there’s two different directions. One is why do you think … let’s start with that … why is it so unpleasant? Why do most people dislike it? Why is it considered uncomfortable especially if it’s kind of like the first sort of interaction we’re going to have with someone that’s probably going to be filled with, why do you think people dislike it so much?
Dan Chang: Yes, great question. I think probably, the biggest thing that’s causing dislike with small talk is kind of the way people define it in their own minds, right? And so, when I look at … when I talk to people and I look at what they’re struggling with when it comes to small talk, there’s really two big things. There’s one … first of all, they don’t really see the point of it which goes back to their definition of small talk, they don’t really see why they should even engage in it, right? What am I going to get out of this? And then secondly, people struggle because they want to do it, they want to talk to people, go up to strangers and make conversation but their mind goes blank and they don’t know what to say. So those are kind of like the two big things that I’ve seen.
Dr. Aziz: Right. So the one, it’s perceived as pointless or meaningless which then makes it annoying to do or … and I’m hearing the second one which I think I’ve seen a lot is people are just not very good at it. And so then, if we’re not good at something and yet, we feel like it’s important or it keeps coming up all the time, we tend to start disliking it so that’s going to be super valuable for people to learn how to be better at it. So, let’s start though with that … let’s help people get to see the value of it so what is the purpose of it? Why is it meaningful or valuable? Why is not just a waste of time? Tell us more about that.
Dan Chang: Yes, absolutely. So, the way I explain it to people is that conversations aren’t always about information, all right? We tend to think that they are, that conversation is about me giving you information, you understanding that information, saying something back with more information, right and we think that’s kind of how conversation goes but it’s not really in most cases, right? Like if you think about the last awesome conversation that you had, a lot of times, it’s not even like the topic or the interesting information that you learned, it’s more about like the vibe and things that you felt during that conversation, right?
So, you know, most of the time we forget about the information so the thing I tell people about small talk is that it’s about bonding and not information, right? Bonding is a huge ritual, the way … the analogy that I use is that it’s butt sniffing for humans, right? So, if you ever see dogs, right, they’re always sniffing each other’s butts and you might not have really even thought about why they do that but I did some research and it’s really, really interesting like how just by smelling another dog’s butt, they can actually figure out what they had for their last meal, how their emotions are in the moment, what gender they are, all this crazy information, right?
And it’s just this ritual that they go through to understand the other dog and see if … am I compatible with them, do they want to hang out and play? So, for humans, right, we use small talk in the same way that dogs all sniff each other’s butts, right? We’re like, hey, is this guy … does he want to like chill? Does he want to like hang out or is he pissed off, should I leave him alone? So, we use small talk to gather that kind of information for bonding, right? So, it’s not so much the words that you use but it’s more about the ritual of it.
Dr. Aziz: Yes, that is fascinating and in terms of warming me up to small talk, compare you to smelling a dog’s butt, ew. But I love…
Dan Chang: It might not be the best analogy.
Dr. Aziz: No, but it is fascinating because it makes a lot of sense and it is a sort of feeling out of the other person and an initial beginning of connection. And you’re right but we’re not going up to them and saying, how open, on a scale of 1 to 10, are you to talking to me? How angry are you from 1 to 10?
Dan Chang: Exactly.
Dr. Aziz: Are you interested in the same topics as I am? I mean, yes, you could, in some really direct way as those things but for the most part, we assessed that by being in the presence of the person and just talking back and forth about something smaller or less direct.
Dan Chang: Right.
Dr. Aziz: And then, yes, like the dog what picks up the emotions of the other animal, we do the same thing.
Dan Chang: Yes, it’s funny as you’re talking, I was thinking … I remember back in college, I was in a phase where I was just very, very caring about other people. I genuinely wanted to know how they were doing, so I would go up to people and ask them super intense questions like hey, how’s everything going?
Are you doing well emotionally, like any struggles and like, I remember the reactions I would get. There were just people who were just really, really turned off and they would immediately put up barriers like, dude, what’s this guy … what is he doing, right? Get out of my space and that’s probably like when I realized the importance of easing into things and taking up one step and then a next step instead of trying to rush all the way to the end.
Dr. Aziz: Yes, that is a super valuable thing because I’ve heard this a ton. I hate small talk and also, there’s this sort of like it’s pointless and we should be talking about something more significant which is actually kind of funny because if you look at people that are friends that are just totally relaxed around each other, they might … or some with their girlfriend or their boyfriend or the husband or the wife, they might be always talking about very serious, deep, significant meaningful things but probably not.
They’re just enjoying each other’s company, there’s just some banter, there’s just some like, hey, how are those waffles? Uh, they’re great and yet so there’s like disdain of it, I don’t think it’s really about … do we really just want deep, meaningful conversations? I think it’s just not liking that discomfort, a feeling like we’re not good at it, a feeling like we should be better at it and ultimately, then wanting to avoid it. So, I think this is super valuable what you’re talking about.
Dan Chang: Yes. That’s so true, what you said. I think people, when they’re in that situation where they don’t know someone, it’s really uncomfortable, right, when you don’t know what to do and it’s just like the same thing over and over, right, where you’re just like, hey man, nice day today, huh. Yes, real nice. All right, see you later. And that’s it. So that people don’t like it because they don’t really understand what to do next, how to progress, how to deepen that conversation so yes.
Dr. Aziz: Yes, so let’s help people because you and I both know that what you can do is you can start with the small talk and then if the butt sniffing checks out, then you can have a great conversation that’s really interesting to you. But you kind of need to … in a lot of situations, you need to start with that, small talk, so it’s super valuable. So, let’s talk about, okay, how do we get better at this?
So, I know you teach … you kind of break it down in a really simple, powerful way that’s very digestible and people can use it right away. So, tell me about 00 I think you have three steps in it. What is the initial thing? What do we say, how do we start that small talk?
Dan Chang: Yes absolutely, so the key thing you want to do during small talk, in order to build that connection and to deepen it is … the first thing you want to do is to move past clichés and facts. So, the way that explain it is that every conversation as it progresses usually has four phases, right? First, there’s clichés. Second, facts. Third, opinions and then fourth, feelings, right? So, clichés are things like, oh, nice weather. And facts are things like, what did you this weekend. And then opinions are things like, man, I hate baloney or I’m sorry, I’m terrible with like examples and analogies like, forgive me.
Dr. Aziz: It’s okay. You could Donald Trump on the show. It’s fine, no, I’m just kidding. Who knows, maybe you love Donald Trump. But anyway, exactly an opinion about something in the world or some, yes.
Dan Chang: Right, exactly. And a simple way to think about opinions are just I like or I don’t like. That’s probably the most basic way to think about it. And then the fourth phase is feelings. I’m excited, I’m happy, sad, right. So, the first step is to move beyond clichés and facts into opinions and feelings and trying to uncover those as you ask someone questions and you’re really curious about them. I think probably a big mistake that most people make when they’re starting a conversation is they focus a lot on themselves, right?
They really put a lot of pressure on themselves to say something really clever or interesting and I think this is why a lot of people blank out where they’re like, all right, okay, they go through this whole rolodex of things to say and then each one is that they block it, filter it out and in the end, they either don’t say anything or like the person’s gone already and you’re still trying to think of something to say, right? So, I think with that first step, it’s important to not focus so much on yourself and how interesting you are but to focus on the other person, be really curious about them and then uncover those opinions and feelings.
Dr. Aziz: Great. And so what you’re saying though is if the first stage or the first element of the conversation, the first step is clichés, the next one is facts and so you’re saying you want to get to the deeper stuff, opinions and feelings. But would you start with just a few clichés or factual questions?
Dan Chang: Yes, yes, absolutely so these three steps that we’re going through are really how to connect through small talk and it’s just like the very core, right, so definitely yes. You’re right. There are things that come before so we do want to start with clichés and then move on and progress because this is how you’re going to make someone comfortable and make you feel natural, right, instead of like jumping too quick, like we talked about.
Dr. Aziz: Yes, I loved that you said that, Dan, because that is so important. I’m thinking of all the people that I’ve worked with over the years who were kind of like, I hate that stuff, I don’t want to do it and that’s fine. I always say that. It’s like, that’s okay, like I’m not going to force you and no one is going to make you but here’s the thing; if you’re against it, you’re also probably pretty uncomfortable with it and if you’re uncomfortable with it like you’re really going to limit your ability to connect with people, because guess what, whatever, 80, 90, whatever, the big percentage of people, even if they don’t consider themselves shy are generally uncomfortable with small talk, meeting new people, I mean, maybe they’re not totally freaked out but they’re not at ease and that’s why people drink when they do it, that’s why they prefer to be introduced, all that stuff.
So, if you decide to say, hey, I want to get good enough, I don’t have to be best in the world but if I just get good enough at this, then I can actually … if I can play that initial stage, the cliché, the fact question just a little bit, then you can really put people at ease and then you can get to that stuff that you’re talking about very quickly and really enjoy yourself and the deeper stuff.
Dan Chang: Yes, definitely and most shy people, I find are really, really good at that one-on-one, deep, meaningful conversation.
Dr. Aziz: Yes.
Dan Chang: Once they get to that stage, they’re fine and they feel comfortable so, to be able to take this first step which is really, really just a small part of your interaction, right, just a few minutes and learning how to master that, can you get the ball rolling and get you to that phase where you’re more comfortable?
Dr. Aziz: Yes, I love it. I was just at a little dinner party gathering; it was a guy who gathered together a bunch of entrepreneurs in the city of Portland and other than him, the organizer and it turned out there’s one other guy I knew there, there was about 10 people there and I didn’t know the other eight people at all and that you come into the room, I was kind of a few minutes late so everyone was already there and there were some hors d’oeuvres before the dinner and everyone is just chatting and he comes in and greets me and says, hey, welcome. And so we’re going to sit down at the dinner and I’m going to do a little game where I introduce people and their businesses and what they do.
So, for this first part, I’m going to ask you to not talk about the work that you do. So no one knows. So, then we can kind of play this fun game to introduce each other. So, just go connect with people and can’t talk about work. And it’s funny because in the past, flashback X number of years, I probably wouldn’t have even gone to the dinner and if I did, I would have been really nervous beforehand and in that moment, I would have been like, uh, this is going to be terrible and instead, I guess I just have this trust of like, this is going to be … this is easy because I’m very good at small talk and so it’s like a superpower. It helps with like anxiety and fear because so much of the fear, you’re right, when we connect with that person and we’re having a great conversation, usually the fear disappears. It’s just that beginning.
So when we can do that, and I remember … there was a woman there and a couple of people were chatting and then they moved away and so it was just me and her standing her and there’s this kind of that moment where you’re like, uuuuhhh. And people are trying to grasp for something great to say or witty and here she is, I don’t know anything about her. All I know is her name and there’s nothing obvious that she’s wearing or has on her that I can ask about, it’s just total kind of neutral and so I said, so, what part of town do you live in?
Like the most clichéd thing but it was like kind of smooth and seamless so it took off that kind of “what do we say” because she obviously didn’t know what to say either and then she started telling me and then she asked me and then we started talking about her house and it was like factual then but then if you listen, you can start to find the deeper stuff and it all comes from that initial cliché or factual question so I think those are extremely important and they really do get to that deeper stuff.
That brings us to the end of the time we have today for the interview but there are so much more good stuff. We broke up into the next episode because I want to be able to get to all of that stuff. I didn’t want to cut anything out in next week’s episode, we’re going to get into some really powerful stuff. I’ll tell you about it in a second but before we do, we can’t leave without your action step.
Your action step for today is to apply one thing that you learned from Dan in this interview. So maybe it’s step one, maybe it’s being able to come up with some basic cliché or factual questions because as we talked about, those are important, maybe it’s just practicing those or trying those out or starting with those and then seeing, can I lead into opinions. Can I find out their opinions? Can I ask them about their opinions? Can I ask them about their feelings? So, that’s an important thing so try out the stuff from step one and maybe try out some of the stuff from step two; affirming. Can you practice that? Can you bring your attention and your focus and your intention to go do that in your conversations because the more you focus on that, the more you intend to practice it, the more you will and of course, the better you will get at it, like anything that we practiced.
So, that’s your action step for today sis to go do something, don’t just take it as intellectual information that you sit with, put it into action, put it into practice, that is how your small talk skills will transform into mastery and how your confidence in your life ultimately transforms all comes from action. So, do that this week and then stay tuned next week, we’re going to dive right back into the remainder of the interview with Dan where we’re getting into some great stuff. We’re getting into the third step and I’m not going to reveal what it is but it’s the most important thing. It’s one of the reasons why most people … if you ever felt this way, you feel drained after conversations, you don’t enjoy them, they’re kind of tough or hard, the main reason, I think, is you’re not doing the third step that Dan teaches. So, you definitely want to listen to that.
And we also talk about witty banter and humor and how to use it. He teaches us super valuable ninja technique about how to make everyone laugh in a way that feels pretty low risk and safe for you so you’re not really putting yourself out there. And we play a fun little game where we actually demonstrate some small talk and it’s not just talking about it but we actually do it so you could just see it in action and watch Dan work because he is a master. So stay tuned for all of that next week. Until we speak then, may you have the courage to be who you are and to know on a deep level, that you’re awesome.
All music is licensed or royalty free.
DeepSound – Rain Clouds
(Licensed through Pond5.com)
Ask The Shrink:
(Licensed through Pond5.com)
Justin Crosby – Skrillit
(Licensed through Pond5.com)
Lokfield – Terra’s Theme Dubstep
(Creative Commons License)