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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Small Talk

Dear Nurse Dave,

I don't like small talk and am therefore horrible at it. I would like to want to get better at it so I can exchange meaningless pleasantries with other people and make them feel like I like them because most of the time I do, but they think I don't because I am horrible at small talk.

Any tips? I'll take my answer off the air. 


Henderson, Nevada

I've got a bag full of tips for you Jordan because I once suffered from the same problem.  The first thing you need to do is stop thinking of the small talk as a conversation, think of it as a competition.   The person that tells the most interesting anecdote wins and that person needs to be you.  Calvin illustrates my point well in this strip.

In the small talk you must focus on three goals, 1) inflate your intelligence 2) inflate your comedy, which naturally leads to 3) inflate your self esteem.  People naturally like funny people with high self esteem.  But to achieve these goals you have to be prepared.  You can't go into small talk without a plan otherwise you could end up on the wrong side of the conversation (think about being cornered by a talker).

Here's what I do.  I go into each week with 3 stories or subjects ready to go for any situation. I gather these stories by listening to NPR, reading the internet and by living life.  You may remember an anecdote I told recently when I saw you.  I was dealing with a patient that was refusing clothing and I had to give him an IV.  I tried to settle him down a little and got him to lie in the correct direction on his bed.  I told him, "I need you to lay still because I have to stick you with this needle."  He said in reply with an intense anger or even hatred, "You son of a bitch."  I must have used that story 10 to 15 times over the next two weeks.  With each retelling I got better at telling the story.  The result was that people thought I was funnier than I actually am which inflated my self-esteem.  By bringing up stories from NPR I sound smarter than I actually am and by reading the internet I seem more informed than I actually am.  The trick is that you don't need to really know anything about a subject, just know that the subject exists.  

Jordan, you wouldn't go into a battle without ammunition.  You wouldn't try to drive to Montana without gas in your tank.  You wouldn't go on a picnic without a basket full of food (preferably fried chicken).  So why are you trying to have small talk without 3-4 ready to use anecdotes? 

Here's three suggestions for next week
1. Thomas Edison once forced cats to box each other (from the internet).
2. Albums everyone loves (from NPR).
3. Some acupuncture practitioners seem to know only slightly more about acupuncture than me and I've never even had acupuncture (from living life). 

Good luck!

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