Source: “Young” Jamie Vernon, Twitter
5 psychological techniques that will make your small talk flow like water.
As soon as anyone thinks of the idea of small talk, their minds fill with dread. Awkwardness, anxiety, and avoidance are the three catalysts we relate to these painful conversations.
Then there’s Joe Rogan. He sits back, welcomes some of the most influential people on the planet, pours them a glass of whisky, and talks about DMT for a half hour. He’s unphased. If there was an award for the least awkward human on the planet, Joe would get it. It’s kind of annoying for someone like me, a detached introvert.
“Why am I so awkward!?” I scream to myself at least 3 times a day.
Sometimes I think you need charm to make small talk flow as though you’ve known the person for decades. Or perhaps you have to be the most charismatic, outgoing extrovert. I was more than wrong thinking like this. The way you approach small talk is about subtle technique. Techniques that emphasize your presence as a speaker and listener and strategies that make the person feel welcomed and important.
The art of podcasting is built around the ability to maintain an interesting conversation that will hold value to its listeners. This is no easy feat and will seem impossible to us that are plagued by awkward social interactions.
You may listen to a podcast or even the Joe Rogan Experience and think it’s just a couple of interesting people talking about things they like. Masters like Joe Rogan are actually highly skilled. Have you ever tried to maintain an interesting conversation for three hours plus, broadcasted live to millions of people, the first time you’ve met them?
No. None of us have. It’s so far outside the realm of what we can comprehend. That’s why podcasters and famous ones like Joe Rogan actually have psychological techniques that make small talk flourish into hours of intellectual award-winning conversations. Here’s how Joe does it.
1. Everything’s Easier When you Start With a Compliment
Would you rather start a conversation on a monotonous note or would you rather start it on a positive, light, and open vibe?
By starting off a conversation with a compliment you are setting in stone the vibe of the conversation. The word ‘vibe’ may seem like a pretentious word but vibes exist and most importantly, people pick up on them. If you jump into a conversation with a heart-felt compliment you instantly brighten everything up! Wouldn’t you feel better if someone told you they liked your hat because it makes you unique?
Slipping in an early compliment just greases the fluidity of your small talk. Joe Rogan often opens his episodes with one of three types of compliments.
Due to the nature of Joe’s guests, he usually has them on to talk about their new books, new T.V shows, or even new movies. For this reason, it’s perfect for him to complement their work.
- Example: “I love what you do! It’s so out-there and entertaining.”
A person’s work is often considered their livelihood for a reason. They spend the majority of their time crafting something or working toward something, so recognizing that can be hugely meaningful to someone.
When you come across someone who has a noticeably positive and upbeat energy, point it out to them! Getting complimented on your work is good but when someone compliments your personality, that’s a massive ego-boost. You are being praised for just being you. It’s awesome.
- Example: “Being around people like you always hypes me up! You’re constantly striving to achieve shit and it’s infectious!”
It’s important with physical compliments not to make them sexual or empty. Making a sexual comment creeps new people out and similarly, people can pick up when you don’t mean it. Physical compliments, if done right, usually result in the person being flattered and lighting up with a smile. A smile will open up the person into a comfortable state.
- Example: “Your beard is awesome. I wish I had your beard genetics, it’s so perfect.”
One thing I learned trying to compliment people more, is to move on quickly! If someone tells you they like your shoes and then continues to ask you about them or waits for you to move the conversation on, it’s awkward. Move on quickly after a compliment.
2. Ask Yourself: “What Does This Remind Me Of?”
One of the hardest things about talking with new people is coming up with topics to talk about. Chatting about the weather or your bus ride can only take you so far. And it certainly won’t get you into a deep, meaningful conversation. Sometimes to keep things moving you have to use lateral thinking.
Lateral thinking: A method for solving problems by making unusual or unexpected connections between ideas.
Unusual and unexpected connections. That’s what we have to do and it’s what makes Joe Rogan so effective at transitioning into topics of thought. In episode #1503 of the JRE with Josh Barnett, Joe goes from talking about his guest’s impressive beard to back hair to a famous Russian wrestler with abnormal amounts of body hair. This was a perfect example of his lateral thinking. Within less than one minute and a half, Joe transitioned the conversation from a physical compliment of a beard to famous wrestlers.
Talking about this famous Russian wrestler then led Joe and his guest to talk about other famous wrestlers and MMA fighters. It opened up a whole new topic of conversation that Joe can talk about for hours, coming from an MMA background.
If you are talking to someone and they start to ramble about something you aren’t interested in, use lateral thinking to make out of the box connections and ask yourself:
“What does this remind me of?”
If someone is talking about fake crowd noises in a sport you’ve never watched in your life, you can make the connection with other things that have controversially used fake noises. Like sports cars. That will transition into a discussion on cars, which may be a common topic of interest amongst you and the other person.
3. Test the Waters for Topics of Mutual Interest
Perhaps one of the most famous aspects of the Joe Rogan Experience podcast is the constant fascination with psychedelics, particularly DMT. DMT or Dimethyltryptamine is a psychedelic compound that is found in many plants, animals, and even our own human bodies. When extracted from plants you can smoke it and it produces indescribable visuals, feelings of death, and common visions of the ‘DMT aliens/entities’ and other patterns.
Joe Rogan is fascinated by it and even has a DMT molecule tattooed on his arm. In almost every episode Joe brings the drug up. What he is doing here is testing the waters to find topics of mutual interest. As it’s something he enjoys and can talk a lot about, he always mentions it in case the other person has a mutual interest in it. If you want to get an idea of how much Joe mentions DMT watch this three-minute compilation.
You can use this technique in your own favor. If there is something your passionate about, like a sport or a school of philosophy, and you can talk about it for hours, bring it up. On the odd chance that you get lucky and the person is actually interested in it, you can have fruitful and unforgettable conversations.
My topic of choice I always bring up is reading books. It’s open to interpretation, versatile, and unbounded. If someone has read the same book as me or reads the same genre then this makes small talk super easy. Choose an open-ended topic like this that you can talk about every time. If you get no luck and the other person doesn’t care, just move on.
4. Open the Path to Deep Conversations With Exciting Questions
The most average way you can open a conversation with someone is by asking typical questions like “where are you from?” “what do you do?” “what’s your favorite…?” I’m not saying this is wrong but I am saying that there is a different way to do this. Joe uses these questions in a unique way that I never thought about before. There is a two-step process many people have picked up on.
1. Peel the Layers:
Instead of asking boring questions like “Where do you live?” follow it up with a why question. Usually, the former question isn’t even scratching the surface of who a person is. Asking “why?” dives deeper. Here’s an example:
- Joe: “Where do you live?”
- Person B: “I live in a nice seaside town on the English coast.”
- Joe: “Why do you live there?”
- Person B: “I love being by the sea because it reminds me of my childhood and inspires my creative side.”
The Keyword here is why. By asking why you get a deeper answer that usually exposes the individual's moral beliefs, passions, or insights into their personality. You get to hear about what's important to the person by asking a further “why?”, which flows beautifully into you learning about their passion and then talking about that. The chances are that the person will have a lot more to talk about why they live somewhere and their reasoning and preferences behind the choice, than simply the location of where it is.
2. Ask Questions That Are Fun To Answer:
The second part of getting someone excited in a conversation is by asking really out-there and interesting questions. Unfortunately, some people you come across won’t have anything interesting going on in their lives. This is a major issue with small talk, some people just live boring lives as crude as it is. Asking a fantasy question may open their mind up. Here are some examples of fun questions Joe has asked in the past.
- “If you had a magic wand and someone said ‘you can do whatever you want, to fix this, what would you do?”
- “If you were the king of the world and I say ‘Ed, what do we gotta do?’ what do you say?”
- “Let’s say you become the president…”
Here is a flow chart that shows you a great way of how you can use the ‘peeling the layers’ technique with the fun questions to make a conversation exciting and free-flowing.
Image created by the author.
5. Create a Connection Whilst Listening
Another main catalyst that can destroy all prospects of fluid small talk is the failure to listen.
If you are telling someone your life story and they seem uninterested as they constantly drift in and out of the conversation, you most likely will try to end the conversation to move on. This is why making someone feel as though they are attentively being listened to is the best way to form a connection with a person. This is where the technique called ‘Mirroring’ comes in.
Mirroring is “the behavior in which one person unconsciously imitates the gesture, speech pattern, or attitude of another”.
According to Ex-FBI negotiator Chriss Voss, mirroring is an effective strategy to make a person heard by repeating the last one, two, or three words they have spoken. Validating what someone has said can make them feel more important to you and therefore more willing to keep on opening up. Joe regularly does this when talking to intellectuals, to prove that he’s been following them and not been lost in a sea of complicated words.
However, it is important to note that doing this too often can come off as invading and weird. Another important aspect of maintaining small talk is by asserting yourself through what you stand for. In other words, you have to stay true to yourself by not seeming to be desperate.
Connections can be formed when a person feels as though they are providing you with value that you have been attentively listening to.
Having high-quality and effective small talk skills is something I’ve been working on for a while. At first, I thought listening to 7+ hours of podcasts a week was just for entertainment. It then occurred to me after such extensive listening that these hosts are actually talented in the art of small talk. Joe Rogan develops a question like “Where do you live?” into a three-hour-long conversation that will garner millions of views.
Being able to win someone over with charming small talk in a social or business environment isn't as hard as you think. You don’t need to be a confident extrovert. You can get by with simple psychological techniques that transport you into the minds of the person in front of you.
Confidence is a facade. If you can manipulate and shape how you are perceived at first glance by others, you can increase your chances of making fruitful and meaningful connections. Small talk is a lost art. Break past the awkward barrier and get on to touching people's souls through your cleverly calculated words.
“Conversation, like certain portions of the anatomy, always runs more smoothly when lubricated.”
― Doug Wright, Quills