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Stanford expert shares the number one phrase that people who are good at small talk always use

This will make your next party a lot easier.

Stanford, communications, small talk

Some friends enjoying a polite conversation at a party.

Many people don’t like small talk because it forces them to have conversations about trivial topics such as the weather, what they saw on TV the night before, or their weekend plans. Other people don’t like it because it causes them anxiety to talk with someone they may not know well.

Either way, research shows that small talk actually is a big deal. Julia Korn at Forbes says that small talk enables us to find common ground and shared interests, build muscles to overcome social discomfort, and lays the groundwork for transitioning into more serious, deeper topics.

It also makes us feel good. Studies show that a quick exchange with a barista while getting coffee can result in feelings of belonging and increased happiness.


So, how can we get more out of small talk and make it more comfortable? Stanford lecturer, podcast host, and communication expert Matt Abrahams told CNBC that one small phrase does both, “Tell me more.” He learned the phrase's value by listening to his mother, who had “impressive interpersonal skills.”

“Her favorite phrase was ‘Tell me more,’ and it happens to be one that people who are good at small talk always use,” Abrahams wrote.

The Stanford expert says that the simple phrase works because it is a “support response” that encourages what the speaker is saying instead of being a “shift response” that brings the conversation back to you.

Suppose you’re talking to someone at a party who’s complaining about a lousy dinner they had at a local steakhouse. “The steak was overcooked, and the service was terrible,” they tell you. A proper support response could be, “Tell me more about the service” or “What else didn’t you like about the dinner?"

“Comments like these give your partner permission to expand on what they said or provide deeper insight,” Abrahams wrote.

On the other hand, a shift response that brings the conversation back to you would be something like, “I once had a bad dinner at a steakhouse…” and then you told that story. People who overuse the shift response are often seen as self-centered or the type of folks who have to make everything about themselves.

That’s a rather annoying personality trait that doesn’t make people a lot of friends or an enjoyable person to work with in the office.

Support responses such as “Tell me more” or “What happened next” are a great way to guarantee that you follow another proven conversation strategy, the 43:57 rule. A marketing whiz over at Gong.io took a deep dive into 25,537 sales calls with the help of AI and discovered a cool tidbit: sales went through the roof when the salesperson chatted 43% of the time and lent an ear for 57%. They've dubbed it the "43:57 rule."

Now, while this gem of wisdom came from business calls, think about our daily chats with friends. It's all about tuning in and showing you care about what the other person has to say. Everyone loves to feel heard and valued.

In the end, the trick to being a great conversationalist isn’t all about being witty, charming, or informed but simply knowing how to listen.


This article originally appeared on 10.5.23

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