The next time you’re at a party, just take a moment to listen in on whatever everyone else around you is actually discussing with each other. Small talk is not something from which you can easily escape. Everyone’s talking about the weather. Everyone’s talking about how they physically arrived at the party. Everyone’s talking about work — but not really work, just the surface of it, no grit. These aren’t just boring parties, either. When I listened in on a group of people at a bonfire, not only did I learn that they were tripping on acid but that they were extremely concerned with the next week’s forecast. What is that?
It’s interesting to think that we arrive at these parties with the sole purpose of connecting with other human beings, and yet when it comes time to leave, we may have just had the same conversation a handful of times with a few different people over the course of two-to-four hours. It doesn’t feel right that party conversations can be broken down to those simple terms.
But maybe we all decide to throw each other a wildcard, which is what this Reddit thread is challenging us to do. The thread asks a simple question: “What kind of questions would you ask, in order to make medium talk instead of small talk?”
In order to get to the good stuff, you have to scroll through a conversation on Batman that I don’t understand and that veers way off-topic and then later a sex organ-inspired question that sparks some interesting back and forth. (‘Would you rather have a vagina on your forehead or a row of penises down your back like a Stegosaurus?’) But all that aside, there’s actually some useful stuff in there too. The serious responses range from the expected:
“The trick to making a conversation with a stranger flow is to make them talk about themselves or something that interests them…”
To a kind of sad story:
“I was asked once ‘When was the last time your life was in danger?’ by a mathematician weirdo at a conference. Before I could finish my answer he walked away. I guess I’m not that interesting but I did enjoy the question and pull it out occasionally. Also, fuck that guy.”
Still a good takeaway there.
To some interesting insight into the “layers of intimacy” we propel through with strangers and close ones:
“Small talk is the top layer: impersonal chatter about your surroundings, superficial personal details; hobbies, interests etc…
Medium talk: you’ve gleaned some surface insights into their personality, now you explore these in detail. You begin to hear personal stories and understand some motivations.
Big talk: Serious and meaningful shit. Deeply personal shit. Hopes and dreams, worries and doubts. Stuff you only discuss with close ones.”
Reddit threads can be kind of intense to get through but maybe the most important portion of this one is that first question: How can we dig a little deeper with ourselves?
Now that we’ve got this idea of “medium talk” in our heads, how can we move forward with it in order to forge stronger connections with the strangers around us? We shouldn’t settle for the traffic and the weather. And if we notice that someone is asking us rapid-fire questions (because we’ve all learned that’s the secret weapon to a steady conversation) let’s throw some questions back their way too — that’s how we can all really get to the heart of something and someone.