The Art of Flow

5 Ways to Keep the Conversation Going and Genuinely Enjoy Small Talk

Have you ever been watching a sports game and can tell that a certain player is completely in the zone? You can see it in their demeanor; that confidence to know that they’re taking the game into their own hands, that look in their eyes and that total commitment to winning.  Those moments, when everything is going right has been described as a state of “Flow”.

When skill and challenge meet in perfect harmony, this state of consciousness has been described as genuine satisfaction.  Flow is achieved only when the challenge involved is equal to the skill level of the participant. For example, a professional skier won’t find the same satisfaction from a skiing down a bunny hill as they would a Black Diamond course. Flow doesn’t occur only in sports, it can be seen in every walk of life at any moment.  Most people aren’t used to noticing this effect outside of professional athletes but with the right techniques and a bit of practice anyone can master the art of flow in social situations as well. With a bit of practice you can be a social skills ninja in no time!

One of the most feared social situations, even for ninjas, is the dreaded act of small talk. Everyone wants to be noticed and remembered whether you’re growing your social circle, meeting new business partners or simply looking for love but the anxiety of not knowing what to say to leave that impression can be crippling. Being nervous in social situations is not only normal, it can be seen as a good thing!  Do you think professional athletes don’t get butterflies before the big game? Of course they do! However, the difference is that they have practiced and they know with the right playbook they’ll be just fine. Our goal is to give you a social skills playbook so you can get in the zone and have the confidence to know that flow CAN be achieved in social situations, you just need a nudge in the right direction!

Here are 5 conversationalist types we’ve all met and how you can learn take the best aspects of each to keep the conversation going, enjoy the conversation and find your flow!


1) The Talker

We’ve all met that person who just won’t stop talking and bores everyone to tears thinking they’re having a fantastic conversation oblivious to the fact that everyone around them has checked out ages ago. Some call it ‘the gift of gab’ but to everyone except the talker this is no gift. Although this type definitely has things to say they can benefit most by learning to listen. In Celeste Headlee’s 2015 TED Talk, “10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation” she states that because listening is a skill that not many master they will take the easier route and talk at, rather than to, others in the conversation.  We are capable at talking up to 225 words per minute, but can listen up to 500 words per minute and it’s much easier to get distracted and our minds fill up those other 275 words per minute rather than actually listening and paying attention to what is being said. “It takes effort and energy to actually pay attention to someone, but if you can’t do that, you’re not in a conversation” says Headlee.

            Art of Flow Tip 1: Less talk, more listening.

2) The Wallflower

Remember the awkwardness of middle school dances? Guys on one side of the gym and girls on the other, neither side knowing what to do or how to make the long walk across the gym floor and start dancing and having fun and unfortunately this scarring experience has left some, even as grown adults, as wallflowers. In small talk situations this is the person who doesn’t speak up because they just don’t know what to say. You’re wracking your brain, grasping at straws but still you feel as though you have nothing to add to the conversation. This conversationalist can benefit most by reading everything. Keeping up to date and having an understanding of local and world affairs will make small talk smooth and comfortable and will leave the others in the conversation impressed with your worldly insight.  You don’t have to spend hours reading the New York Times or fancy magazines, with the incredible power of the internet you can simply spend 5 minutes a day learning the news that interests you. Check out our article on 5 Ways to Get the News in 5 Minutes to learn more.

            Art of Flow Tip 2: Start Reading Everything

3) The Know-It-All

We all have that friend that’s a bit over the top and interjects their opinion into every situation regardless of whether or not they have any expertise in the field.  This type not only rubs people the wrong way but can cause irreparable damage to their reputation should people find out you are totally making things up on the spot because they have now lost one of the most crucial aspects of having quality conversations, trust. This type can benefit most by admitting what you don’t know and asking questions.  Remember that a conversation is supposed to be give and take, and actually taking in the knowledge given by other parties you can be amazed by what you may learn. Being open to new topics is great and it’s okay to ask for clarification. By asking someone to either repeat the information or asking for more explanation shows that you are actively listening and engaging in the conversation.

            Art of Flow Tip 3: Admit what you don’t know and ask for clarification when needed

4) The Debater

This conversationalist type always has to prove that it’s their way or the highway and often debates or disagrees just because they can. People are different, cultures vary, perspectives are unique and that’s what makes the diversity of life so great but rather than focusing on differences try and find the commonalities across people. The Debater can improve small talk by conversing rather than debating with the intent to learn (not to win). Being combative and directing a conversation as me vs. you isn’t productive and a quality conversation is where opinions should be able to be aired openly. However, if your aim is to ‘win’ a conversation you’ll be much better off by agreeing to disagree and working on finding common threads to discuss. There’s no need to have full conclusion to every point in a conversation and steering a conversation in this matter can end the small talk before it has even had a chance to bloom.

             Art of Flow Tip 4: Converse, don’t debate.

5) The Thinker

How often have you been in a conversation or making small talk and you’ve thought to yourself, “is this person even listening to me?” Being observant, reading body language, and listening in a conversation are great but if you aren’t present in the conversation you’ll leave others wondering what you’re thinking about.  Most of the time when this happens a person is trying to show that they are paying attention, rather than actually paying attention; and are thinking about what else is happening in the room and what they should say next. Being genuinely interested is key to maintaining the flow of a conversation. Small talk should be fluid; they grow, change and find themselves moving from one topic to the next, sometimes in an unplanned unorganized manner. And if you aren’t actually paying attention you can be caught totally off guard when the conversation turns and it’s your turn to speak.

            Art of Flow Tip 5: Be present and genuinely interested in the conversation.

There’s no perfect way to have a conversation but there are lots of ways you can improve your skills to leave an impactful impression and be remembered.  Small talk can cause anxiety in anyone if you don’t know where to start or what to do but without practice (yes you do need to practice and think of conversations as a skill to be learned) you’ll never get any better.  A great conversation will have momentum, a rhythm that moves with the participants and it’s easy to see when the group reaches that state of ‘Flow’ where everyone is engaged and genuinely enjoying the experience.

Some people naturally have better social and conversation skills than others but just like sports, art, or music these skills can be taught and can be learned, it just takes some direction. So the next time you find yourself anxious remember; less talk, more listening, start reading, admit what you don’t know, converse rather than debate, and be present.

About the Author

Brandon & Sam currently live in Raleigh, NC and coach motivated professionals how to accelerate their careers, build quality relationships, and unleash their inner-awesome through teaching the secrets of charisma.

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