April 16, 2014 / The Secret to Small Talk: Identity Statements
It's less awkward than asking them about their sex life.
"I don’t even really know how to write cursive anymore."
"So how’s your marriage?"
"What the hell? Why would you ask me that?"
"I’m trying to elevate small talk to medium talk."
"Okay, fine. Um… it’s… all right. It’s fine. It’s okay."
"How often do you have sex?"
— Curb Your Enthusiasm (2011)
I used to hate small talk. Not just with women, but with anyone. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the elevator with a co-worker and this conversation happens:
- Co-worker: "Hot day."
- Me: "Yeah."
- [20 seconds of awkward silence]
- Them: "Supposed to hit 90."
- Me: "Wow."
I wasn’t trying to be rude, I just didn’t have anything to add. It was a hot day. It was supposed to get hotter. What else was there to say?
But I realized I had some co-workers who I actually didn’t mind riding the elevator with. Our exchanges would go something more like this:
- Co-worker: "Hot day."
- Me: "Yeah."
- Them: "I hope the weather stays like this over the weekend. Supposed to go golfing with some friends this weekend."
- Me: "Oh, you golf?"
And then we’d spend the next five minutes talking about golf. I don’t even golf. But it was more interesting than just plainly stating facts about the current meteorological conditions.
What was the difference? The second co-worker used an identity statement. An identity statement is anything where you’re saying something interesting about yourself, and they’re great for turning "small talk" into "medium talk." If you’ve ever had a small talk conversation that comfortably escalated into medium talk, then at some point an identity statement was used.
Once you understand what makes for a good identity statement and how you can use them, I guarantee you won’t dread small talk nearly as much anymore.
Identity Statements are Easier than Just Asking Questions
You may have heard that an easy heuristic to engaging someone socially is to just ask them questions. This is technically true, and I used to do it all the time. But this was also why I hated small talk, because I was essentially forfeiting all attempts to make an identity statement to the other person.
In other words, I was just asking questions and hoping that the person I was talking to would make an interesting identity statement before I got so bored I decided to stab myself in the eye with the plastic straw in my drink.
If you hate small talk like I did, this is probably why. You’re relying entirely on the other person to say something interesting and not trying to say anything interesting yourself. That’s usually not a great combination.
The good news is, you don’t have to do that. Making an identity statement doesn’t mean you’re monopolizing the conversation and only talking about yourself. The key to a good identity statement is answering one question: why? Especially when someone asks you a question, don’t just respond with something that technically answers their question but doesn’t tell them anything more about you. If they’re asking what you’re doing, answer why you’re doing it. If they’re asking where you’re going, answer why you’re going there. If they’re asking where you bought something, answer why you purchased it.
Let’s say you someone asks you what your favorite movie is. Which answer is going to lead to a more engaging conversation?
Option 1: "Fight Club."
Option 2: "Fight Club. I just really liked it’s messages on materialism and the state of masculinity. The book actually covered those themes even better. It’s like, what kind of society are we when men no longer bond over shared struggle and survival?"
Option 2 isn’t monopolizing the conversation — note at the end you’re still asking them a question. If they’ve seen the movie, they can share their thoughts. If they haven’t, they can ask you more about the movie or still offer their opinion on the movie’s themes. Or they can change the subject entirely. But you’ve now given them all these options to respond and escalate beyond small talk, which is why identity statements are so useful.
Applying this to Women
These principles apply whether it’s platonic co-workers or a woman you’re attracted to and have approached. Almost every initial interaction with a woman is going to involve some sort of small talk. Sometimes that interaction will fizzle out because even though she seemed receptive to your approach, you’ll end up making bland small talk for 15 minutes and then her friends will drag her away. Your friends will ask you what happened, and you’ll say something like, "eh, we didn’t have that much in common."
But really the problem was neither of you made enough identity statements. And this is why never making any identity statements yourself is a bad idea. Not every woman is a great conversationalist with a guy she just met. If you ask her questions like where she’s from or what’s the occasion for being out with her friends, she may respond with an interesting identity statement… but it’s also very likely she’ll just give you a bland respond that you can’t even follow up with another question. And then eventually one of you will eventually get bored until the conversation withers away and dies.
Making identity statements will let you prevent that from happening. Identity statements are a great way to demonstrate your intelligence and other aspects of your high value. If you consider yourself an intelligent and interesting person, you don’t need to wait for hours to communicate that to her. You can communicate that right away!
So think about the kinds of conversations you have when you first approach a woman, and what questions usually get asked by one or both of you. You can even prepare ahead of time and "rehearse" your answers. At some point, she’ll probably ask you questions like what you’re drinking, or what kind of music you’re into. Just have good identity statements ready to respond with, and you’ll find yourself escalating way more often than you say, "eh, we didn’t have that much in common."
And even better: you’ll no longer have to dread small talk with everyone else, too.