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Video: How Culture Affects Small Talk

Transcript

Before we get into the specific techniques, it's important to understand some of the cultural basics behind this concept. Although this is an oversimplification, and of course, there's a great variety among cultures and individual people, there are two main types of cultures: peach cultures and coconut cultures. 

In peach cultures, like the United States, people are friendly on the outside. They smile at strangers and they move quickly to the first name. They even share information about themselves and ask personal questions of those they hardly know, using small talk. But after a little friendly interaction with a peach, you may suddenly get to the hard shell of the pit, for the peach protects its real self and the relationship suddenly stops. The result is that many Americans have many casual relationships with few deep relationships.

In coconut cultures, on the other hand, it's hard to break through the outer shell. People are initially more closed off from those they don't have a close relationship with. They rarely smile at strangers, and they don't ask casual acquaintances personal questions or offer information to those they don't know well. These cultures have hierarchical relationships, and they're taught to listen to their elders and those above them. So they don't speak casually about themselves, particularly with higher relationships. But over time there's a strong relationship and people break through the outer shell to the deep, sweet inner part. Relationships tend to be deeper and last longer.

So, what does this have to do with friendships and relationships? Well everything. Peachy people think that coconut people are cold and uninterested, so they tend to leave them alone. 

Coconut people are suspicious of peachy people, and sometimes interpret the friendliness of the peach as an offer of deep friendship, but then feel tricked when the small talk suddenly stops, and this can again lead to isolation or lack of feeling like they belong. 

No matter what culture you come from, you don't want to be this person who feels alone in a crowd, particularly when you want to connect with people. If you're living in a peach culture, like the United States, you need to learn how to do small talk effectively, so you can make friends and network with people.

So, what can you do? You can learn how to act like a peach. Work at developing friendships and networks through small talk. Be open to share a little bit about yourself, learn what topics are appropriate and inappropriate to talk about, and accept invitations quickly or initiate conversations to engage in small talk. 

If they say "let's go grab coffee or beer," accept quickly, even if you don't drink coffee or beer. This is a sign they want to know more about you. This may not feel natural at first, but it's a learned skill and will lead to many rewards.