The Small Talk Challenge
Written by OneTable’s Chicago Hub Manager (and conversationalist), Marissa.
It’s not that I hate small talk. Introductory conversations require that we ask people the same questions we ask everyone else. “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” “What part of town are you living in?” It’s these inquiries that are necessary when meeting new people and it’s a totally valid way to connect with peers.
Recently, I’ve been contemplating more meaningful conversations with new friends. I’ll be honest, having just moved to Chicago in June, it’s easy to have something to talk about: “Why did you move?” “Where are you from?” “How are you liking the city?” “Do you have a winter jacket?” All of these questions are kind because I’ve found that people are genuinely interested in my experiences. The challenge, however, is getting past these surface level interactions and diving into something more.
In July, OneTable partnered with Reboot and Slingshot to bring together influencers and innovators within the Jewish and secular business world. At this Influencer Dinner, 30 people gathered for an evening of intentional conversation. Everyone had a unique reason for being at the table, whether it was the innovative nature of their work or that they are supporters of organizations that are pushing the envelope in some way. Needless to say, it was a rockstar cast of humans all around the dinner table. Specifically, the Shabbat dinner table.
After the meal, I was reflecting on the highlights of the night. Everything was beautiful. From the perfectly placed settings, to the way the Shabbat candles flickered against the exposed brick, to the incredible five-course meal that was provided for us by Greg Combs of Goose and Fox – just WOW. But what resonated with me most at this meal was the ability for everyone in attendance to not rely on small talk to keep the conversations alive.
Being the observer of a meal is sometimes my favorite part. I stood back sporadically during the evening and realized that what was happening was bigger than networking. It was people taking time out of their busy lives to go to dinner with strangers and not talk about the weather but instead discuss their goals, fears and struggles. Conversations ranged from career aspirations to travel bucket lists to what being “home” meant for them. We even had a guest stand up to share good news from their work day. It was a beautiful evening.
Sure, there are many ways we can and already do take the time to get to know people on a deeper level. We meet for coffee or drinks. We text with friends. We call our parents. All of these means of communication are significant in some way. There’s just something different about the conversations happening at the Shabbat dinner table. Shabbat welcomes a deep breath of fresh air at the end of the week and invites people to open up as soon as the candles are lit. Maybe it has something to do with the challah and wine, but to me, it’s really about the way Shabbat differentiates itself from every other day of the week. In turn, Shabbat invites each guest to differentiate their own thoughts and conversations into something more challenging and meaningful.
Here are some thoughts on starting a meaningful conversation over Shabbat dinner:
- Set the stage: use a tablecloth and shove all of your laundry and mail into the closest closet (we all do it)
- Assign a trusted friend to be kick the conversation off
- Scatter some question cards on the table. Pro tip: Use your OneTable Nourishment credits for an Etsy purchase of conversational starter cards, like THESE. That was easy!
- Reach out to your Shabbat coach to get personalized suggestions
I’m a conversationalist but I’m always looking for ways to connect with people on something more than our alma mater or shared love for Parks and Recreation (though both are important). Let’s challenge each other to dive into something bigger in our Shabbat conversations, really making it a different, more special time of the week.