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Small talk with folks from a parallel universe at networking events

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Parallel talking during networking

Small talk is a technique of talking, a way to communicate and make contact with people, the glue that creates and maintains contact with friends, colleagues and business partners. Applied with strategy, it is also a great networking tool.

A good example that comes to my mind is the Mother Goose poem One Misty Moisty Morning. The version that I am referring to is from The Only True Mother Goose Melodies (c. 1833) which is slightly different from the one in many nursery rhyme books.

One Misty Moisty morning for small talk


Now that is small talk!

I would dare to imagine that once the complimenting and how do you doing was done, they might have continued talking perhaps about the weather and gotten to know each other better. In modern days, they would have exchanged mobile numbers with a missed call or exchanged cards.

Small talk accompanied by the right body language can make everyday life much easier and if you are networking, create potential win-win connections. It can lead to deeper connections and a wonderful way to hide our awkwardness when we don’t know what to say – far better than stony silence or jabbering away.

Your light chat can be quite effective if you include some of the tips that my pet Miss Coco showed in my blog post The Effective Communicating Canine.

Think about the time when you run into your neighbor in the elevator in the morning, do you chat about the weather on the ride down or maintain stony silence? Small talk oils the wheels of community living.


Small talk quote by Lynn Coady


So far so good but what if you find yourself caught in a situation where a parallel talk starts while you are in the middle of your reply? You would be fully justified in thinking that these people are from a parallel universe or somewhere out there in the galaxy.

In essence, Parallel Talk is the type of conversation where one story triggers off a completely different one.


The strange conversation with the lady who walks her cat on a leash about the whereabouts of my car and the neighbor’s dirty window 


Frogs giving example of small talk


Here’s a personal story about a parallel conversation that I had some time back. I was in the middle of small talk with the neighbor who walks her cat on a leash. Kitty and her mistress ran into me while I was downstairs and the how do you do’s started. Then she asked about some water in the open area of my parking space and why my car was not there and also why I was wearing an orthopedic belt.

So far, so good.

I started to reply with how one of the neighbors got her windows cleaned while my car was there and the drama that unfolded when I was compelled to move the car despite a back problem that had gotten aggravated.

Somewhere in between the washing of the windows and my back and while my mouth was still in talking mode, she changed the conversation to discuss how dirty the windows must have been, how much dirt did I see and who did the neighbor hire to clean the windows. I can assure you, I was irritated. Kitty’s pet parent was completely oblivious to the fact that I was wearing an orthopedic belt!

An empathetic inquiry about the condition of my back rather than the digressive battery of questions regarding the quantity of window dirt would have been a better topic!

In such a situation, anyone would get upset and perhaps start another parallel talk about how inconsiderate a person can be but a good neighbor and adept networker, may I add, would try to maintain a good atmosphere even if deep down inside you start wondering which universe the person is coming from. More often than not, the other person doesn’t even realize what they are doing.

So I chose to keep my counsel and instead asked about Kitty and the recent surge of Tom Cats in the compound.


What to do in parallel talk situations at a networking event

From experience, I strongly recommend counting to ten and stick to the new topic. Count 100 if required but don’t lose your cool. If things get out of hand, move away with a polite ‘I’ve seen someone I have to say hello to, nice talking to you’ and run for your life. The other person won’t mind it. After all you guys are there to network. Just be discreet about it and don’t take me seriously about running for your life.  Do it gracefully.

The fringe benefit of this approach is that the other person will perceive you to be a great listener and believe me, that’s a talent in very short supply. It strengthens your network too.

Forgive the other person from the bottom of your heart. They often don’t know what they’ve done to irritate you. Besides, how would you feel if you were told you were the parallel universe speaker?

It goes without saying that this lady and I still share a cordial relationship though she doesn’t go off on a tangent any more. I guess someone must have given her a sounding off. Oh, and before I forget, Kitty the cat on a leash managed to run away for a few days and came back heavy with kittens. So perhaps we should have discussed those Tom Cats in more detail. 🙂

Have you ever experienced a parallel talk situation? How did you handle it? I’d love to read your stories in the comments box below.


PS. I invite you to join me on a journey of personal development with The Karmic Ally Coaching Experience Self-Improvement Strategies Workbook. You can acquire your own copy  by completing the form in the banner above, on the book cover below or clicking here. It’s on the house!


Self Improvement Strategies by Vatsala Shukla ebook cover




Written by: Vatsala Shukla

Photo credit : Geralt

Update on 24 May 2016: This blog post was originally written in May 2014 and has been updated by Vatsala for relevancy, including the fate of Kitty, the feline who walks on a leash.


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25 Responses to “Small talk with folks from a parallel universe at networking events”

  1. Tamuria says:

    I think if Kitty’s mum had back issues she would have focused on that snippet of information rather than the dirty windows. It seems quite heartless but people often speak (and think) from the centre of their own universe and therefore ask only about things that can be of use to them, even when there’s an obvious topic you’d think cannot be overlooked. I’ve been in situations where someone has asked me a question but cut me off during my answer, with a totally new topic. It stings because it feels like your words are of no importance.Your advice not to get rattled and rude is so good as you never know who will lead you to wonderful opportunities in the future.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      You’ve made a very valid point, Tamuria. We focus on matters that affect us or are relevant to us often forgetting that empathy for another person’s situation can build a stronger bond. It stings big time to be cut short in conversation which is why I suggested counting as much as necessary to keep one’s cool before a volcanic explosion occurs and relationships are destroyed forever because one never knows who will bring us a valuable opportunity in the future.

  2. Excellent topic, parallel conversations. Hardly addressed and so relevant for networking and being a good conversationalist. Whenever it happened to me I assumed the person was not really interested in what I was saying. Depending on who the person was & if I wanted to maintain or develop a relationship, I went with the new flow or found a way to exit.
    Loving the direction your blogs & graphics are going as they get my mind thinking.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Delighted to be of service, Roslyn, and a very heartfelt thank you for sharing your strategy in dealing with parallel conversations – less stressful, gracious with an eye on the exit door. 🙂

  3. Lisa says:

    Great topic! I have a family member that does this…and then…she tops it off with ..you never share with me! Really??? Very frustrating indeed, great topic love the graphics !

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Oh boy, Lisa. That is an example of a parallel conversation within a parallel conversation. 🙂 How do you manage to keep your cool? Glad you enjoyed the post and graphics.

  4. I see that many people aren’t really that interested in staying in the conversation, as that requires listening and two-part questions. Someone’s reply, leads to a next question. I admit that as an air sign, I often find I am meandering around the cosmos, so I appreciate it when someone calls me on it and asks me to return to the conversation at hand. I am getting better at doing this with others too.

    The workshop I went to, “The Art of Powerful Conversation”, really was helpful in understanding creative questioning and how do stay in the conversation by listening and responding with another question based not the person’s response to the first question. The key is to start with a non-superficial question.

    I would guess that in our day-to-day interactions, many of the conversations will be parallel. The other person often having their own agenda and interests front and centre. Which is why being a good listener and good question asker, is so important. I can’t think of a parallel conversation to share, although my mother is the master of this, partly because her hearing is not 100%. It’s possible that so many people are lost in their own thoughts, ready to jump in just wanting a turn to talk. The result. Parallel conversations. Thanks for the interesting post, Vatsala! I will be more conscious of my cosmic meandering while in conversations!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thank you for your precious insights and contribution to the dialogue, Beverley. Definitely wanting to assert one’s agenda instead of first listening and then bringing in a new conversation topic at the right time is a prime reason for parallel conversations. I remember my late grandmother had started engaging in parallel conversations on the telephone and one time I it did upset me. She had called to wish me on my birthday and then launched into a different topic completely. I forgave her because I knew that at 85 with failing health, she might have forgotten the purpose of her call. Besides, she did call. 🙂

  5. Reba Linker says:

    I agree that small talk is a gift and an opening to deeper connection. And, I know plenty of parallel talkers in my community. There’s a woman who goes into great detail about her latest ailment and completely glosses over any mention of one’s own situation. I forgive her, of course, but it’s not much fun. She and her husband have been through a lot and I think she simply has gotten completely used to being the ‘star patient’ that she can’t focus on anyone else in that way. Interesting article, Vatsala – it’s got me thinking about this friend and how best to interact with her in a way that might be more satisfying. I love the way you focus in on a small thing in this blog – it is worth the attention! xo, Reba

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thank you Reba, for sharing your experience. I’m happy my tips will be useful in interacting with the lady. Sometimes when we’ve gone through a tough patch, we get used to being treated in a particular manner by others and start considering the attention as normal even though the crisis which rallied support for us is long gone. Could it be that she is clinging to the past or the experience has been so traumatic that she isn’t able to let go? I know you’ll help her overcome it and hopefully there will be more small talk rather than parallel talk between the two of you.

  6. Julia says:

    I’ve never heard of parallel talking before, but found it such an interesting concept and yes I think it goes on a lot. I love your “getaway strategy,” and it’s also a great reminder to me to be more mindful in conversations and not take them over, thank you.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Ah yes, Julia, there is always another side to the coin. In this case, making sure that we aren’t the aliens from another Universe. I’m happy the post has introduced you to a new concept and a “getaway strategy”. 🙂

  7. Andrea says:

    You make some interesting points. My natural speaking voice is fairly quiet so I’ve learned to assume that people just didn’t hear me and are too polite to ask me to repeat.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      That is always a possibility, Andrea, if one is soft spoken but no excuse for others to take advantage of it. Time to revisit conversations. 😉

    • Karmic Ally says:

      That is always a possibility, Andrea, but not a reason for people to not request you to repeat what you’ve said. A simple ‘I beg your pardon’ is an indicator that the other party is paying attention to you.

  8. Diane Topkis says:

    I never thought of the term parallel conversation but it does happen so often. Also reminds me of when you’re telling someone something about yourself and off they go into a somewhat similar story about themselves and you’re now you’re the listener.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      That’s exactly what happens in parallel conversations and what happened to me, Diane. I still marvel at the fact that with a painful back, I managed the situation instead of clobbering Kitty’s pet parent. 🙂

  9. I love the advice “count to 10 and stick to the new topic.” Consciously getting over the irritation and disappointment and moving on is helpful advice – especially when it happens with family ad friends! Thanks

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Family and friends are the ones who quite often initiate the parallel conversation and have to be handled with kid gloves. I’d count as long as it takes to prevent blowing up, Kimberly. 🙂

  10. I spent the first 2/3 of my working life in sales which meant many (many!) networking events, conferences, blah, blah. I must confess I’m glad they are a part of my past now, but I can certainly appreciate your advice.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thanks for the validation of advice, Marquita. When we’ve experienced it first hand, we understand how difficult the situation can be, especially if we are trying to bring in business and nurture leads for potential accounts in the future.

  11. Suzie Cheel says:

    So true small talk is a gift, one my mother excelled at as did her networking skills and maybe something I can follow more- I do understand about that parallel talk. Just love the image with the frogs xx

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Small talk helps to oil the community spirit as your wise mother knew well, Suzie. Its something we can all do more of considering how cold the world is becoming with less human interaction and more time spent on the internet. I’m glad you liked the image with the frogs. Frogs jump and that’s what happens in parallel conversations. 🙂

  12. Joyce Hansen says:

    I was invited to speak to an informal group. I was introduced by the leader, and then she asked each member to introduce themselves. She proceeded to introduce the topic and run with it. 45 minutes later she asked for my input as she announced 5 minutes of time were left. I had to make the most of my small talk and remember I was the adult in the room.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      I admire you for keeping your cool and not clobbering the lady, Joyce. Hats off to you! I love the way you maintained your composure, took the mature view and still added value to the other victims of the leader’s talk, even if for only 5 minutes. 🙂

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