​Beyond Small Talk

Photo of Varun with a paddleboatPictureVarun with a paddleboat

By Fayette Fox, Jaunty’s Writer
 
Small talk always came easily to Varun Kaushik, who recently graduated from Jaunty’s six-week course. “I dabble in a lot of different things and get to meet a lot of people,” Varun says. He goes to Meetups for hiking, networking, biking, improv, tennis, Spanish, wine tasting, etc. But he wanted to learn how move beyond the basic get to know you chit chat and build a lasting connection.
 
There was another issue too. Varun has to travel a ton for work in his job as a chemical engineer. During the first six months of the year, he was only in home for six weeks. Understandably, being away so much and working long hours makes it hard to nurture friendships.
 
Varun has always moved around a lot. With the exception of a year and a half in the Netherlands, he lived in India until he was twelve. During seventh grade, he moved to the U.S. with his family. Since then he’s lived in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, “A Smallville-like town in Michigan” and now the Bay Area. He speaks four languages and is currently learning a fifth. He’s nothing if not adaptable.
 
“When I moved to the U.S., I spoke British English with an Indian accent. Now I can also speak American English with a Mid-Western accent, if it helps me fit in.”

PictureVarun (top row, far right) with a biking Meetup group

At some point, Varun realized that he had never instigated friendships or relationships. His past friendships happened by chance rather than deliberately choosing them. Varun was great at putting himself in fun situations with interesting people. Now he wanted a higher conversion of turning those encounters into real friendships.
 
Varun went to the free Jaunty workshop through Meetup and signed up for Jaunty’s six-week course.  
 
He enjoyed learning new ways of interacting with people. “And doing it in a fun way that makes you memorable. Conversational agility, all those things where you at least make a good impression and feel you can continue it.”
 
Jaunty teaches specific humor formulas and even now after the course, Varun keeps a humor hypothesis diary where he keeps track of what works in different situations and what doesn’t. He’s curious and motivated to keep experimenting with his new social skills.
 
Varun has discovered that some people connect through conversation, where others are more into activities. This came through an interpretation of one of Jaunty’s uses of open ended questions. At Jaunty we’re taught about empathy and learning other people’s interests. Now Varun likes to, “Treat people like they wanted to be treated.”

PictureVarun braving the head-winds on Redwood Shores

If Varun is on a hike with a new friend, he’ll adapt to them for thirty minutes. “If they want to talk, talk. Then use your assertiveness and change topics to something you want to talk about.” He appreciates the “give and take of how you adapt to people. It’s really about finding some kind of balance of asserting yourself and letting the other person lead.”
 
So how is Varun doing instigating friendships and building connections?
 
“I did a Meetup bar crawl after Jaunty. I live in Oakland and met three people who literally live ten blocks from me.” He went through the conversation structural script. They talked about the Warriors and more people joined in until it was a “social cyclone” with eight people. “I told myself I’ll just get two contact numbers and I’ll call this bar crawl a success.” He left with three numbers and became friends with two of their friends. He introduced them to some Jaunty people. Now they meet up all the time and have become good friends.
 
When asked who he thinks would benefit from Jaunty, Varun says, “I think anyone could, theoretically. But the ones who would benefit the most are the ones who know what they’re looking for. I wanted to get past the small talk. Other people in my class wanted to get more clients at a business meeting, other people want to talk with a potential date.”
 
Knowing his travel schedule for work wasn’t sustainable, Varun interviewed for a new job so he wouldn’t have to travel so much. He used a lot of the social intelligence skills he’d learned at Jaunty, including “cold reading,” being aware of his body language, “And a job interview version of the conversational formulas. People like that. The moment the interview becomes a conversation you know you’re doing something right.” Varun actually got a job offer and starts in February.  

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