No one likes small talk, it’s the epitome of awkwardness. Whether you’re at an event or occasion with lots of people you don’t know or maybe a work conference, we’ve all been in situations where small talk is inevitable. That’s right, countless times it seems we’re forced to feign interest and try to discuss something trivial like the weather. There are plenty of times we need to fill a silence, and unfortunately, small talk is pretty much unavoidable.
Many interactions throughout our lives will require us to participate in small talk, so we might as well perfect it and try to make it a less awkward situation for all parties involved. Plus, almost all interactions we have with people in our lives start with small talk, so if you learn to do it well, you could end up making new friends or fostering important relationships. But how exactly can you make small talk less awkward?
TALK ABOUT THE PRESENT MOMENT
If you know absolutely nothing about the person you’re interacting with, small talk is somewhat difficult to do. Enter the age-old “lovely weather, isn’t it?” comment. But while this particular line is over-done and drab, the idea behind it is actually along the right lines.
Commenting about the weather is drawing attention or starting a conversation about a present condition that both parties are experiencing. This means you don’t need to know any details about the other person to engage in a conversation, you don’t even need to have remembered their name. Just try to come up with a present moment discussion that isn’t as boring as the weather. Maybe the food or the occasion you’re attending. Sure, still a little boring, but at least not quite as cliche.
ASK QUESTIONS THAT DON’T HAVE A ONE-WORD ANSWER
What’s more awkward than asking a string of questions in an attempt to make conversation only to be responded to with “yes” or “no” every time. To avoid this, ask open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a single word. If you do get a one-word answer, come up with a follow-up question to keep the topic of conversation moving. Just make sure you’re aware of short answers that are indicating a person is uncomfortable with the topic and move on to a new one.
AVOID TALKING ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE THINGS
This may sound a bit counterintuitive because, when struggling to find something to talk about, most of us fall back on the things we know. However, it’s actually better to avoid talking about your favorite things in small talk scenarios, because it can lead to you rambling on and on. Before you know it, the other party hasn’t got a word in edgeways for 15 minutes and just walks away awkwardly.
That being said, if the conversation naturally gravitates towards something you love and both parties have in common, don’t shy away. Just make sure you’re letting the other person have a chance to speak, too.
ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT THEM
Try not to be too nosey, certainly don’t dive straight in with the awkward personal questions, but asking questions about the other person is a good way to initiate conversation. It’s also a good idea to ask things like “what’s occupying you these days?” which leaves plenty of room for the other person to elaborate without feeling like you’re prying in their private life. As you start to ask questions, you may naturally notice that the conversation gets easier as you find out about them and things that you might have in common.
FOLLOW CONVERSATIONAL LEADS
We already talked about not asking questions that elicit one-word responses, and on that note, don’t be the “single word responder” yourself. Follow conversational leads and prompts that encourage you to keep the conversation moving, this means avoiding those pesky single word answers. For many, this will come naturally, but it’s understandable that some people aren’t as talkative as others. If the latter sounds like you, just pay closer attention to the conversational prompts and cues being elicited by the other party.
COMMENT ON GENERAL TOPICS
Whatever you do, do not start small talk with controversial conversation starters. Steer well clear of touchy subjects like politics and religion. Instead, try to comment on more generally liked or understood topics. Keep it light-hearted, there’s no better way to ruin a conversation than by diving right into a heated debate. It can be helpful to peruse the news or current events beforehand to come up with ideas that can be conversation starters, just make sure whatever you choose to chat about isn’t too heavy.
LASTLY… KNOW WHEN AND HOW TO EXIT GRACEFULLY
There will come a time when the small talk will end and it’ll be your cue to leave. Or maybe you want to leave. Regardless, don’t just stop talking and walk away awkwardly, ensure you make a graceful exit that isn’t going to offend the other person and leave them wondering what they did wrong. Excuse yourself politely, you can even pre-plan a script for what you say when you need to leave the conversation. Always thank the other party for the good talk and don’t just leave them hanging.
Small talk done right doesn’t have to be an awkward experience. It’s not that difficult to make small talk a more enjoyable occasion for everyone involved. What’s more, the better you get at small talk, the more likely you’ll end up having conversations that actually interest you. Who knows, you could even end up making a friend for life.