Small talk is an essential skill. Imagine: you’re with a friend at a social she sees her co-worker and starts chatting. Then she goes to the dreaded washroom — leaving you all alone to continue the conversation she started with the friend who is not yet yours. There are two possible outcomes:
a) Non-existent conversation. You both just awkwardly stand together, looking about the room and fiddling with your smartphones, waiting a terribly long time for your friend to come back.
You need to know how to small talk effectively in order to arm yourself against awkward situations, because even if you’re not a shy person, your conversation partner might be. Here, we’re teaching you how to take charge of the conversation and keep it flowing.
Ask general questions and then narrow them down
Questions are conversation starters. If you don’t know anything about the person, ask something general like, “What do you do for a living?” or if you’re speaking to a student, “What do you study?” and then narrow down the subject. Follow up with something like, “Do you like your major?”
In order to reduce the time feigning interest, ask them about something you’re genuinely interested in too. Favourites is a great area to play. If you love food (who doesn’t, am I right), ask them what their favourite food is.
Stories are great for small talk
Stories and anecdotes take a long time to share (read: less time desperately wracking your brain for something to say next). If you can find a segue to a related story of yours, go for it. Extra points if you can make your partner share a story. People are generally more animated when talking about themselves or about a previous experience. If they remember it, it probably made a big enough emotional impact on them to allow them to come out of their shell a little more while sharing it.
Nod and respond
You need to show interest. This is extremely important for small talk. If you’re not showing interest, or your partner doesn’t feel like you care about what they’re saying, they won’t want to keep talking. And then it’ll get awkward. While they’re talking, keep encouraging them to continue by nodding and tactfully inject expression words like “yeah” or “uh huh”. If they feel like you’re really absorbed in what they’re saying, they will keep talking.
Smiling is another key to making your partner want to talk to you. Smiling makes you seem open and friendly, and makes them feel in turn more relaxed. Smiling, like yawns, is also one of those wonderful acts that are contagious. Keep the corners of your mouth lifted and you’ll make your partner respond similarly. It’ll lift the entire atmosphere of your dynamic and keep it light. Remember, it’s small talk, so it’s not supposed to be serious.
Pay attention to how the other person reacts
You’ll need to alter your conversation based on how your partner responds to the things you say or bring up. If you see their eyes light up at the mention of Starbucks, keep going along that stream. Similarly, you’ll also have to adjust your energy based on them. Simply put, if they’re more shy, don’t be overly outgoing and intimidate them. If they look uncomfortable or (gasp) bored, change the subject or your manner.
Fill the silence with laughter
Awkward silences are the bane of small talk. Instead of letting it go there, laugh. Sounds silly, but you’d be surprised how easily a little chuckle can be inserted seamlessly into your conversation. It fills the void and is super easy and requires no thinking. It also turns you into someone happy and cheerful.
Though small talk is small it’s a large effort. It involves active thinking, interpreting, and responding to what you see. If you turn passive or zone out, the conversation will stop. Unless your partner is a skilled small talk conversationalist who has similarly read this article, that is.
Small talk is often the bridge to proper relationships or connections. Master it, and not only will you not be awkward, but you’ll be a super social butterfly.
[quote_center]How comfortable are you with small talk?[/quote_center]
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