Small talk gets a bad rep, as a useless and shallow approach to conversation. However, in reality, it is a very important social skill. Small talk is the kind of conversation you have with people you don’t know very well, often in an environment where being pleasant is important and polite.
Small talk helps you maintain conversations with strangers, friends of a friend, or colleagues. It helps smooth interactions over. But for many, small talk is difficult. Here are the ways you can get really good at it.
1. Talk about the things you have in common
Even though folk wisdom suggests that opposites attract, in reality we tend to prefer the people who are similar to us. One of the first rules of small talk is to identify the commonalities. If you are making small talk while waiting in line, you might discuss whatever it is you are waiting for.
If you are both friends with the same person, you might talk about them. The first idea for a chat is a location or the situation you are both in. This commonality is a given and often the easiest way of sparking a conversation with a stranger.
Secondly, you might consider a common interest or a topic that can bring you both together. Finally, if you are not meeting the person for the first time, you might bring up a common experience, if it’s not something unpleasant, of course.
2. Bring a little emotion into your questions
Talking about the weather is justified if there is an unusual situation, like an extreme heat or a tough rain. However, this topic is generally considered dull.
Small talk should stay away from controversial subjects, at least, at first, but this doesn’t mean it needs to be bland. If you ask what the person does for a living, they might not be very interested.
Instead, steer the talk towards something that can inspire enthusiasm, interest, or fun. Ask questions that can have interesting answers.
3. Be comfortable with pauses
A pause is awkward. You might feel the pressure of filling the silence with anything, any kind of chatter to feel less awkward.
However, the results are not usually the best. Instead, it’s useful to let the silence linger, take a deep breath, and relax before speaking. Let the other person take a step forward and don’t force a conversation that is not going well.
4. Pay attention to the answers
A common mistake we make during conversation is thinking about what we are going to say next at the cost of not paying attention.
It’s important not only to ask questions, but to hear the answers. They will help us come up with new questions, and the person we are talking to will feel as if we are interested in the talk. This helps create a more pleasant atmosphere.
5. Avoid hot button topics
Some topics can be very controversial. While they can help move along the chat if both people agree on them, they can also lead to heated discussions and even fights. In the case of small talk, it’s best to stay away from controversial issues, such as current politics, gender issues, sports, religion, and others.
If the topic does come up, you can express your opinion in a diplomatic way and gauge the reaction. Escalating an argument can be a bad idea in the situation, so it’s best to be polite and civil, not assuming that the other person shares or has to share our opinion.
6. Be authentic
Small talk is perceived as this forced kind of chat, but there is no reason it needs to be fake or difficult. We should try to be authentic as much as we can. We should not push ourselves to compliment something we don’t like – a better strategy is to find a topic that sparks our interest and explore it. We won’t express our innermost desires and fears, but we should be authentic within the bounds of politeness.
When we are both genuine and tactful, small talk becomes much easier and flows much more naturally.