Small talk: you either love it or you hate it…
OK, so most of us probably veer towards the latter. But no matter how you feel about small talk, there’s no denying that it’s an essential part of both your personal and professional life. This means that being good at it could be the key to building professional connections – and ultimately furthering your career.
To make sure you’re making the most of your conversations, here are five ways to be better at small talk:
Keep your knowledge current
When it comes to nailing small talk, it’s all about what you know.
Not only will educating yourself on current events, news, and popular culture give you some interesting conversation starters, you’ll also be able to impress the listener with your knowledge – especially if you’re keeping up-to-date with something you’re particularly passionate about.
Just make sure it’s recent news – and you keep things neutral. If in doubt, steer clear of anything overly political, just in case.
And if you’re not much of a news person? That’s fine too. Talking about what’s happening in the latest Netflix shows or a film you saw at the cinema recently is also good small talk territory.
Not as highbrow? Sure. But who needs to talk about Brexit THAT OFTEN?
Stop faking it
If you have to feign an interest, you’re doing small talk wrong.
OK, so not everything you hear during elevator/water cooler/networking chat is going to be ground-breaking information. But the best small talkers know how to diminish the dull in any conversation, whether it’s through asking open ended questions or simply choosing a topic you both care about.
Spending more time listening than you do talking is also a great way to show you genuinely care about what the person has to say. The same goes for demonstrating positive body language, through nodding, smiling, and maintaining eye contact.
And, if you pay attention carefully enough, you’ll be able to elaborate on the areas with the most substance – turning what was once a throwaway comment into a real conversation.
Just make sure you aren’t tempted to hijack the conversation by talking about yourself. Nobody likes someone who makes everything about them.
Don’t be a stranger
When it comes to small talk – strangers don’t exist.
So forget everything you’ve learnt about people you don’t know being terrible, and pretend you’re talking to an old friend; ultimately allowing you to say goodbye to any instinctual trust issues.
The result? You’ll be able to avoid the seemingly (but not actually) essential niceties that only give small talk a bad name. Because reeling off a standard introduction (that you’ve probably said at least 17 times), talking about where you’re from, or anything else excessively vague, is not fun. For anyone involved.
And, the faster you open up, the faster you can skip those parts that no one really cares about.
N.B. when it comes to the streets, strangers do most definitely exist and you should definitely avoid them – for your own safety. #justsaying.
Be better than the weather
Sure, talking about how it’s particularly cold today, or ‘we’ve had a lot of rain recently’ is a great conversational back up; but it shouldn’t be the only thing you talk about.
If you’ve met the person before (even if only briefly) try to remember facts about them or their life that you can drop into conversation. For example, you might’ve found out they have a new puppy, which gives you the perfect opportunity to ask how he’s doing.
Not only is this a great way to personalise the conversation, it’ll also show you’re a good listener.
But if you don’t know them at all? That’s fine too.
In addition to asking open ended questions, referring to current events, and elaborating on your answers to their questions with interesting facts, you can also get conversational cues from your surroundings – whether it’s a function, restaurant, or party.
Keep it clean
Whilst avoiding generic conversation starters is a great way to make your chat more unique – there are certainly some areas of conversation that don’t belong in small talk.
So, as a general rule, try to keep it interesting and upbeat, without delving too deep into sensitive (and serious) topics like politics, religion, or anything else that’s likely to elicit strong opinions.
And if something you strongly disagree with is brought up? Avoid the urge to argue, and calmly change the subject.
You may also find that personal matters (e.g. your most recent Tinder date) are best avoided.
If you’re unsure of what’s out of bounds, just read the room, and change the subject if you sense any awkward silences or dismissive body language.
Lastly, keep it positive – particularly if you’re in a work-based setting. Although you might be itching to vent about a particularly difficult customer, colleague, or piece of work, you never know who might be within earshot.
Hint: it could be your manager.
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