mall talk is necessary to survive day to day contact with coworkers, strangers, clients, and even family and friends. It can be mind-numbing and if you’re anything like us, the thought of dealing with small talk for more than a couple minutes can make you want to run for the hills. But, it doesn’t have to be this big of a disaster. 

It’s typical of introverts to completely dread the idea of small talk, going as far to avoid it completely by removing themselves from the situation. Turning the nail-biting anxiety that small talking induces for some into a calm and enjoyable experience is possible, though. All you need is use a couple tips and tricks that every small talk champion has in their back pocket. 

There are some golden rules to follow when it comes to creating more enjoyable small talk. 

Make it enjoyable 

Smiling woman holding a smiley face balloon
Small talk can be enjoyable if you stick to the right topics. 

Small talk typically has a negative connotation attached to it because of the awkward feelings it can create for some people. The key to creating a better conversation is actually wanting to be there in the first place. 

Going into a chat expecting it to be dull and painful, is only going to get you horrible results. If you want to survive the world of small talk without dreading every conversation you have, it’s crucial to flip your mindset to a more optimistic one. 

Your attitude really affects your day-to-day life, including the people you talk to. Your positivity can rub off on others. So, when you’re having a conversation with a stranger or an acquaintance, going in with an air of excitement can return amazing results. 

Stay calm and stop worrying about what other people think of you. 

We know this is easier said than done, especially when it comes to taking other people’s opinions to heart, but have you ever noticed how easy small talk seems for people who are very sure of themselves? It’s not that these people are necessarily any better at small talk, they just speak with conviction which makes the conversation more enjoyable. 

If you’re speaking to someone about their new job and their thoughts and explanations regarding what they do seem unfocused or lacking confidence, the conversation may start to feel uncomfortable for both parties. Speaking with confidence won’t only increase the interest of the person you’re talking to, it may also help them feel relaxed and capable in their own small talk abilities, allowing the conversation to thrive. 

Confidence is purely mental. Walking into a room and believing in yourself is less about how others perceive you and more about how you feel about yourself. Even if you don’t feel confident on the inside, the more and more you practice putting yourself out there with your best foot forward, the easier it becomes, and eventually your confidence will become a reality. The only person blocking the path to this confidence is you. 

Contribute something valuable to the conversation. 

At the root of every good conversation is engaging material. Talking about the weather or how crazy traffic has been after work is NOT going to interest the other party when carrying on a conversation. These day-to-day occurrences have been used in small talk for far too long and it’s time to end the discussion surrounding them. Using a relatable subject as an intro to a more substantial topic is perfectly fine, but if you find yourself leaning into the topic of weather, it’s time to change gears. 

The number one reason most people tend to freeze up during small talk stems from their belief  that they have little to add to a conversation. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Just as you’re curious about the person you’re talking to, they’re curious about your life as well. Talk about what you do for a hobby or a project you’d like to get started on, but keep it short and sweet.  

If you find yourself droning on and on for minutes without stop, your conversation has turned into more of a monologue. This can cause the other party to zone out or feel uninterested. If you mention a hobby you’re interested in, try to swing the conversation back to the other party by asking “Have you ever wanted to try something like that?” This will help balance the conversation out so you don’t spend the entire time talking about yourself. 

Spend less time talking and more time listening

A man listening through a string and paper cup phone
Listening is the best way to keep a conversation going in the right direction. 

As we said in the rule above, it’s important to create a delicate balance when holding a conversation with someone for the first time. Most people who are nervous about small talk may spend the majority of the conversation thinking about the next thing they’re going to say instead of actively listening to what the other party is talking about. This won’t only create a weird dynamic within the conversation, but it may end it completely. 

Truly listening to what another person has to say and responding to it shows that you genuinely care about their opinion, which can help create a new friendship. 

Focus on the conversation at hand. 

Depending on where you’re using small talk, it can be easy to get distracted by your surroundings, the to-do list in your head, or something else entirely. Be sure to stay attentive and engaged when taking part in small talk. Staring around the room at other people or consistently breaking eye in the middle of a conversation will give the other party the idea that you’re losing interest—which may make them feel uncomfortable or slighted. 

Put the phone away. This is a non-negotiable rule of small-talk etiquette. Our phones are practically glued to our hands 24/7 these days, so we understand the urge to check a glowing screen that pops up mid conversation, however, nothing is more inconsiderate than checking in on a phone conversation when you’re currently carrying a conversation in real life. Unless you’re dealing with a true emergency or something that can’t wait a few minutes, you should be fully present with the conversation at hand. 

Ask open-ended questions: 

Questions are a valuable asset in small talk, but certain questions can lead to a dull sequence of one-word answers, which can be hard to return from. To avoid this, ask open ended questions that require nuanced answers to expand the conversation. 

Instead of asking someone, “Where are you from?” Ask them, “Is this city anything like your hometown?” This will give them the floor to talk about themselves and the place they’re from for a bit, and hopefully open up different avenues the conversation can veer off to.  

You can also utilize follow-up questions that allow for the other party to add onto their answer even further. Asking someone, “Have you watched any good movies recently?” is a good question, but building off on it with “Do you have any recommendations?” will give you both the opportunity to get a better feel for each other’s sense of humor and what TV shows and movies you might like. 

Small talk is a two-way street

Also, if you’re putting your best foot forward and asking intuitive questions that lead the way for interesting conversation, but it still feels like you’re coming up dry, the issue may not be with you. A conversation requires the participation of two parties. If the person you’re talking to is only supplying you with vague answers that don’t leave room for any elaboration on your end, there’s not much you can do. 

If a conversation goes south or doesn’t take off at all, don’t blame yourself. Just like with dating, not every person you talk to is going to be a good fit for your personality. Your love of pottery might be a huge hit with one person, but uninteresting for another. You’ll talk to hundreds, maybe thousands of people in your lifetime, not every conversation is going to be a hit. You just have to move onto the next conversation with the same confident attitude and try again. 

Small talk for every situation 

Networking small talk

Three coworkers working on a project together
Small talk in the workplace can help you move up. 

Great small talk can be the deciding factor when networking or applying for jobs. Most of the time hiring managers are looking for someone who has the personality that fits their team and brand. Although small talk doesn’t seem like it would make a huge difference, it can really work out in your favor if you bring your A-game when talking with a recruiter or hiring manager when you’re being considered for a specific position.

Most job interviews begin with a little bit of small talk to lighten the mood and ease anxiety before diving into the bigger, job-related questions. Using this time to find common ground with the hiring manager can make your interview memorable enough to secure a second round of interviews or the job itself.  

Remember to breathe, stay calm, and be yourself. It will all work out in the end. 

Family small talk

We’ve all been there. You’re at your family’s annual reunion and great aunt Sally traps you in the corner by the cookie table demanding to know about your life. Just because the only thing you and Great Aunt Sally have in common is your last name doesn’t mean you can’t find something to talk to her about. Try some of these questions: 

  • What have you been up to lately? Working on any hobbies or good books?
  • Have you tried that new restaurant down the street? They have the best burgers. 
  • I’m loving your hair. Have you gotten it done recently? Where do you go? 

Dating small talk

two people sharing a glass of wine at dinner
A date can go from good to great thanks to small talk. 

So many first dates are filled with the basic questions of “Where are you from?" “What are your hobbies” “Where do you work” that it can start feeling like you’re interviewing for a job. Those awkward, stilted questions and answers are one of the reasons dating is so hard.

Keeping the conversation light and staying far away from the typical first date questions will help you get to know your date better and possibly open up the opportunity for a second date. Instead of asking the typical first-date questions, try to use some of these alternatives.

  • Have you watched any movies or TV shows lately that you can’t stop recommending to people? 
  • What’s the craziest thing you’ve done? I’ll go first. 
  • If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life what would it be?
  • If you had to pick one song that you could listen to for the first time all over again what would it be? 

We hope these helpful small talk tips will make your next social outing a little less intimidating. Just remember these simple rules and have fun with it! You may just meet your new best friend. 

Jul 12, 2021