The universally dreaded by-product of long car trips and work parties, it is hard to go a day without finding yourself making small talk with someone you hardly know.
Despite this, small talk is also something that most people feel that they are not good at.
While most interactions with strangers or colleagues aren’t expected to be heart-to-hearts, there has to be something to talk about besides the weather… right?
How to make small talk easily
Here’s the thing – while it may be impossible to escape small talk altogether, it is possible to change how you feel about it.
By doing so, you can change these short interactions with those you meet into a chance to make a connection and learn about the people around you.
These five tips and tricks will prove invaluable in many situations, no matter how shy you are. If you put these into practice, you may find that people actually start to consider you as one of the most friendly and outgoing people they know!
Tip #1: Focus on the other person
Here’s something that is almost universally true, people love to talk about themselves. While they may not be comfortable baring their soul to a stranger, most people will be more than happy to talk about how they feel about a situation, what they’re in the middle of doing, or where they’re headed.
Parents and grandparents love to talk about their children, university students love to talk about what they are studying, and many people enjoy discussing what it is that they do for a living.
If you keep the conversation focused on your conversational partner, they will come away from the chat feeling as though you really took an interest in them and their lives, and that’s a pleasant experience for anyone! [Read: 3 steps to keep a conversation going and 8 things to remember in your conversation]
Tip #2: Remember Details *including names!*
Often, the people we make small talk with are people that we see every day for a short period of time. One of the best ways to make these meetings more of a connection without necessarily having longer conversations is to remember small details about the person.
Above all else, remembering someone’s name is the best thing that you can do to improve their impression of you. Learning names can be daunting, but once you know a couple of facts about someone (e.g. Reggie really likes baseball, and just adopted a golden retriever), you’ll be surprised how quickly you begin to remember names. [Read: How to network at a party and look cool doing it!]
Tip #3: Offer some information about yourself
As much as the focus of your conversation should be kept on the person you are talking to, no one wants to talk to a complete stranger. For this reason, you should also offer up some fast facts about yourself.
This is easiest to do if you have also done something/traveled somewhere/met someone that the person you are talking to has – a quick “no way, me too!” can be a very easy way to establish a bond between you and the person you are talking to.
Tip #4: Don’t over-share
Offering some information about yourself is important, but offering too much information *or the wrong kind of information!* can kill a conversation quicker than almost anything else. Keep facts about yourself short and sweet, and don’t venture into any hot-topics when you’re just making small talk.
If you are only at the level of making small talk with this person, they do not need to know about your relationship problems, your biggest insecurities, or anything else that should only be shared with close friends and family. These boundaries need to be kept to ensure that the person you are talking to feels comfortable in the conversation. [Read: 20 signs you’re a people pleaser and don’t know it!]
Tip #5: Know when silence is appropriate
While small talk is the norm for most parts of our lives, there are situations where small talk just isn’t appropriate – elevator rides or commuter trains being prime examples. By watching those around you *are they trying to talk or choosing to remain silent?* and the body language of the people you do try to talk to *do they look engaged, or are they constantly glancing elsewhere?* you should be able to gather whether or not you are in a situation where small talk is appropriate.
It is very important to watch out for these social cues, as you do not want to make those around you uncomfortable.
Small talk starters in different scenarios
Whether you realize it or not, there are a few places where small talk is almost always certain. And if know how to deal with these situations, you’ll find that you can twist a few words and incorporate small talk into any other scenario.
Here are a few good general tips, along with specific situations where the rules differ slightly. [Read: 15 easy conversation starters to use with someone you like]
Scenario #1 Around the water cooler
Small talk can be difficult with co-workers. After all, you see them every day, but don’t have the time or the professional ability to become best of friends. In this case, try to pick up on one or two things that are important to your co-worker like a sports team or a home renovation project that you can discuss in slightly more detail than you would in a normal small talk conversation.
Additionally, with co-workers it can be important to listen for clues that larger life events are taking place – appropriate responses to a death in the family, or a big win for their child are definitely not out-of-place in this situation. [Read: 8 tips to be good friends with coworkers without overstepping the boundaries]
Scenario #2 At the coffee shop
At this point, your barista has your coffee order and name memorized, surely that means that you share a connection deep enough for a longer chat? Unfortunately, in this situation *and in several others where you come into contact with those doing you a service as part of their job* his attention to detail is what makes him good at his job – not an invitation for a heart-to-heart.
Trying to have an in-depth conversation with your barista as they work is not appropriate for the location, may make them uncomfortable, and will likely make the wait-time longer for those behind you in line.
Save these interactions to a quick “crazy day today!” or “beautiful weather outside!” with a big smile. Showing your appreciation for their work and recognition by using their name is important, but leave it at that!
Scenario #3 At a bar
Bars are magical places where, if the music’s quiet enough for talking, you may find that the rule to not over-share doesn’t apply as strictly. In these sort of situations, where people are looking for more of a human connection than they would be at work or in a coffee shop, feel free to open up a bit more *although it’s still very important that you gauge other people’s comfort levels with the subject matter!* [Read: Easy ways to be funny and make people love your company]
Scenario #4 Traveling
Traveling is one of the trickiest situations to gauge – some people love nothing more than making best friends with the person sitting next to them on the plane, while others would rather just put their headphones on and fall asleep.
To test the waters, it’s easy to ask a simple question. “Why are you traveling to _____” is a great starter. If your seat-mate responds with a single word and a roll of their eyes, it’s probably best for you to start flipping through the inflight entertainment.
If, however, they begin to excitedly tell you about the backpacking trip they have planned, it’s a chance to connect over shared experiences and what you hope to see on your own travels. [Read: The 12 types of humor and how it affects your conversations and your relationships]
Small talk doesn’t have to be awkward!
Small talk can be frightening, but there are very few people who actually have it all figured out. Using these tips and tricks, you will be able to fake confidence in your own abilities so that others can’t tell you’re nervous. And slowly, you’ll begin to believe it yourself! Before long, you’ll be on a first name basis with everyone you cross paths with, and you will have set the stage for a lot of interesting stories and interactions.
[Read: 18 insightful reasons why you have difficulty making friends]
The next time you’re standing next to someone you’d like to talk to, but don’t know how to start the conversation, just keep these easy tips on how to make small talk in mind. Just try it once, and you’ll see just how effortless it can be!
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