Small talk is the polite conversation that we engage in about uncontroversial matters. Whether it’s at a party, the office, or on your walk to class, many of us engage in some form of small talk on a regular basis.
Many believe that small talk is a meaningless form of conversation simply designed to fill awkward silences, but this is far from the truth. When you open a conversation with the weather, sports, or your favorite movies, you lay the foundation for deeper interactions and friendships in the future. While this doesn’t change the fact that making small talk can be nerve wracking, it’s still possible to turn it into a meaningful experience.
1. Prepare yourself.
A lot of people have some disinclination towards making small talk, but if your anxiety goes beyond the general timidity, it may help to mentally prepare yourself before going out. One technique you could use is concentrating on your motivation for attending a social event.
For example, if you’re going to a friend’s graduation, your motivation for attending would be to commemorate them. Remembering your incentive to attend social events makes it so that your thoughts aren’t turned inward. This can be helpful because our anxieties about socializing often come from within rather than as a result of the situation.
People with anxiety often fear that they will be judged as clumsy and inarticulate during the conversation. If you’re thinking this way, it’s important to remember that most people are too busy worrying about themselves to be judgmental. It’s easy to assume that people are as critical of us as we are of ourselves but, if someone is making polite conversation with you, it’s likely that they enjoy your company and want to get to know you better.
2. Ask open ended questions.
When engaging in small talk, there is often the risk of making the person you’re talking to feel like they’re in an interview rather than a conversation. Avoid yes or no questions like, “Do you have a job?” or “Do you like indie music?” because they can be answered tersely and don’t invite deeper conversation.
Instead, ask questions that you’re both curious to know the answer to and the other person would likely be happy to expand on. If you ask questions like, “What’s the most interesting part of your job?” or “Where’s the most unique place you’ve ever traveled to?” you’re inviting deeper conversation. When you ask dynamic questions, you are more likely to receive dynamic answers and the person you’re engaging with will know that you are genuinely curious about what they have to say.
3. Find common ground.
If you’re at an event, it’s likely that you have at least one thing in common with everyone present. Open the conversation with that commonality in mind. For example, if you’re on your way to a concert with some new friends, an obvious point of interest for all of you would be your favorite types of music. If you bring up a story about how you became interested in this artist then the conversation will naturally develop and everyone will be able to contribute.
Even if the only thing you have in common with someone is a job or the fact that you’re both students, opening with a commonality will make both of you feel more at ease because you have a shared experience.
4. Set goals.
If you’re the kind of person that perceives small talk as empty conversation, it might be helpful to set goals for yourself. Make it a goal to engage in a polite conversation with one person or to learn two new things about someone every day. If you perceive small talk as a way to learn about a person’s interests and personality, you’ll be more excited to make small talk with others. This visible enthusiasm will make it so that the person you are making small talk with will be open to engaging in a meaningful conversation that goes past the surface level niceties.
The objective of this article is not to turn you into an extrovert because it’s not realistic for everyone in the world to be a social butterfly. But, with practice, you can improve your ability to make small talk because you’ll realize that this form of interaction, just like any other, is a way to connect with another person. There’s no pressure to be perfect.