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Small talk, professional or private, is meant here as a short conversation with someone you don´t know well. It can have different purposes such as “killing” the time, introducing yourself to someone, getting to know each other, sharing opinions, finding out answers to your questions.

By its nature, small talk involves building some mutual connection that can help both sides to feel more comfortable in the situation.

How do you become better at small talk?

 

 

Work on your mindset


What do you actually think about small talk? It will show!

As much as 70-90% of the impression you make on the other person will depend on your non-verbal communication: your posture, tone of voice, eye contact, facial expressions etc., rather than what you say. Most non-verbal communication is done unconsciously, and it will express your true attitude to making small talk with that person.

 

If you have the feeling that small talk requires you to not be yourself, it might be worth exploring the topic in more depth, on your own or with a coach who can help you find out what prevents you from feeling natural and comfortable in small talk situations, and what you can do to remain truly yourself and still enjoy small talk.

If you enjoy small talk, it usually goes well. If you feel uncomfortable about it, the outcome of it might reinforce your dislike. Focusing your attention on finding something enjoyable about small talk will already make you feel more confident in such situations and will make the talks run more smoothly.

 

Learn some technical tips

 

  • Start small talk with sending positive vibes.

Before saying anything, you can already send the person your positive vibes and connect non-verbally: through eye contact, a gesture or a smile. To send these vibes, you can imagine that you are making an invitation for a talk, without any words at all. Think of something such as: “It seems like we are both waiting here. Shall we use the time for a nice talk?”

If it works out and the person reacts by accepting your “invitation” and smiles back, then you can move to the next point and start the talk.

Have you had experience of people who did not respond to your interest, who did not want to make contact with you? Maybe she or he was just shy and one more encouragement from your side could have given the person confidence to go on with the talk. However, it might also be that the person was really not interested in small talk. It is not necessarily related to you: the person might just have been busy with theirown thoughts, or feeling unwell, or had some other reason not to talk to you at that moment. Just accept it, everybody has moments like that. Try it on another occasion or with a different person.

 

  • Pick an initial statement or a question: refer to something that you have in common

You can, for example, describe what you have observed and might have in common, or you can ask something.

Some authors do not recommend using questions that can be answered with pure yes or no. In my opinion, in many languages the yes/no questions sound more natural, at least at the beginning of a conversation. At the same time, with yes/no questions you are giving the other person the choice of either replying very briefly (e.g. nodding) or going into a further talk with you. So I think open questions and yes/no questions are both equally suitable at the beginning. If you later decide you would like to get to know the person better, then with open questions you can find out more about them.

Some examples of starting statements or questions may include:

Are you keeping those seats for your colleagues or could I join you?

Did you also get lost before you found this place?

Oh, it´s so cold today. Are you also longing for spring?

I just read the same book you are holding. How do you like it so far?

I wonder why there are so few people here today. Do you have any idea?

That´s an eye-catching picture, isn´t it? How do you like the exhibition?

You seem to know a lot of people already... I’m new here. (Introduce yourself). Do you have any advice for me before I approach other people?

 

  • Remain neutral or positive

Stating any strong and especially negative opinion during small talk can be very risky. Although in movies even angry beginnings can lead to big love or a great business deal, in reality I would recommend you to remain neutral or positive. You cannot know who you are talking to and what the opinions of the other person are. It could easily turn out to be a faux pas.

Thus it’s better to avoid any negative statements such as: “This doctor never sees patients on time, does he.” Or, “That colleague, she is really horrible, isn´t she?”.

If you prefer making statements that are not neutral, then better go for something positive – you might still find out the other person is of a different opinion, but you are less likely to be impolite. E.g.: “I love this painting. It´s cool, isn´t it?”

Be careful with statements that are positive, but include a negative one between the lines: E.g. “I am really happy about the new boss, that´s a clear improvement, isn´t it?” Or: “Finally, one great Canadian movie”. You can say that in talks to close friends who are neither relatives of your previous boss nor half-Canadian – or at least you are fully aware of who they are and your friendship has a firm foundation.

 

  • Ask and listen

While many people wonder what to say during small talk, it is often better to talk less and listen more. Showing your interest and attention can be much more impressive than showing off loads of knowledge. Listen carefully and ask more. Talk when you are asked a question, avoiding long monologues.

 

  • Use humour

Unless you are in situations where humour is considered strictly unsuitable, use it. You do not need to have unbeatable comic talent. A smile and not taking yourself too seriously will also work.

 

  • Be aware of (inter)cultural basics

If you are in an international environment, or abroad, it is useful to be aware of intercultural differences related to small talk. For example, the physical distance you should keep from the other person; who is (not) supposed to start a talk; which topics are suitable or unsuitable; what sort of humour is acceptable – can differ a lot across cultures.

 

Practise


You can read a lot of theory and advice related to small talk, but your confidence will grow only with practice.

Small talk can be easier in some situations than others, so do not wait for an event of great importance to you, practise it in everyday situations: with shop assistants, postmen, co-travellers or with colleagues you have not talked much to before.

Notice what you have enjoyed in the situations and remind yourself of the nicest experiences – for an instant confidence boost when needed.

If you are rather shy, start with practising just the non-verbal part: send your positive vibes  whenever you find someone likeable and make your connections through eye contact and smiles. When you get more confident with that, start practising talks too.

 

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