Making small talk

Small talk is social lubricant; it facilitates social interactions from meeting at a party, to chatting in the office, to spending time with great aunt Lillian. We call it “small” but in fact it anything but small, it serves a vital social function yet not all of us are at ease with it. Like anything else small talk is a skill and like any other skill it can be learned. Now a researchers from Indiana University has laid out the elements of successful small talk so you can train yourself in them.

Start small – if you aren’t comfortable with small talk start making yourself comfortable by beginning with smiles at people or any things you can do on a regular basis to get you familiar with making easy contact with others.

Be nice, not brilliant – aim to be nice, pleasant company. Don’t worry about being witty, people prefer a nice person who is willing to talk to a dazzling raconteur.

Ease up on yourself – don’t be so critical of yourself that you believe what you have to say will not be interesting to others. You have unique perspectives and you do have something to say, just don’t self-critique yourself into thinking you don’t. Small talk is about saying something, saying anything.

Rehearse your introduction – this might sound a bit unnatural but if you tend to freeze in social situations then you need to rehearse how you introduce yourself to people. What people want to know from you is your name and something about you. Offer information that will provide a chance for conversation, even how you know the people in the situation or what brings you there.

Extend the conversation – dead-end conversations are ones that stay within the boundaries of one topic. Look for ways to extend the conversation into new areas. If you have been talking about a shopping centre for a while try, “I bought these socks at the shopping centre and when I took them home I used them as a strainer to make cheese.” It might not earn immediate admiration but it will push the conversation in new directions.

Stop talking – if you have been talking on a “favourite” topic for ten minutes other people will be getting bored. Change tack and hear what other people have to say, small talk is about listening too.

Short is good – don’t be afraid to say that you have to move on as there are other things you have to do or people to speak to. Small talk doesn’t have to be long, in fact it can be more effective if it has quick, easy endings.

There you have it, you are fully armed now to be a big wheel in the wide world of small talk.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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