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How to Get Past the Small Talk When You Really Hate It

people grouped in circle talking

Small talk can be daunting for introverts, but it can also be boring for anyone who needs something a little more engaging. Here are a few tricks that can help you get past that awkward initial stage. 

Check Yourself

If you’re heading to a networking event, a party, or even a date, the first thing you should focus on is your attitude. Nobody is a big fan of small talk, but it’s sometimes necessary to get a conversation started. There are ways to fast forward through that phase with a few conversational tricks, though, and you should keep in mind that it’s not all just about the talking. 

Think about it. Would you feel inclined to go up to someone who’s standing with their arms crossed, slightly furrowed eyebrows, and not even a hint of a smile on their face?

Body language is something we forget to consider sometimes, yet it’s crucial when it comes to first impressions. You want to look friendly and approachable—the kind of person who’s open for casual chitchat. A smile and a relaxed stance can do the trick. Finding something to hold, such as a drink or a piece of paper, is an easy way to keep your hands busy and avoid having them tightly crossed to your chest, which might look like a defensive position.

Interacting with someone who seems friendly makes you feel comfortable and gives you a sense of trust. That’s usually what instigates quality conversations. Offering smiles and a polite laugh here and there while avoiding judgemental and snarky remarks will get you far. It will make the other person feel safe and disposed to share more details about themselves. 

Show Real Interest

Whether you’re at a work event or at an intimate meet up, show honest interest in the discussion. Listen carefully to what the other person is saying, show them that you’re there because you want to be, not because you have to be. We all like to feel special and having someone carefully listening to what you’re saying makes you feel appreciated. 

Ask questions and focus on the answers. However, instead of jumping from one standard question to the next, try to get more details out of the answers. By asking specific questions that require more elaborate answers you’re breaking the automatic pattern of small talk and stir the conversation in a more fruitful direction. 

For example, instead of a conversation like this…

You: “Where are you from?”

Them: “I’m from Oregon, but I’ve been living here for most of my life now. You?”

You: “Nice. I’m from Ohio.”

Them: “I see”…

…aim for something like this:

You: “Where are you from?”

Them: “I’m from Oregon, but I’ve been living here for most of my life now. You?”

You: “I’m from Ohio. So what brought you down here?”

Them: “Well, I left when I started college in a different state, then I thought I’d go back, but ended up getting a job here, so I made the move and haven’t left since.”

You: “Oh I see. You’ve moved around a bit. What college did you go to?”

Asking something specifically related to the other person’s answers will show them that you’re interested in what they have to say and they’ll be more willing to share more details, especially if they feel like they can trust you. 

If you struggle to come up with a question, it also helps to make leading comments that will make the other individual add more to the dialogue. 

For example:

You: “Where are you from?”

Them: “I’m from Oregon, but I’ve been living here for most of my life now. You?”

You: “I’m from Ohio. I’ve never been to Oregon, but I hear it’s lovely. I would love to visit Mount Hood. Apparently, it’s a must-see when you’re there…”

Them: “Absolutely. I was there last year and I loved it. In fact…”

By just making a comment or stating a fact, you’re guiding them to do most of the talking, which will inevitably lead to more material for you to ask about or make more comments on. Eventually, you’ll find a common interest and the small talk will be a thing of the past. 

Offer More Than Just A Word

closeup of young couple talking

Though convenient, constantly asking questions might make the other person feel a bit uncomfortable. To avoid having them think they’re being given the third degree, try to offer more elaborate replies or add more to the conversation whenever possible. If they’re not asking you “why'”or “how,” you can share those details yourself to embellish your statement and give them more material to ponder over. 

Instead of answering the question “How are you?” with a quick “Fine, you?” try something a little different: “Not bad; I spent the day hiking in the park and it was beautiful. How was your day?”

One simple question can lead to a five-minute long response that might include a funny anecdote, an inside look into their personality, and information you didn’t even think you needed to know. That’s why it’s easier to move on past small talk when there’s a more outgoing person involved. There’s always plenty of material to work with, yielding in-depth questions and commentary. 

Remember, the whole idea here is getting past the small talk. You’re looking for stories, not answers.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Personal

Humans seem to have an innate instinct to trust those who show that they care about them. When we feel like there’s a connection, we open up and share intimate details about our lives.

Although common sense would deter us from trusting a stranger too much, being a bit vulnerable with them might just encourage them to do the same with you. People appreciate honesty and feel more willing to open up about their own insecurities and flaws when they sense they won’t be judged or made fun of. It helps establish a real connection, and that’s what you should strive for. 

Finding relatable things, whether it’s a personality trait or a similar experience, can make a conversation more meaningful. To ensure smooth sailing, it helps to ask thoughtful questions—the kind that will make the person think before answering and maybe even share stories with you.

Pick Up On Their Passion

Finding out a person’s passion in conversation is like winning the jackpot. The reason is simple: when you ask a person about something they are truly passionate for, they can go on and on about it for a while, leaving you to listen and nod along as they tell you everything about it. This means there’s very little talking for you to do. 

Not only that, but it’s also fascinating listening to someone discuss a subject they know a lot about and care about so deeply. If you’re familiar with the topic, you can contribute to the conversation by exchanging views on something you are both interested in. If you’re not, you get to learn something new while also enjoying the high level of enthusiasm that usually exudes from a passionate individual talking about their favorite subject. 

Nobody enjoys small talk. It can be discouraging or intimidating, but sometimes it can lead to meaningful conversations that turn into lifelong relationships. You just need to master the ways of getting around small talk and dive deeper into the interaction. 

Carla Cometto Carla Cometto
Carla has been writing professionally for five years and blogging for many more. She's worked as a journalist, photographer, and translator. She's also an avid traveler who hopes to inspire a sense of curiosity and adventure in others through her writing. Read Full Bio »
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