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How to nail the subtle art of small talk


BY KEVIN SAWYER – Developing the ability to “small talk” can be one of the most challenging, yet rewarding, things you may ever do. In the age where social media has nearly destroyed actual face to face human interaction and conversation, nailing the art of small talk can open a ton of proverbial doors.

Turns out, however, that, like pretty much everything else, the more you practice, the better you will get at it. Small talk, experts say, is essential in developing trust with another person. The small talk leads to the big talk which is what everyone really wants to get to anyway. It is relatively easy to talk “at” someone but quite another to try and have a conversation of depth where two people are actually talking “to” and “with” one another.

Where you are, the environment you are in, can affect the small talk and the chit chat. Being at a party or a bar may dictate that small talk is aimed at making a more serious social connection which may bloom into a romantic relationship. Being in the supermarket or just getting out of a workout at the gym throws a whole different context into the mix. Small talk is all about making that initial connection with another human being.

On of the foremost things to remember is that most people enjoy talking about themselves. Another is to remember an iron clad rule that successful sales people always follow: never ask a “yes” or “no” question. Never ask a question where either of those choices is the only available answer. Actually taking the time to develop meaningful questions to ask, and practicing them, will go a long way to removing the awkwardness of it all. Getting beyond “how are you?” or “what do you do for work?” can mean the difference between something superficial and something really special.

Introverts, of course, find the whole process extremely painful and they struggle with it far more intensely than the extroverts. Another great tip is to employ what sales people call “mirroring”. This means that you copy the body language and movements of the people you are talking with. It is a subtle gesture that causes people to relax and trust you. Also, you would do well to avoid religion and politics.

So, how about some small talk questions that may really lead to some big talk?

“What’s the best thing you love about your job? What exciting things are you working on?”

“What did you want to be when you grew up? How’s that going?”

“If you could be doing anything right now, what would it be and why?”

“Read any great books or seen any great movies lately? Do you have an all time favorite book or movie?”

“What apps do you have on your phone that you really can’t get along without?”

“Any favorite podcasts I can check out while I am commuting to work?”

“What do you watch on TV and why do you love those shows?”

“What are your hobbies and/or what do you collect?” (everyone collects something)

“Who’s your hero? How have they affected your life for the better?”

“What would you put in a time capsule?”

“If you could have any animal for a pet, what would it be?”

“If you could only have one superpower, what would you pick?”

So, there you go. You no longer have any excuse not to be able to engage in small talk regardless of where you are or who you are with. Good luck!

PHOTO CREDIT: Toa Heftira /