There's nothing more eye twitch inducing than having to deal with boring chatter with people you just met. But what if I told you you can avoid small talk and have meaningful conversations instead? Wouldn't it be amazing to skip out on the tired questions of "what do you do?" and "what have you been up to this week?" and cut ahead to the good stuff? Completely ideal. But the trick with avoiding small talk is that you can't actually dodge it, you just have to change it around on your own. You're going to hijack that boring conversation and you're going to change it into something fun and interesting with your strategic questioning and your thoughtful comments.
The most crucial thing to do to cut down on small talk is to act interested — view every person you come across as a chance to hear a new story. Don't see them as an obligation you have to run through in order to not look like the awkward loner at the party, but an individual that has an awesome story to share. Once you change your mindset to that, you'll be able to ask more interesting questions and demand cooler answers. No more petty small talk — you've got this. Below are seven ways to avoid small talk and have awesome conversations.
1. Look For Stories, Not Answers
How frustrating is it when you're getting to know someone and they only give you one word answers? It then quickly turns into an interview, with you playing the role of Katie Couric and thinking of the fastest way to detach from this boring person. But what if the issue also has to do with what sort of questions you're asking?
Instead of sticking to small talk questions that ask for one-line answers, ask for stories instead. Chris Colin and Rob Baedeker, co-authors of What to Talk About: On a Plane, at a Cocktail Party, in a Tiny Elevator with Your Boss’s Boss , suggested, "One way to get beyond small talk is to ask open-ended questions. Aim for questions that invite people to tell stories, rather than give bland, one-word answers." But how do you do that? Colin and Baedeker then went on to suggest that instead of asking things like "how was your day," you try "what did you do today," instead. Or instead of inquiring "what do you do," ask "how did you get into your line of work." See, ask for stories!
2. Don't Make It About You
A great way to side step small talk is to get genuinely curious about the person you're chatting with. Now that you've learned that everyone has a story to share, you can focus the conversation on hearing it. Small talk usually goes downhill when you dominate the convo with chatter about yourself, but if you ask your companion genuine questions that'll urge them to keep talking, then you'll move on to a full blown conversation.
Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. at Psychology Today pointed out, "Too often when we're meeting someone new, we try to fill the dead moments with chatter about ourselves. Far better for you to listen first, talk second. Of course, someone has to start the conversation, but if you and your companion actually listen to each other and not worry about what to say next, things will flow more naturally." So keep the conversation about them: pepper them with questions, think of their answers like a chance to hear a really good story, and move your small talk into a chance to make a new friend.
3. Keep The Convo Focused On Their Passions
How awesome is it when you talk to someone completely excited about a passion of theirs? Whether it's their work, baking, or stamp collecting, small talk gets left behind in the dust right when you hit upon someone's deepest loves. But if you're not careful, your questions can lead you straight back into that mundane small talk category.
For example, Julian Reisinger, the founder of Love Life Solved, told Lifehacker, "When a friend of yours tells you (or a group) that she went horseback riding and had an amazing time, don’t ask 'Where did you go?', rather ask 'I have never done horseback riding. What makes it so exciting?' I guarantee you that any person who is passionate about the topic will not only teach you a ton — in an interesting way — but will also like you more and feel closer to you afterwards." If you focus on what drives their passion and excitement, you'll keep the conversation fresh and engaging.
4. Follow Up Small Talk Questions With A Story
If someone approaches you with boring chatter, turn the tables around by introducing a conversation that could actually be fun and meaningful. For example lifestyle writer Thorin Klosowski from Lifehacker explained, "Instead of responding to 'What do you do for a living?' by saying I'm a writer for Lifehacker, I'll usually expand it by adding a few notes about what I wrote about that week or talk about an experience. Basically, instead of responding with where you work and your official position, come up with a story that exemplifies what you do for a living." If you add in a personal anecdote right off the bat, your conversation will veer to much interesting territories.
5. Ask Why, Not What
In order to create a meaningful conversation, you need to learn about what makes the other person tick. And in order to do that, you need to ask probing questions. So make sure to ask "why" when learning something new about a person. Lifestyle writer Jenn Granneman wrote for self improvement site Introvert, Dear, "This is a twist on asking open-ended questions. Instead of just asking about the facts ('what' questions), ask people why they made certain decisions." For example, if you ask what vacation your acquaintance has been to recently, follow up with a question why they chose that place in particular.
6. Don't Be Scared To Share Details About Yourself
Combat boring small talk from your buddy by answering with a couple of mini stories of your own. Share details about yourself you'd normally tell a good friend over the phone, and not a stranger you just met at a dinner party. But that kind of candidness works when you're trying to side-step small talk. Granneman said, "When you share details about yourself, notice how the other person reacts — does the person keep the conversation going by asking a follow-up question, or do you just get a disinterested nod? If the other person doesn’t seem interested, try revealing another detail about yourself until you hit on a topic that gets the two of you talking."
So if someone asks how was your day, really answer it. Mention that new bakery you tried, a funny thing you read on your phone, or how you really enjoyed forcing yourself up earlier to take a jog. Hopefully they'll take the crumb you left and keep talking.
7. Be Cheekily Honest
Sometimes the best way to kill small talk is to be honest. Granneman observed, "We often sacrifice expressing our true thoughts and feelings for the sake of politeness. But there’s something very authentic — and surprisingly charming — about being completely honest." So if you hate small talk, tell the person you're talking with that and move the subject onto something more personal and interesting. If you're feeling overwhelmed at the party, say that and watch your conversation become more relaxed. If you completely disagree with what your companion is saying (maybe you hate hiking and they're talking about their latest trip) tell them that! You might fall into a fun convo over how you're trying to change each other's minds. By doing these easy manuevers and simple tweaks, you'll leave small talk in the dust and move onto greener pastures.
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