Most of us don't exactly love small talk – in fact, some of us hate small talk and believe we're terrible at it. However, there are some simple small talk hacks that will seriously revolutionize your chit-chat game and will make you at least feel like you can handle yourself in any social situation, even if it's still not your favorite thing in the world to do.
Like a lot of people out there, I was born pretty shy. In fact my family "jokes" that I didn't speak in public for the first seven years of my life. But the unfortunate thing is, us shy people can't really get away with not talking forever, especially when life starts throwing things like interviews and holiday parties at us. Not to mention, sometimes being able to talk to strangers can genuinely improve our careers and job prospects, what with networking events and industry parties.
Small talk is just unavoidable in the real world, so instead of living in dread of it, isn't it perhaps better to embrace it — and, if you can — even get a little enjoyment out of it?
If you're trying to improve your small talk mojo, here are eleven super easy conversation hacks that will enable you to handle yourself in almost any social situation. Just remember — it's not that bad!
1. Ask "What's The Worst That Can Happen"
In a piece on making small talk for Forbes, self-proclaimed introvert and business writer Christina Park noted that a lot of us get over-anxious when it comes to small talk and get in our own heads. Instead, before entering a social situation, just think, "What's the worst that can happen?" Everything becomes a lot easier when we acknowledge that the stakes are low.
2. Remember That Others Are In The Same Boat
Park also said to remember that a ton of people at a party or event are probably in the exact same situation as you are — meaning they're there alone and they're dreading small talk. Odds are they'll be super relieved that you approached them to talk.
3. Ask Questions
A profile in Forbes on Alan Garner's Conversationally Speaking: Tested New Ways to Increase Your Personal and Social Effectiveness, recommended simply asking questions when trying to make small talk. This is especially helpful if you're more introverted by nature and would rather have someone else take center stage in the conversation.
4. Keep It Open-Ended
This tip from Garner jumps off his last point. When asking questions, he said there's a way to keep the answers one-note (and therefore bad for small talk) or open-ended, which will help the conversation flow. For example, after asking where someone is from, you can follow it up with, "What's your hometown like? Is it really different from here?" This can open the conversation up to a million different paths and new directions.
5. Come Prepared
In a piece for Real Simple, Debra Fine author of The Fine Art of Small Talk, recommended thinking of specific things to talk about before going into any social situation. "As I drive to a party, I try to come up with two or three things to talk about in case the conversation runs dry. If I've met the host before, I try to remember things about her, like her passion for skiing or a charity we're both involved in.”
6. Give Compliments
If you're trouble with small talk is just making initial contact with another person to begin with, entrepreneur and lifestyle blogger Kevin Kleitches recommended the "compliment and transition" strategy on a piece for The Huffington Post. "The fact is, everyone loves compliments," Kleitches said. He suggested simply saying you like someone's tie or outfit, and then transition into introducing yourself.
In a piece for Psychology Today on how to talk to anyone about anything, psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne stressed the importance of listening when you're having a conversation. She said that instead of trying to fill space with nervous chatter, slow down and try to be on receive. You'll be way more likely to have a meaningful interaction.
8. Remember Names
This is a personal tip that has always served me well. When you remember people's names, you can more seamlessly introduce everyone to each other, which creates a much more natural dynamic. It also just makes them feel nice. So try to really focus on those few seconds of introductions when you meet people instead of blowing past it to get to the conversation.
9. Be Open
In a piece for Real Simple, Dr. Bernardo J. Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University, said to never answer a question with just a single detail. For example, if someone asks you what you do, don't just say, "I'm a lawyer," but, "I'm a lawyer who works in family law and just moved here for work." That way your conversation partner doesn't feel like they have to do all the heavy lifting and you're provided them with way more conversation fuel.
10. Use "I Need" When Needed
In the same Real Simple piece, Debra Fine, lecturer and author of The Fine Art of Small Talk, noted that sometimes, we just need to make a clean break away from a conversation. In these cases, she recommended using "I need," statements, as in, "I just need to refresh my drink, " or "I need to grab something to eat — I haven't eaten all day!" This is a super simple way to exit a conversation without seeming rude.
11. Stay Positive
Finally, Forbes reminded us to stay positive. If we go into a situation thinking, "I hate this, this is awful!" we will very likely end up not having a good time. However, if you constantly remind yourself that it's not a big deal and actually might be enjoyable, odds are you'll actually enjoy yourself.
Small talk absolutely does not have to be the bane of our existence. With a little practice and finesse, it can be down right enjoyable. So use some or all of the above tips and be the epic small talker you were born to be!