Small talk can be awkward, uncomfortable, and stressful — but it can also lead to meaningful conversations and relationships down the line if you know how to do it the right way. There are a number of small talk habits that can draw people to you instantly, and although it might take some practice to nail them down, you can start incorporating them into your conversations and stop worrying about discussing the weather over and over again with people you just met.
"Small talk is the gateway into larger, more meaningful conversations, but it also lets you be in control of how much or little you want to engage a certain person or group," says life coach Sasha Korobov over email. "Small talk offers a unique 'pulse' of any given environment and by using small talk, you can be curious without being attached. When applied artfully, it can be a fascinating power resource to drive tone and conversation, depending on your motivation for being there in the first place."
Not all small talk is created equal, so if you really want to engage someone in a conversation, you'll want to make sure you're paying attention to what you're saying. Here are nine small talk habits that will make people instantly drawn to you.
Sharing Relatable Information About Yourself
Conversations about the weather or what someone is wearing can die out quickly. "The best ways to engage people are to share some information about yourself that other people can relate to, appreciate, or learn from," says Deena Baikowitz, co-founder of Fireball Network, a coaching and consulting firm, over email "For example, talking about where you grew up, your family, why you chose your career. Talk about the things you are most passionate about - your hobbies, volunteer work, job, family."
Asking Open-Ended Questions
Avoid questions that can be answered with yes or no, and ask a person something that allows them to talk in-depth about their thoughts, dreams, and opinions. "By asking more of the 'how' and 'why' questions, you get people talking," says Korobov. "And the truth is that most people love talking about themselves even if they won't admit it. Open-ended questions create the space for people to feel safe doing so and provides a vehicle for them to feel heard."
Using Their Name
Always use the name of the person you are referring to. "People love to be called by their own name," says success coach Jaime Pfeffer over email. "When you meet someone, try to associate something about them with a visual cue. For example, when I meet someone named Mary, I either attach an image of a lamb (Mary had a little lamb) or Mother Mary to them because it helps to remember their name (images are easier for the brain to recall than words). Then say their name out loud twice during the conversation, if possible. This will help cement it in your mind."
Keying In To What's Important To Others
Be aware of personalities, as one conversation with one person, won't work for another. "Engage with their interests, or if you don't know them ask," says Blakely. "This will show you have a genuine interest and potentially a common ground. It will also show you are keen to learn about both the person and their subject of interest. This will make you look more intelligent and emotionally available."
Paying Attention To Body Language
Since small talk is usually with someone you don't know well, you can read their body language to decipher what they feel comfortable or passion about discussing. "Pay attention to their clothes, their body language when they talk, and how excited they become when they speak on a particular topic," says personal development coach Meiyoko Taylor over email. "Make observation of what seems to be important to them."
Listening Instead Of Planning
When you feel uncomfortable, it's tempting to plan your next topic of conversation rather than listen intently on what the other person is saying, but avoid jumping ahead to topics in your mind. "Don't try to figure out your next question before they've even answered," says Baikowitz. "It's a conversation, not a job interview!"
Staying Aware About Current Events
Have some topics ready relating to current events. "Read the news and stay up to date on pop culture," says Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW over email. "Bring up a current event, a good book you just read, or movie you just saw. Stay away from speaking about religion or politics."
"There is nothing worse than two people talking about Game of Thrones while a third person stands there having never seen the show," says confidence expert Karol Ward, LCSW over email. "Shift the conversation as soon as possible by asking a series of questions that include everyone."