Dear Lifehacker, I hate small talk. I never know how in-depth I should go into a conversation and I'm just not that into talking about the weather. With the long weekend coming up and lots of social obligations, I'm wondering, how can I turn all that small talk into an actual conversation?
Nobody really likes small talk and it's certainly one of the more boring tasks we all go through. While a lot of small talk is based only on the fact you're standing next to someone and have to say something, the real goal is to find a common ground to spark up a conversation. Let's look at a few things you can do to get that conversation rolling a little quicker.
Share Small Details Until One Idea Sticks
We've mentioned how sharing small details during small talk is a really good way to gauge interest in a subject and start up a real conversation. Instead of responding to a simple question like, "How's it going?" with "Good, you?" expand your reply with a details about your day. For instance, you might say, "Good, I spent the morning kayaking and I'm feeling great!"
When you share that little piece of your story you'll get one of two responses: a question about how it was or a disinterested, "Oh cool." If they reciprocate your excitement you have an in and can continue the conversation. If they don't seem interested try revealing another detail until something sticks. Image: David Goehring.
Learn To Ask Relevant Questions
We're all hard-wired to share information about ourselves, but in order to get to a point where you're having a real conversation, it's important to show interest in another person first. As Psychology Today points out you can do this in any number of ways. Start by listening correctly:
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.
Once you have a good idea of what's going on you can use that information to ask the right kinds of questions. Asking questions is a great way to turn small talk into a conversation naturally. Just make sure your question is relevant to the topic at hand and not a way to turn the conversation back to you. Image: Clarkston SCAMP.
Arm Yourself With Relevant Topics
People love to talk about the news and it's an easy way to step up boring bits of small talk and turn it into a fun conversation. Walking in with a few topic ideas in mind is a good way to direct a conversation. The Art of Manliness has a simple formula for coming up with topics:
If you don't know the people you will be conversing with, think about the things that will probably interest those you meet. Ask them about the unique aspects of their locale ("I saw an interesting statue in the way into town. What's the story behind it?"), read up on the company they work for ("I hear you will be expanding into China soon -- when will that be happening?) and ask those who do know the others better for some background information.
The idea is that if you can find a few bits of relevant information you can take an otherwise boring small talk conversation and direct it toward something more interesting. Image: John Verive.
Respond To "What Do You Do (For A Living/For Fun)?" With Something You Actually Did
One of the most common conversation starters is "So, what do you do?" It's meant as a quick way to gauge the ways a person might be interesting. Depending on your job this might be an easy response, but for many of us it's a little more complicated.
In my own experience, I've found that most of my jobs require more than a one or two-word answer because I've had very few jobs in my life where the job title explains what I do. 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.
The same goes for the "What do you do for fun?" question. Don't just say, "Oh, I usually go hiking" (or whatever). Talk about a recent experience with your hobby, like, "This past weekend I went up the mountain and had a picnic with my sister."
The basic idea running through all of these suggestions is to find the hook in the small talk and pull it out so you're both on common ground. To find it you have to pay attention to subtle cues, listen to how they reply, share a good amount of info about yourself, and learn to gauge when they're interested.
PS Have your own tricks for turning small talk into something more meaningful? Share it in the comments.
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