Most of us know the benefits of small talk.
It makes those awkward situations with strangers, family and friends a little less awkward.
You can make yourself a person that others want to be around.
Small talk is something I’ve struggled with throughout my life. I could sit with people and be totally comfortable not saying a word.
I guess it comes with the territory when you’re an introvert.
But I see the value in small talk both for business and for life in general. So I’ve been working on it and here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
Identify What The Other Person Wants To Discuss
The biggest takeaway for me with small talk is that people generally want to talk. They don’t really want to listen. I don’t know if it’s human nature or what.
There’s no use fighting it, though, I’ve found.
I tried to think back about my best experiences with small talk. The situations that make me feel the best. Usually it’s when I’ve been with someone that’s a really good listener.
So if my goal is to make others feel like they’ve had a great interaction with me then my focus has been on being a great listener for the other person.
That usually starts with identifying what the other person wants to discuss.
Sometimes this is really easy. The person will give you an indication of what they’re thinking about at the moment.
Other times you may have to ask some discovery questions. Where they work. What they’re doing at work right now. What they’re struggling with. Things like that about life and work.
Find Something Interesting In What They’re Saying
Now something you’ll probably find is that you’re not always interested in what the person wants to discuss.
It’s a real challenge.
We’re only human, but if you want to be an interesting person you’ll need to find something interesting in what the person is discussing.
Let’s say the person is discussing their work. They’re getting a little technical about whatever it is they do and you’re kind of getting lost.
Try pulling them back a little bit to make it more general.
Of you might have to draw some connections in your brain. If they’re talking about tennis and you’re more into golf just focus on how the two relate. You don’t have to bring it up in conversation, but make the connection in your mind.
That will make it more interesting for you and you’ll be more engaged.
Ask More Questions
I’ve had to catch myself a bunch of times with this one.
Small talk can get bogged down and run out of steam. Usually I’ve found this to happen when I’m not asking enough questions.
And it’s not like you have to ask question after question. You’re not peppering the person.
You’re simply asking more questions to figure out what they want to discuss and then letting them talk with you about it. And if you feel that they’re running out of steam a little you can be there with a question to keep things going.
Don’t Jump In With Your Stories
One thing you want to try to avoid is jumping in with your stories.
Something I’ve found with myself and others is that we kind of ignore what the other person is saying and wait to jump in with our own story.
For example, a business owner might mention that they’ve struggled with a client. That reminds you of something you want to tell them about a client you have.
But in the meantime the other person continues talking and instead of listening you’re just waiting for your opportunity to jump in and say:
I had a client like this too…
That’s not good. The other person will feel like you’re cutting them off and that you really don’t care about what they’re saying.
Shelve your stories. Stick with questions.
The best conversationalists always seem to be the best listeners. People want to talk to them because they’re good listeners.
Have A Couple Stock Stories Ready
So far it’s been pretty one-sided and that’s good.
But people are looking for information about you as well. There is a give and take with small talk.
So it’s important to feel out the conversation. When the person asks you a question you want to have some personal and work stories ready to share.
Funny stories and experiences. Sad ones. Happy ones. Celebratory ones.
Depending on what the conversation calls for will determine what story you’ll bring out.
Sometimes the other person won’t really start sharing and engaging with you until you let your guard down a little bit. A story about your personal life or work life about a struggle could open the door for deeper conversation.
Think of a few that work for you. Test them out on people. See what connects and then over time you’ll learn to have those stories and new ones ready.
But the key is not to take them too far. You want the goal of your stories to be to allow the other person to feel comfortable talking with you.
Think of the best conversations you’ve had in small talk situations. I will bet that they’re the times when someone has been a really good listener.
So put yourself in the other position. If you want others to feel like they’ve had a great conversation with you then you need to be the great listener.
It takes work. I’m still working at it, but the payoff is real. You can sense it when people want to talk with you more and it will make those small talk situations a lot more interesting and enjoyable instead of boring and awkward.