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How to Have Small Talk Like a Pro

To avoid an awkward conversation, how many times have you ducked out of a work event early? Or relied on the technique of casually scrolling through social media (er, work emails) when you're at a party where you don't really know anyone? It's easy to justify skipping out on seemingly snooze-inducing chitchat, but keeping quiet could be causing you to miss out on major wellness benefits. In a study published in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science, the benefits of small talk are big—people who do it experience a greater sense of belonging and connection to those around them. (Related: 10 Reasons You Should Exercise with Friends)

On top of that, exchanging a string of sentences with a stranger can be the start of a solid connection. A total score, since quality relationships and strong friendships are a real boon to your health—they're credited with doing everything from boosting your immune system to improving your confidence.

But with 90 percent of people suffering from mingle-phobia, according to Jeanne Martinet, author of The Art of Mingling, engaging in small talk isn't easy to do—and being good at it can seem even harder. But instead of trying to figure out all the ways you can get out of striking up a casual conversation, here are a few talking points on how to make it effortless. (Really, though.)

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Cool it with the questions.

You're burned through your typical asks (so, how do you know the host?) and feel like you've got nothing left to say. Worst feeling ever. That's because you're confusing "asking" with "talking," Martinet says. "You can't just pose questions—you have to share," she adds. "Be open about yourself." It's fine to use a few go-to Qs to get the conversation going, but after that, you need to contribute depth to the exchange by adding your own personal anecdotes, too.

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Be choosy about your topic.

You aren't chatting with your BFF (yet), so some things are off-limits. Number one: Probing someone about their job, Martinet says. You don't want to turn this into a power gab. "Bringing up someone's career right off the bat makes it seem like you're deciding whether the person is worth your time," she says. Other small talk skips: politics (because, obviously), and maybe not-so obviously, vacations. According to research published in Psychological Sciences, gushing about that yoga retreat you took to Italy or the zen week you spent off the grid in Bali can come off as braggy.

So what can you bring up? People bond over commonality, so try to find something you both share, like a love of running or the same alma mater. Another great place to find your icebreaker? NPR. Trust.

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Set a tech-no zone.

"The only time your phone should come out is at the end of a conversation if you're planning to exchange contact info," Martinet says. Even if you're pulling it out for a harmless reason, like looking up a restaurant you both love, it "breaks the moment," Martinet says. "And once your phone comes out, everyone's does, and suddenly the focus turns to checking texts and the conversation becomes diluted."

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Seek out a stranger.

When you're feeling uncomfortable, it's easy to cling to someone you kind of know—the host's roommate, the girl in the cubicle across from you. But it may be better to strike up a discussion with someone you don't know at all. Huh? Here's why: Chances are, you're already small talked out with those familiar people. You've already engaged in a dialogue with them before, it didn't really go anywhere, and it won't take long for you to feel stuck and panicky. Feel free to say hello to friendly faces, but "mingling means circulating," Martinet says. We guarantee you'll spot someone else who's doing the awkward glance around the room who you can strike up a conversation with.

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Find inspo in the obvious.

You've probably heard that you should never bring up the weather, or any other bland subject matter. Wrong! A few light sentences are much better than absolute silence. And if the other person starts rambling about her hate of the frigid temperatures, it's a sign she's down to converse with you. Just don't be afraid to steer the banter toward something bigger.

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Solid eye contact is key.

You've got your lead-in line ready, know exactly what not to bring up, and are ready to own the room with your sparkling speaking skills. Plot twist: Being good at small talk isn't just about talking. Your body language speaks volumes about how interested you are in the convo. "Don't ever let your eyes wander while someone is speaking to you," Martinet says. "If you need to scan the room for some reason, wait until you're talking so it looks like you're looking off to concentrate on what you're saying."

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Master the exit.

A wonderful conversation isn't just about how you start it, but how you end it. If you've had a great time discussing your love of rosé, but are running out of things to say, stop while you're ahead and exit gracefully. Here's your game plan: Always loop another person into the circle before bolting, Martinet recommends. And then, before you excuse yourself (saying you need to use the restroom is always a solid play), mention something specific about your conversation (I'm definitely going to buy a bottle of that wine you recommended) to show you enjoyed the chat.

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