- Small talk can be awkward for social introverts, yet some strategies can help break the ice.
- Demonstrate interest in your conversation partner, ask questions, and practice to make small talk easier.
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The prospect of making small talk can make people roll their eyes or shudder.
But opting out of superficial chat isn’t really an option if you’re ever planning on going to a conference, a cocktail party, or any place where there are other human beings you don’t know that well.
Read more: 16 habits of extremely boring people
You can even make a habit of practicing with strangers you’ll probably never see again, since research suggests that making conversation with fellow commuters leaves people happier.
Read on to make small talk less a burden and more an experience that’s actually (gasp!) enjoyable.
Demonstrate interest in your conversation partner.
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Several Quora users said the best way to keep a conversation rolling is to show you care about what the other person has to say.
“If you don’t fundamentally care about the person you are speaking with, that will show, and that may be the primary reason why you are running out of things to discuss,” Kai Peter Chang wrote in a now deleted comment.
That also means letting your conversation partner share information about himself or herself.
“Let the other person speak more,” Anam Gulraiz writes. “People LOVE talking about themselves.”
Ask open-ended questions.
Instead of asking yes/no questions that lead to dead ends, encourage your conversation partner to share some more detail about his or her life.
“In general, open-ended questions lead to more conversational paths,” Craig Weiland says.
For example, instead of asking a fellow party guest, “Are you here with your family?” you might ask, “How did you meet the host?”
Allow your conversation partner to teach you.
“If there’s a subject you’re not familiar with, just be honest with that person and nine out of 10 times they’ll teach you about it,” Michael Wong wrote in a now-deleted comment.
It goes back to that central idea of letting other people do most of the talking. Asking other people to explain what they mean might prompt them to talk for at least another few minutes.
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Don’t hesitate to let your conversation partner know that you can relate to what he or she is telling you, user Ellen Vrana says.
“This forms a bond,” she adds.
For example, if your partner says he or she spent time living in another country and you did as well, share a story or two about your years abroad. You’ll most likely prompt the other person to tell you about some similar memories.
Boost your conversation partner’s self-esteem.
Flatter people to capture and hold their interest, Joe Goebel suggests.
“Try to make everyone you talk with feel a little better about themselves after having met and talked to you,” he writes.
Practice with everyone you meet.
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Whether it’s the doorman in your office lobby or a fellow passenger on the train, try your hand at small talk with everyone, Rohan Sinha says.
Eventually, you’ll start feeling more comfortable striking up and maintaining interesting conversations.
Copy good conversationalists.
“Listen to comedians, listen to talk-show hosts, listen to real people,” user Edahn Small recommends.
Try to remember the kinds of questions they ask, how they follow up on the other person’s answers, and even how they make use of silence. Chances are good that they learned the same way.
Use the “ARE” format.
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Andrian Iliopoulos uses a method from communications expert Carol Fleming, called the “ARE” format:
• Anchor: Find something you two have in common right now. For example, “This cocktail is really fancy – what’s in it?”
• Reveal: Share something personal with the other person. For example, “I tried a similar cocktail at a beach bar in Malibu last year and it blew me away.”
• Encourage: Invite them to share something personal. For example: “I can see it in your eyes that you hate cocktails. You are more of a whiskey drinker, aren’t you?”
Ask a better version of, ‘What do you do?’
- Rachel Gillett/Business Insider
In a 2013 blog post, best-selling author Gretchen Rubin suggests asking people you meet, “What’s keeping you busy these days?”
Rubin writes: “It’s useful because it allows people to choose their focus (work, volunteer, family, hobby) – preferable to the inevitable question (well, inevitable at least in New York City): ‘What do you do?'”
Talk about something that just happened to you.
“Whenever I want to start a conversation with a stranger or someone I don’t know well, I start talking about something that happened to me early that day,” writes William Beteet.
“This doesn’t put them on the spot like a question does, and gives the opportunity to either ask me a question or add what they know about the topic.”
He adds: “I can’t tell you how many great conversations I’ve had by saying, ‘I just had the most amazing peanut butter and jelly sandwich.'”
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“There’s nothing wrong with just saying, ‘You know, I hate small talk, so how about we talk about something big?'” Derek Scruggs writes.
Chances are, your conversation partner will feel somewhat relieved.
Scruggs recommends having on hand a few “big” questions that promote intimacy, including, “What’s something that scared you today?” and “Are you happy with your current lifestyle?”
Bring up some of your past failures.
User Erick Diaz says:
“Whenever I talk about my accomplishments, people will just nod and say, ‘Congrats man! That’s awesome.’ It’s dry, ineffective, and doesn’t segue into anything of substance. BUT when I talked about:
• Accidentally spilling food on people at a restaurant I worked at • Burning the chicken at my girlfriend’s house, nearly causing us to break up • Accidentally throwing my phone away in a public trash can and having to dive in to get it back
“They always get big laughs.”
What’s more, Diaz says, it encourages the other person to talk about their own mishaps.
Know that other people feel weird, too.
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“You are totally not alone in feeling awkward or shy,” Tammy Tangerine writes on Reddit. “Other people are struggling with that as well, and these feelings are totally ok and nothing to feel ashamed about.”
She adds that even people who look incredibly confident may be struggling with the same self-doubts as you.