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How To Make Small Talk

Written by Tiana Lewis

Photography by Photograph by Nicole Franzen

It’s tough to go anywhere, from corporate holiday parties to your child’s playdate, without having to engage in small talk. While this casual chatter is often beneficial when filling a lull in conversation or getting to know someone better, it doesn’t come easily for most—especially an introvert. The good news? Like learning a new language or getting savvy in the kitchen, mastering the skills of small talk can be made easy (even for the shiest, most introspective of individuals) with a bit of practice, dedication, and refinement. We’ve put together a list of everything you’ll need to know—from tips to TED Talks, and even a few of our favorite books—to get the introvert off the sidelines and back into their best conversational A-game.

Think Positive: Just because you may have had lackluster or difficult conversations in the past doesn’t mean that they’ll all turn out that way. Try turning worrisome or self-deprecating thoughts such as “Small talk makes me nervous” or “I’m just not good at making conversation” into those of a more positive nature. Although small talk can be tough, it can often lead to deeper, more intentional and authentic conversations down the road. Reflect on past conversations that perhaps didn’t go as planned and learn from them. Becoming skilled in small talk takes practice, no matter how introverted or extroverted you may be. So, remember to be kind to yourself when trying to improve.

Curb Your Anxiety: Some introverts may dread small talk because it’s during this time that they’re met with bouts of anxiety, both large and small. To keep anxious feelings at bay and make casual conversations flow, try going into each scenario reminding yourself to stay calm and let the worry subside. Just because introverts tend to express themselves differently than extroverts, doesn’t cut the introvert out of the small talk equation completely. Relax and remember that your thoughts and the way you approach a conversation is just as valuable as your more chatty counterparts.

Ask Questions: Engaging in small talk doesn’t necessarily mean that the conversation has to be focused on you. One tip to help introverts master the art of chitchat is to ask questions, and lots of them. The truth? The majority of people tend to be good at talking about themselves, especially extroverts. By asking meaningful, engaging questions, listening, and taking a genuine interest in the other people’s responses, you steer clear of the pressure to stay in the conversation limelight and get the opportunity to know someone on a more personal level.

Opt for Open-Ended: For most conversations, questions aren’t about the quantity, but rather, the quality. Questions that can be met with a simple “yes” or “no,” or that can be answered in one-word can cause small talk to fizzle out quickly and perhaps even end in awkward silence. Try opting for open-ended, more engaging questions to encourage a longer, more meaningful conversation. It’s at this deeper level that introverts tend to really connect with another person. If you’re struggling to come up with questions like these, try something like: “Tell me more about where you grew up, I’d love to hear all about it.” or “Did you always know that you wanted to be in the line of work you’re in now?”

Engage: While asking questions is a surefire way to get the conversation started, you don’t want things to feel completely one-sided. So, when your questions are matched with similar ones prompting you to open up about yourself and your life, try swapping out closed-off answers for those adorned with a few more nuggets of information. For example, if someone asks you how your weekend was, try resisting the typical, “Great, thanks” response for something with a bit more detail and life. Where or what did you eat? What did you see? Who were you with? Adding these valuable pieces of information will open the door for the other person to respond and add their own interesting details to the conversation, too.

Remember Body Language: Small talk is more than questions met with great responses. It also has much to do with body language and picking up on both the verbal and physical cues of the person you’re talking to. For whatever reason, introverts can be misunderstood, and some people can mistake the introvert’s quiet nature for arrogance or lack of interest. So, be sure to pick up on how your conversation is making the other person feel. Having this heightened sense of awareness can make all the difference when becoming a master in small talk.

Looking for more tips on how to master the art of meaningful conversation? Try this series of TED talks for other engaging and innovative takes on the subject. And if you want to dive even deeper, we’ve rounded up a short list of books that we think will spark the chitchat confidence bug in even the most introverted of individuals: The Irresistible Introvert: Harness the Power of Quiet Charisma in a Loud World by Michaela Chung, The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Olsen Laney, and Small Talk: An Introvert’s Guide to Small Talk by Gary Allman.

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