“Small talk” might seem trivial, but it is actually one of the most important human interactions we experience.
It helps us to build relationships in our personal and working lives.
What do I mean by “Small Talk?”
Essentially, small talk is a type of casual conversation that has no real core or objective per se.
It is what we do to “break the ice” – removing those awkward silences humans just can’t bear.
But these seemingly inane conversations are far from worthless.
They are actually really important in their ability to help us to bond with other people.
Why does it matter to employers?
If you are able to talk to people socially, you’re much more likely to fit in well at a company and get on with other employees, managers and clients.
Business is all about building good relationships.
And, people who are able to small talk are also often considered more charismatic, as their ability to seamlessly interact with different kinds of people translates into self-confidence.
So if you’re currently looking for a job, this is definitely a skill you need to practice!
It’s not as easy as it sounds.
Mastering small talk as a social skill is quite a challenge for some people.
Certain individuals find it naturally hard because of their introversion or shyness, while others might be struggling with issues such as depression or low self-esteem.
And some (often confident) individuals just can’t seem to crack small talk etiquette. These people often overshare or talk too much or even prefer to stand in silence (leaving the other person feeling awkward…).
If you are looking for ways to bring your small talk game to the next level and master this important social skill, read on to find out more.
1. Practice your conversation opener.
Small talk is exactly what it says on the tin…small talk!
This means that a great conversation starter doesn’t necessarily have to be something really complicated or impressive. Ideally, it’ll be something that any person can relate to.
A good example? The weather. I know it’s a cliché but talking about the weather is a classic small talk starter, as pretty much anyone can relate to it.
You can complain about a rainy day or appreciate that the sun’s come out and chances are, your companion will feel the same, prompting an exchange.
You could also start up a conversation about something current like a recent sporting competition, news story or political event.
However, be careful when expressing your personal views too forcefully as some people might have different views and highlighting that difference could cause tension.
2. Show an interest.
Say something like “how are you?”
Most people quite like to talk about themselves and this opener shows your interest in starting a friendly conversation.
Also if you know the person you’re speaking to, then do try and bring up something that you’ve learned about them. This will show that you’ve genuinely taken an interest and aren’t just talking for the sake of it.
“Hi Nick, good to see you, man! I heard you had a fantastic time in Europe!”
“Hi James, how are ya? I had a great time, so nice to take a break and go somewhere new!”
“Really cool to hear! Catch you later man!”
“See you around the office!”
(Yes, I know that’s cheesy.)
In the example above, James is actually showing Nick that he kept up to speed with what he was up to and showcased a personal interest in his life – a great way to start or maintain a positive relationship.
3. Be aware of personalities.
Certain small talk topics will work for certain people, but not for others.
Let’s say you have a co-worker who is about the same age and shares a love for the same football team. Using that connection is a great way to start some small talk.
However, you may have to adopt a different strategy for the diehard rugby fan in IT.
Different social groups, cultural backgrounds, demographics and just individuals will respond well (and badly) to different things, so it’s important to understand that before approaching small talk, so you can avoid any potentially awkward situations!
4. Ask questions.
If you are an introvert, the thought of small talk might actually terrify you, if only for the fact that you wouldn’t want to be put on the spot. So to avoid that, try asking questions first.
This way, you will be able to let the other person talk.
By asking questions, you are not only going to relieve yourself from the burden of talking, but you are also showing that you are a good listener and that you actually care enough about the other person to ask about their day or what’s new with their lives!
Do be careful not to ask too many questions though! Hounding them is bound to make them feel uncomfortable.
Always be tactful and mindful about what the other person wishes to talk about or avoid.
Although I would never recommend that you gossip in a professional situation (it makes you look very unprofessional) it is worth mentioning that gossip does make effective small talk.
Gossiping has been studied by psychologists and evolutionary researchers for decades, and it is highly regarded as a very important social bonding experience.
And by “gossip” I don’t mean harmful and malicious gossip, a positive comment about someone else could be a good way to further some small talk.
“Hey, have you heard about Nick? He finally booked that European vacation he was dreaming of for ages”
“No way, good for him!”
“I am so jealous!”
“So am I! We should plan a trip soon”
“You bet! We should get together and talk about it after work”
“Cool, let’s have a beer later”
In the example above, a little harmless “gossip” actually turned into an actual conversation.
So as you can see, small talk is dead important in everyday life. It’s how human beings bond, start relationships and suss each other out.
Remember these 5 tips and you’ll be golden:
- Practice your conversation opener.
- Show an interest.
- Be aware of personalities.
- Ask questions.
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I know, as an introvert, this is all easier said than done when the smallest of conversations feels like a hurdle. Hopefully the following articles will help:
Good luck.- Mark Wilkinson