A Short, Yet Comprehensive Guide to Small-Talk | Emily Gao

We all cringe at the thought of it: 

“How was your day?”

“Good! How about you!”

“Pretty good too!” 

*awkward silence*

“So… the weather’s really nice outside isn’t it?” 

The infamous small talk. Conversations that are sometimes so dry and pointless that it makes me wish I had just stayed home to watch Criminal Minds instead. There are only finite things you can say about the weather after all.

No matter how much you may loathe it, small talk is inevitable. I would argue that it’s even essential to one’s professional success. Oftentimes, people’s first impressions of one another are via a small talk conversation. This could be employers, potential significant others, future friends, and so on. As someone who has been in this world for less than eighteen years and has close to no experience in social settings outside that of the world of teenagers, I am in no place to be giving you advice on how to conduct small talk. However, the social customs and queues of the modern-day teenager are extremely complex and multi-faceted, so I think I do get some points on being able to navigate it. I attribute my success to small talk, or rather my ability to overcome the small talk phase and turn it into, for lack of a better word, large talk. 

 

  • Avoid Yes/No Questions like the plague

 

People naturally enjoy talking about themselves, so give them a chance to. Yes/no questions are very abrupt and harsh. It almost gives off the sense that you are interrogating the other person rather than trying to have a friendly conversation. But be careful… you don’t want to overdo it. Get a sense of how much the other person enjoys talking about themselves. Quiet, more reserved individuals may be less inclined to tell you their life story during a small talk conversation. In these situations, you would counteract by opening up about yourself so that they feel more comfortable. If the other person you are talking to is outgoing and eager to share details about themself, then let them. Keep the conversation going but make sure to add your own input into it too. After all, no one wants a conversation where one person is rambling on and on while the other is sitting there nodding whilst trying to act interested.

 

  • Eye Contact

 

Be a good listener. Don’t be checking your phone. Don’t be looking around at what those around you are doing. Maintain good eye contact. This will let the other person know that you genuinely are interested and invested in the conversation.

 

  • Show Enthusiasm

 

Be happy. Be excited. Be positive. Sure, small talk may suck a lot sometimes, but it is also an amazing way to meet new people and form new relationships. Who knows, maybe the small talk phase will only last thirty seconds before you guys are having genuine, unforced conversations! 

 

  • Have Conversation Starters

 

Here are mine: my love for sushi, my Honda Accord, the love-hate relationship I have with San Diego, and my conflicted opinion on the college application process. Notice that these are all light-hearted topics, yet they are substantial. They give insight into who I am as a person without putting too much pressure.