Monday, May 5, 2014

How to Make Small Talk on The Elevator (or Wherever)

Small talk is conversational filler we all make in order to avoid awkward silence. Knowing how to make small talk is important in maintaining professional relationships and helpful for not coming off as a socially awkward weirdo. 

Unless you are a hermit and avoid all social interaction, you'll need to make small talk on a semi-regular basis. You'll get stuck on a long elevator ride with Sue from Sales or Larry from Accounting, or you'll find yourself with some coworkers waiting for a meeting to start. You might even have to make small talk for an extended period of time if you ever (god forbid) have lunch with these folks.

If you don't know how to make small talk, here are a few tips to start - 

  • The most frequent go-to subject for small talk is the weather. Be it warm and sunny or rainy and gloomy, the weather affects us all. In order for small talk to work, the conversation subject has to be something both people can actually talk about, if only for a little bit.
  • Ask about the person's weekend plans (if you're closer to the weekend), or how their weekend was (if you're closer to the start of the week). It's a great way to find out about someone else's hobbies. Chances are the other person will ask about your weekend. If you have weird hobbies that most people don't share, don't discuss these at length, instead just make up a normal person bullshit activity like "spending time with family" or "spring cleaning". White lies are okay in small talk because small talk inherently doesn't matter, just keep it plain and generic.
  • One easy small talk trick is to pay a compliment to the other person. For example, I have one coworker that spends a lot of money on fancy, elaborate ties, and if I need to kill a few minutes making small talk with him, I just ask him about whatever tie he's got on and it works like magic. Don't give out compliments too often or you risk coming off as fake, a weirdo, or that you're engaging in sexual harassment.
  • A large percent of the human population generally loves talking about themselves, so show a little interest in something the other person cares about. But as with giving compliments, don't go to this well too often or you'll probably come off as creepy.
  • On the subject of things normal people care about, it might be beneficial to know a little bit about sports. You might have to do a little research on this one if you don't follow the sports world.
  • If you're both parents, you'll probably have a wealth of similar experiences to draw on for small talk. Ask how their kids are doing and then tell them how yours are. Perhaps you might bond over the common trials and triumphs of parenting, if that's your thing. Leave out the weird creepy shit your kids do if they do weird creepy shit.
  • When in doubt, keep your small talk fairly relatable and the subject matter on the tame, safe side subject-wise. Remember, this is conversational filler. You're job is to get in and get out sounding like a normal person. And yes, "normal people" don't really exist, but this is how you maintain a friendly, average public persona.
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(Photo credit: Grevel / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0))

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