Ugh, I hate small talk!
It’s one of the most frequent complaints I hear from my introverted friends. They’re not the only ones who hate it either. As an extrovert, small talk drives me up a wall.
No one really loves small talk, yet it remains pervasive in our culture. Why?
At a very basic level, small talk sticks around simply because we don’t know how to get out of it. It’s far easier to flounder in awkward situations than go beyond our comfort zones.
Like anything else, however, overcoming small talk is a learned skill. Just because others have picked it up more quickly doesn’t mean you can’t pick it up yourself.
In my experience, there are two key steps to move beyond small talk.
First, actually commit yourself to breaking past small talk. Whenever we’re trying something new, it’s easy to go halfway, claiming we want to grow, but neglecting to put in the required effort to expand our comfort zones.
When you’re doing anything new, recognize that it’ll be uncomfortable and difficult at first. By doing so, you won’t be surprised when you run into discomfort. And, because, you’re not surprised, you know to push through, rather than freeze.
Second, and a little more practical, try one of the following strategies:
- Tell or ask for a story - We think in stories. From Aristotle to Jesus to today, stories have long been a great way to teach, learn, or entertain. They also help us bond, often providing both positivity and vulnerability in a relationship. If you have a short story, start sharing it. If you’d rather listen, ask the other person to share a story of their own. Both ‘what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?’ and ‘what’s the most fun you’ve ever had?’ work spectacularly. (And, if you’re unsure about how to work those questions into conversation, try something like this. ‘Hey, this is kind of wacky, but I love hearing people’s favorite moments. What’s the most fun you’ve ever had?)
- Ask for advice - Most people love sharing their perspective, especially if it’s an area in which they have expertise. If you can get a small detail, like their career field, you can then use that to learn. For example, if you meet someone who works in marketing, you can ask all sorts of questions. If marketing is something you want to pursue, a comment-question combo like ‘I’m actually thinking about a career in marketing. What’s crucial to know before I start pursuing it?’ Alternatively, if you aren’t interested in marketing, you can still learn by asking from the consumer’s perspective: ‘I know nothing about marketing. As a consumer, what should I know about it?’ By asking for insight, you elevate your conversation partner, showing you respect them. Not only does this encourage them to share, but it also leads them to respect you more, too.
- Ask why questions - Asking why questions can be a little trickier, but it’s my favorite way to explore people’s motivations. By hearing people’s ‘whys,’ I begin to understand how they think. Even when I disagree with someone’s perspective, I can often empathize with their why. The easiest way to ask ‘why’ is similar to the previous example. On a college campus, it’s not uncommon to ask what someone’s major is. Oftentimes, however, that’s where conversations end. Instead of letting the conversation falter, though, it’s unbelievably easy to continue, ‘that’s cool! Why did you choose that major?’ As you can imagine, that’ll get a wide array of responses, many of which lead to further conversation.
If you’re looking at those three strategies, you may have noticed a pattern. There’s a lot of asking, but not a lot of talking. To introverts, that’s a fantastic blessing. To extroverts, I can already hear you asking, ‘but when do I get to talk?’ Don’t worry, these conversations often ping-pong back-and-forth. When they finish sharing their response, it’s not uncommon to get a ‘how about you?’ to which you can respond to your heart's content.
One final note: the above strategies are meant to be tools. You’re not required to use all or even one of those three. There are countless ways to reach meaningful conversation; I’ve outlined three I hope you’ll find helpful. Now stop reading, get out there, and start having conversations!
If you love this blog post, there’s a whole youtube channel dedicated to social growth like this. I cannot recommend Charisma on Command enough! Go check it out!