20 June 2019 | 17 Comments
I often find myself in situations–both online and offline, often related to my business–that require something that introverts like me dread: small talk. To me, small talk feels like filling time instead of actually making a connection with someone.
Over the years I’ve tried to learn how to turn small talk into something more substantial. I’ve found this to be helpful both personally and professionally, as a huge part of my job is about meaningful connections.
Today I thought I’d share some of these techniques with you. A lot of them are built around questions I’ve learned to ask that open up a conversation instead of stifle it, but I’ve also found that it’s important to share parts of myself in conversations too (as an introvert, I have to actively do that sometimes instead of just deflecting).
- Many conversations with strangers start with the same basic facts. I try to get beyond them quickly to the interesting stuff. What do you do? Boring basic necessity. Do you like it? Why or why not? Interesting.
- When someone asks where I’m from, giving a one-word answer makes things harder for both of us. Having a few basic stories reinforced with opinions makes things easier. For example: “I grew up in Virginia and moved to St. Louis for college, and I liked it so much better here that I’ve stuck around here ever since.”
- If someone says, “I’m a fan of your [game/product/company],” I thank them, try to give them an opportunity to talk about what they specifically like, and maybe share an insider story about it if they seem interested.
- I generally avoid the “do you know X person” line of conversation, as it typically leads to a dead end (either a yes or a no).
- Ask people about extreme events—the worst and best of situations. They stick in our memories and are easy to recall. Worst date, best trip, best Halloween costume, etc. Instead of putting someone on the spot by asking for their favorite X, which can cause a lull while they think it over, ask for “one of the best things about X” or “one of their favorites. ”
- Strive to make connections between other people, possibly even in a way that invokes a reaction (e.g., “Tom, I think Sally enjoys graphic novels even more than you do!”)
- Steer group conversations towards inclusive topics. Either avoid inside/private jokes or provide context for them so everyone is in on the joke or story.
- Ask for advice, suggestions, and recommendations. Not only may you learn something important, but people love to offer advice.
- Always enter social situations with an answer to “What have you been up to lately?” Also, instead of asking that question, help the person with more constraints (e.g., “What did you do this past weekend?” or even more specific: “Did you try out any new restaurants this past weekend?”)
- A few general categories of topics you can turn to when needed are firsts, routines, pets, injuries, and origin stories (e.g., “How did you get involved with that?”).
This is just a starting point, and I’d love to hear your tips about conversations in the comments.
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