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How to Make Small Talk – Do’s and Don’ts for Powerful Results

Everyone knows that conversation is an art, but how do you become adept at it? Knowing how to make small talk is the key to helping others open up and feel comfortable around you. This post will help you to become an expert at making small talk with anyone!

You will learn: 1. how to start a conversation, 2. ways to keep a conversation going, and 3. how to best maintain the interaction for the enjoyment of all parties.

Now, get ready to become a powerful conversationalist!

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Why Learn How to Make Small Talk?

Making small talk is essential to opening lines of communication with those around you. It allows you to express yourself and feel comfortable interacting in a social environment.

When practiced correctly, small talk expands your horizons. Thus, it allows you to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

Successfully conversing with others means listening and making interesting contributions to the discussion. When you master the art of conversation, you become a desirable conversationalist, causing others to seek out your company.

Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about small talk and communication skills.

Things to Avoid

For many people, it’s nerve-wracking to approach someone and start a conversation. Anxiety is the primary factor that prevents us from making friends and feeling confident with our social skills. However, this issue can be handled with adequate preparation and knowing what to do during social interactions.

A large percentage of the population is made up of introverts. This means those of us in this category require more mental and physical energy to participate in conversations.

Nevertheless, we are highly capable of becoming more comfortable in social situations. It’s all about understanding how to talk with and react to others.

Firstly, it’s essential to avoid overthinking a situation, which is a reaction to anxiety. Overthinking creates problems when there are none.

Don’t think and debate with yourself about approaching someone; just do it and cheerfully greet them. Then, put your focus on the interaction and what they’re saying.

Think about it this way. “I may be decreasing the other person’s anxiety by engaging with them.” Remain positive in your subject matter, and always be prepared with a list of subjects to discuss.

Now, let’s talk about some do’s and don’ts of small talk.

Coworkers make small talk

Fifteen Do’s for How to Make Small Talk

  • Anytime you approach someone or are approached, introduce yourself right away and offer your hand to shake. Open with a heartfelt compliment. For instance, “Hi, I’m ______________. I couldn’t help but notice your fabulous shoes! Where did you get them?”
  • When thinking of things to say, ask open-ended questions that require more than a yes or no answer. “How do you find time to do so much?” Or, “That’s an admirable line of work. What made you decide to become a teacher?” Ask questions beginning with “what, how, who, when, why.”
  • Always be honest and accountable. Embellishing is only okay if it adds humor and you admit the truth afterward.
  • Practice these mindful, active listening skills. Maintain good eye contact, lean in slightly, keep arms relaxed and uncrossed, nod gently, and listen with the intent of responding to what’s being said. Always give your full attention to the other person.
  • Be enthusiastic when you listen and speak. Avoid monotones, which imply boredom and lack of interest.
  • Offer information that adds value and content to the matter at hand. One-upping and over-sharing of personal information is a turn-off.
  • However, do share information about your hobbies and favorite pastimes. But avoid overwhelming the conversation. After making your point, steer the conversation back to the listener. For example, after mentioning your last fishing trip, ask, “Have you ever been fishing?” Or, “What kind of bait do you use?”
  • Keep things friendly, light, and positive. Steer clear of negative topics.

women drinking coffee and talking together
  • If you have shared experiences, bring them up in conversation. For example, you could ask, “Remember how hard we worked on our fundraiser? Have you volunteered anywhere lately?”
  • Most people love talking about themselves. Asking open-ended questions about the other person is often enough to spark a lively conversation. Such as, “How did you get into music?” Or “How long have you been a part of this awesome group?” Lightly inquire about vacations, accomplishments, careers, and family, but avoid asking anything that could be regarded as personal or private information.
  • Explore new experiences and read books or publications to stay current with exciting topics.
  • Ask for opinions or advice on topics you’re curious about. For instance, “I’m not sure what to do about the leak in my basement. Can you recommend a good plumber?”
  • When someone appears to be in a bind, offer help and ask for it yourself when needed. It could spark a new friendship.
  • When in doubt, start with the weather. “It’s a beautiful day to be outside. What outdoor activities do you enjoy?”
  • Lastly, give yourself grace. It’s not the end of the world if something doesn’t go well, but it can be a learning experience. Look for positives you can take away. For example, “Now, I know not to ask about anyone’s previous relationship.”

Next, let’s look at some things we shouldn’t do when making conversation.

Making small talk on the water

Eleven Don’ts of Making Small Talk

The don’ts of small talk are just as important as the dos. Saying the right thing encourages positive interaction. But saying the wrong thing can abruptly end a conversation.

Here are the main points to remember.

  • Never make the conversation completely about yourself. Eyes will glaze over if you are the hero who knows it all.
  • Avoid having a better story that one-ups everyone else’s. This feels like the speaker is either overconfident or has something to prove. But do tell a story that others may find interesting or humorous.
  • Untruths are a no-no. They have a way of catching up with you. Moreover, a wise listener will see right through it.
  • Asking questions that are too personal. “When are you having kids?” Or, “What kind of money do you make?” Avoid subjects concerning age, religion, personal finances, family planning, politics, and other controversial issues. These topics can be offensive to others. However, it is polite to congratulate someone on a marriage, new baby, child adoption, or career promotion.
  • Abruptly changing the subject or interrupting the flow of conversation is impolite. Instead, allow the discussion to flow along its natural course.
  • Never interrupt a speaker. It’s disrespectful, and others will be less open to speaking with you.

Man and woman talking
  • Thinking about your response while someone else is talking. Always listen for the actual message. When it’s your turn to speak, acknowledge the message before offering additional information. Such as, “Oh, no! That must have felt terrible! What did you do next?”
  • Refrain from offering unsolicited advice. Your discussion partner may be venting negative feelings and only needs your ear. Instead of giving advice, offer understanding and emphatic feedback. “I’m so sorry you’re going through this. What can I do to help?” (Word of caution: speaking badly of anyone your discussion partner is upset with will come back and bite you where the sun doesn’t shine when the two make up later.)
  • Gossip and telling secrets are no-nos that discourage open, friendly communication. No one feels safe talking to a gossiper.
  • Telling offensive jokes. This is best avoided unless you know the person well and share the same values and sense of humor.
  • Avoid put-downs and trash talk when discussing anyone’s favorite team, beliefs, customs, and practices.

Your future conversation partners will thank you for avoiding these conversation don’ts that discourage open, natural discussions.

Seventeen Icebreakers to Get Conversation Flowing

If starting a conversation is difficult for you, it’s helpful to have a mental list of topics on hand to get things moving. So, here are some ideas you can use as icebreakers.

  1. Who’s your favorite author?
  2. What kind of books do you like to read?
  3. Name the last movie you saw.
  4. What historical person do you most admire?
  5. What’s at the top of your bucket list?
  6. Tell me about your hobbies.
  7. What’s the best joke you’ve ever heard?
  8. How did you enjoy your vacation?
  9. What places have you traveled to?
  10. Which sports do you enjoy?
  11. Where did you grow up? What was it like for you?
  12. Tell me what led you to become interested in _________?
  13. What did you think of the presentation today?
  14. Which movies do you think are the greatest of all time?
  15. Do you have any pets? Tell me about them.
  16. I’d love to hear more about your line of work. Do you want to tell me about it?
  17. What’s your favorite restaurant? What kind of menu do they serve?

How to make small talk pin

Takeaways of How to Make Small Talk

It’s important to remember that asking for information builds rapport. But yes or no questions can stall an interaction. Therefore, asking open-ended questions leads to deeper, more meaningful communication that progresses naturally between speaker and listener.

The point is to draw people out. Get them talking and find common ground. “You’re really good at braiding hair. It’s so hard getting mine to look right. Would you mind giving me some pointers?”

Another point to remember is most people enjoy receiving genuine compliments. Thus, to brighten someone’s day, pick out something nice about them and offer a sincere compliment. “I love your suit! It’s the perfect outfit.”

Conversely, when you are given a compliment, receive it in a thoughtful manner. Look the speaker in the eye, thank them with a smile, and let them know it means a lot to you.

Remember to keep your tone light and conversation topics positive, as these are user-friendly tools in the art of conversation.

If you ask someone about a book or movie, but they have yet to experience it, choose another subject to discuss. It’s best to avoid being a spoiler.

Final Point

In conclusion, here’s the main point to remember: to learn how to be a great conversationalist, you have to start talking. There will likely be gaffes. But there will also be great conversations with memories and new friendships made.

So, take the pressure off, arm yourself with a few good conversation topics, and learn these basic rules of how to make small talk. You’re now ready to take on the world, one discussion at a time!

You May Also Like:

125 Funny Things To Talk About: Life Of The Party

Embarrassing Questions To Avoid: Don’t Make These Key Mistakes

275 Good Conversation Starters That Lead To Genuine Friendship

References

Wikihow.com/Make-Friends

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58 Comments

  1. As an ambivert, this post is a life saver. I always struggle to naturally strike up conversations unless I’m extremely comfortable with someone in the group. I’ll try these tips.

  2. Such a great post and this is such real problem when around someone new or that you do not know very well. The awkwardness is real too and loved the tips in this post!

    1. You’re right that this is a real problem for many people. But with a few tips and pointers, anyone can improve their small talk. I’m happy you enjoyed the post!

  3. What great tips!! It’s so awkward not knowing what to say, when you making small talk, but after reading this, I don’t think I’ll be having any more trouble. thank you

  4. I consider myself quite an easygoing person, but I definitely still experience that moment of “awkwardness” when I don’t know someone that well and need to carry on a conversation. Like you mentioned, being good at talking starts with being good at listening. The list of conversation-starters is so helpful! I will definitely use some of the prompts in the future to avoid the awkward silence, haha.

    1. Those moments of awkwardness are definitely uncomfortable! These icebreakers should help alleviate some of that and help you feel more comfortable. I appreciate your thoughtful comment.

  5. The art of small talk is such a skill to have! I have found the older I have gotten with more life experience, the better at small talk I have become. Also, probably because the less I care of what people think.

    1. Age and wisdom enable us to focus on the essential things, so we worry less about other people’s opinions, But it’s necessary to communicate well. And hopefully, this post helps many people do just that.

  6. Making small talk was easy when I was in my 20s. But now for some reason it has become challenging in my 30s, this is a very useful post and practical advices. Loved reading it and will be implementing it for sure.

  7. These are awesome advice that will help. I am not the type of persone that begins the talk. I should improve my skills.

  8. Your tips are spot on, especially making the conversation about the other person, not yourself! I chuckled a little about the one-up tip. Made me think of someone I know. 🙂

  9. I think everyone could benefit from this post-especially after the few years we’ve all had. Thank you for the tips.

  10. I’m an introvert so making small talk is sometimes difficult for me as I’m shy in person until I get to know someone. I will use these tips and suggestions to learn how to make small talk easier for me.

  11. This is a very informative post. Starting a small talk is really hard for me. This is really helpful!

  12. I appreciate the practical do’s and don’ts you’ve provided, such as starting with a sincere compliment, asking open-ended questions, practicing active listening, and being mindful of the tone and content of our conversation. Your tips are helpful and practical, and I look forward to applying them in my future interactions to become a better conversationalist.

  13. I am terrible at small talk. I get socially awkward and so anxious! I needed these tips, especially those conversation starters.

    1. It’s difficult not blurting out our thoughts and experiences sometimes. But it’s about keeping the conversation going and not bringing a premature end to it. It’s okay to share experiences when the discussion calls for it though.

  14. That’s such a great post. Anxiety can be a big issue for many. The ice breakers are a really great way to get people talking. I’m sure many will find them helpful.

  15. This is so useful. I recently had a job interview and when I was asked to name a thing I am not good at, after thinking for a while, I said that this is small talk. I am awful at this. I always feel like I am intruding when I ask open ended questions. I am trying my best to overcome this fear and the icebreakers you suggested are very helpful. Thanks for sharing!

  16. I consider myself to be quite a talker, but small talk is something I struggle with. This is a great post, and I will definitely reference it in the future.

  17. Oh gosh, I am a huge introvert so small talk can be so awkward for me. I usually spit out odd facts like “Henry VIII had awesome calves!”

  18. These are great tips! I think ensuring that you are engaging in active listening is a must for small talk. Also, people like to talk about themselves so asking them questions about themselves (that are not too personal) is a great way to get a conversation going.

    1. Thanks, Lori! Active listening is actually said to be more important than talking! Being all talk but a poor listener makes for a very short, one-sided conversation!

  19. Thanks for this article on how to make small talk. I need to up my ability to ‘make small talk’ as I often stumble for things to say. Will practice some of the conversation tips presented here!

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