I’m sorry to start the day with a rant, but you know who really gives me the crankies? When people complain that the check-out chick asked them how they were today when they just went in to buy a box of tampons.
“I mean what an inane question! It’s not like they even care how I’m going. Ugh, why can’t they keep their meaningless chit chat to themselves and leave me the hell alone?”
Sound familiar? Do you know someone who says stuff like that? Do YOU say stuff like that?
I’ll tell you why it bothers me. That person is trapped in a repetitive retail cycle for the next seven hours, and they’re doing something inherently human: they’re reaching out to others. They’re making a connection, and asking the same from the world. From you, just for the five minutes that you’re in their space.
What we are doing, when we make small talk at a checkout, or in a lift or at the school gate, is showing our intention – and a small amount of who we are – to others. We’re saying, “I mean you no harm. I come in peace. I’m friendly.”
And isn’t that a nice thing to be?
I know that many of us are socially awkward. I put myself in that category too. I’m mostly excellent at hiding the fact, but I promise you, when I get home I’m replaying our entire conversation in my head and cringing at everything I did and didn’t say. So we could all do with some lessons on making good small talk.
Here are 9 tips to help you master the art of small talk:
- Talk about the weather. I know, it’s hackneyed, but it’s something that everyone has in common, and that everyone is comfortable talking about. Yes, it exhausts itself quickly, but it’s a nice, neutral place to start.
- Talk about whatever it is you have in common. If you’re at school, ask if they’ve met the new principal. If you’re in a lift, ask who they’re visiting in the building. If you’re at a checkout, ask how much longer they’ve got left in their shift.
- Compliment the other person on something reasonably obvious: their shoes, their glasses, their haircut. And then ask questions about it. Do not, however, get too personal. Lips, eyes, boobs – all out.
- Allow yourself to travel down a rabbit hole. If conversation about their earrings turns to their friend the jeweller who has a studio in Melbourne, talk about Melbourne, and then see where that leads you.
- Ask plenty of questions – everyone loves to talk about themselves – but be sure to answer questions fully as well. That’s how conversation works. Ask too many questions without answering any and you’ll come off as an interrogator. Try to ensure a reasonably equal share of the conversation for each of you.
- Avoid – as much as humanly possible – politics, sex, health, death and religion.
- Try to read other people’s queues. Not everyone will feel like making small talk all the time, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean they don’t like you; they could just be having a bad day or be feeling like some quiet time. Try not to take offence, and try again another time.
- If you’re an extrovert, try to understand that introverts struggle more with small talk, and do some of the heavy lifting for them. Be the first to say hello, and try to keep the flow of conversation moving.
- If you’re an introvert, try to push past your comfort zone a little bit and smile at someone or say hello. Every time you do it, it gets easier.