The Triviality of Small Talk

If you’re like me, before seeing anyone whether they are your close friend, an acquaintance, family member. Anyone you’re seeing one on one, you have that dreaded feeling – ‘what the hell are we going to talk about?’

Jars and vases different colours in a row

Not seeing someone for a while – at least you’ve got gaps to fill. Family members, you can talk about others in the family… but what’s next… do you fill that awkward silence with umms and ahhs and see ya laters…

Here are my 6 tips that haven’t yet failed me and are easily transferable between any of the above categories. Especially once you’re done with the gap-filling and gossiping topics, even for those dreaded time sinking cocktail parties that no one really wants to be at – these are your winning topics – and a couple to avoid too.

  1. Open-ended questions are a godsend and your best friend.
    • These lead onto other conversations and often bring up things you may actually have in common or have also experienced recently. It’s a win-win-win scenario.
    • Focus on things you know (veering away into the unknown could lead to overthinking afterwards or being backed into an anxiety-filled corner – ‘nobody puts Baby in the corner‘)
    • These questions can be ‘what they feel about…’ on a mutual topic current event, or ‘how they got to the event’ or ‘what they think of the canapes’ (especially if they are eating the same treat). Look about your environment for possible points.
    • Also, remember to contribute to things they say as well – show you’re listening (even if you don’t really care).
  2. Notice things about the person. Introverts are impressive at observing. It’s our secret talent!
    • People LOVE talking about themselves once they get started. Like their haircut/nails? Ask them about it. Notice their shoes – ask them where they shopped for them. They’ll likely tell you a life story about their hairdresser or salon and past history disasters or wins. It’s not weird at all and you’re also likely giving them a boost to their day and just happy you noticed.
    • Watch out for that look of aversion – they may be introverted like you and want to avoid the topic like the plague. So move back to the open-ended questions option.
  3. Find out about their family – many people love talking about their kids especially.
    • It’s so strange that even without having kids of my own I pull on the knowledge I have of my nieces and nephews to fill the gaps and be able to be empathetic on such topics.
  4. Allow the other person to lead the conversation. If they are more extroverted this should happen naturally. You will need to give something of yourself to help the flow, but if you can pass the social baton to another take the chance while you can.
  5. Avoid questions like where a person is from. This can lead you down a dark awkward hole you cannot come out from. Period. It’s not worth it. If you must – add on the word ‘today’ e.g. where did you travel from today leading to conversations about traffic… not fun but it’s much easier to flow on to other topics.
  6. And ultimately if you’re over it – tap out. Others can pick up on when you’re not listening. When you’re not interested. So part ways when you’re done and if you’re truly over the experience and hit a social wall – just leave. No one will think of you negatively and if they do – they’re just not worth your time.
Flow diagram of small talk by Ann Marie Gribble

To summarise, prioritise those ‘who what where when why’ questions, be observant, be the follower where you can, avoid cultural questions and ultimately tap out when you need to. Or follow the confusing/not so confusing flow diagram above!

Life would be much simpler if we could do without these awkward interactions – unfortunately, they seem to be very unavoidable. Hopefully, these tips help!