Does the thought of making small talk with strangers give you the willies? You are not alone. For such a small thing, making small talk can mean big anxiety.
This week in social skills groups, we are talking about small talk. We first talked about the appropriate time and place for small talk (with a safe stranger or acquaintance, to fill time, to get to know someone superficially) and when it is not (elevator, urinal, an entire plane ride).
Here are some tips for successful small talk:
1. Listen. Relax. Whatever other conversational skills and tricks you may have learned, trying to use them one after another like some sort of a vaudeville performer interrupts the natural flow of conversation. By trying to use too many conversation starters or going to your "go to" topics too soon, you may be making things harder for yourself. Just let it flow.
2. Ask Open Questions. Open ended questions leave your conversation partner room to maneuver the answer into territory that feels safe for them, and opens up the possibility of follow up questions and connections. Without these, conversation will not flow easily.
3. Be Sherlock Holmes. Look for visual signs that may tell you something about the person you are speaking to. For example, wearing a Patriots sweatshirt might mean they enjoy watching sports, or are from New England. A band on the ring finger usually means they are married etc.
4. Comment on common topics. Is it a beautiful day? Was there something big in the news? Are you both waiting for the same bus? Common topics are usually context related.
5. Use Active Listening. Making eye contact, responding affirmatively, and occasionally repeating back phrases for clarification show your partner that you are engaged in the conversation and interested in what they are saying.
6. Excuse yourself for technology. Answering a call or a text is like walking out of the room. Sometimes you have to do it if the message you are getting is important, but you would never walk out of the room in the middle of a conversation without excusing yourself. If you must take a call, say something like "please excuse me, this is a call I have been waiting for".