Have you ever noticed that some people just seem to be able to carry on a conversation with anyone, and they make you feel comfortable? It's not that they talk about anything important necessarily, but they seem to have a lot to say, nonetheless. These people have mastered the art of "small talk."
Many individuals feel uncomfortable meeting new people because they do not know what to say. They hope that someone else will start a conversation and think of something to keep it going. They may feel lost, awkward, and not know how to get a conversation going or what to talk about. Those "awkward silences" seem deadly.
What is "small talk?" Small talk is informal or casual conversation and helps "break the ice" during awkward moments, or fill in gaps. Small talk consists of talking about "safe subjects". These are topics that are neutral subjects that are not personal and do not offend anyone. Some common topics for small talk include the following:
Music: Most people enjoy music. You can discuss your favorite types of music, concerts you have seen, etc. For example: "I bought a CD the other day of George Winston. I love piano music. Have you ever heard of him?"
Work: Work is always a great topic and will help you get to know the other person. It is a great way to begin a long conversation. For example: "Last week was so busy at work, I even worked during the weekend."
Compliments. Saying something nice to someone about their clothing, jewelry, home, etc. is always a great way to start a conversation. For example: If you arrive at someone's house for a party, you can give the person a compliment about their home by saying, "You have a beautiful home".
Background. You can ask the person where they are from and a little bit about their background, such as schools they went to, what they studied, etc. Most people love to talk about themselves, so this is always a great conversation topic. For example: I hear you have done a lot of travelling. What was your favorite place to visit?
Sports. Most American men enjoy talking about their favorite local teams in sports. If you don’t know much about sports, you may want to look at it in the newspaper or listen to the news just before your social gathering to learn a little bit about the seasonal sport and some of the team’s athletes. For example: Did you see the game last night? The Red Sox were really playing great.
Family. Everyone enjoys talking about their family. You can begin by asking if he/she has children and how old they are. If you have children of your own, you have something in common and can discuss things your children enjoy doing (i.e., sports at school, instruments, plans for the future, gymnastics, swimming, etc). For example: How are the kids doing? Are they doing any sports or after school activities this year?
Travel: Talking about vacations, trips you've taken, sights you've seen, etc. are great safe subjects to discuss. For example: How was your trip? I heard you went to Hawaii. That must have been fantastic!
Traffic: Everyone who drives in a big city has to travel through traffic and everyone hates it. We all hate lots of traffic, so pretty much everyone has this in common. For example: The traffic this morning was awful; it took me over an hour to get to work. I have to find a new way to get there that doesn't take so much time.
Weather: Discussing the weather is also a safe, comfortable subject. For example: "It's been so rainy lately, I can't wait until the sun shines again!"
Movies: Discuss a recent movie you have seen. Many people are movie-goers, but if you meet someone who isn't, they may still enjoy hearing about it. For example: Did you see the new movie yet?
Books: If reading is a hobby of yours, you may want to ask the other person if they have read any good books lately. Then, you can talk about one that you have read, what kinds of books you like, etc. For example: I know you like mystery books, have you read anything by James Patterson?
Pets: If you have pets, you may want to talk about them with someone new. It makes a great conversation topic. For example: I love animals, I've got two dogs. Want to see some pictures?
Parts of a successful conversation 1. Active listening is very important! Periodically, ask questions and make comments while the person you are talking to is speaking. In this way, you are being a good listener, and it shows you are interested in what they have to say. We call this “active listening.” You do not have to ask too many questions or insert too many comments, however. A few will be fine. Examples of active listening comments and questions include the following:
That's really interesting!
I didn't know that.
I can't believe that.
Wow, that's amazing.
That sounds great.
I've always wanted to do that.
What happened after that?
When did that happen?
How long ago was that?
That's fascinating. I'd love to hear more about that.
Here are some examples of some questions you might ask to get a conversation going:
What do you think about the party?
What do you do for work?
Do you travel?
Where did you go on vacation?
What was your favorite trip?
Do you have children?
What hobbies do you have?
What kind of movies do you like?
Do you have a favorite book?
2. Questions and topics you should avoid. While there are topics that are safe to talk about, there are also subjects you should avoid. In the American culture, we never want to ask personal questions that might possibly offend someone, especially if we do not know them very well. Here are some questions you should avoid asking a woman.
How old are you?
How much do you weigh?
Is that your natural hair color?
Are you on a diet?
Here are some questions to avoid in general:
How much money do you earn?
How much did you pay for that?
What religion are you?
What are your political views?
3. Comments you should avoid. Do not say anything that the other person may find offensive or rude, especially if they are only an acquaintance. Some examples of what NOT to say include the following:
You look like you've gained weight.
Those clothes don't look good on you.
That color does nothing for you; you'd look better in something brighter.
You have an awful job.
You are obnoxious.
You don't make much money, do you?
I can't believe you are a republican/democrat.
Your clothes are all wrinkled.
That dress makes you look fat.
You're going bald!
Your jewelry looks cheap; I'd never buy anything like that.
4. Match your body language to the speaker’s. Try to use the same body language as the person who is speaking. Body language includes how you stand or sit, your facial expressions, and movements you make.
Look at the following examples:
If the person you are talking to leans in toward you when he/she is speaking, you should lean in a little bit.
If a person smiles when they talk, you should smile, too.
If the person who is speaking has a surprised facial expression with raised eyebrows, you should raise your eyebrows to match.
5. Going beyond small talk
After you make small talk for a little while, there is usually a sharing of ideas and opinions that follows. At that time, you can go into more detail about a topic, discuss your feelings about a specific subject, or talk about more personal things not listed in the "safe topics."
As mentioned earlier, it is best in most cases to avoid discussing such topics as politics and religion, as most people have very strong feelings regarding these two issues. If you know a person very well and feel you can express an opposing point of view without making the other person angry, then that is fine. You be the judge as to which topics are safe and which topics are "hot topics."
Talk about personal subjects at the appropriate time. For example, if you are at a public function, such as a party, concert, restaurant or club, you would probably not want to talk about something personal that might be overheard by others. You may want to save personal topics for when you can talk to a person in private.
6. Take turns in the conversation. A conversation should not be all about one person. There should always be an exchange of information in a conversation. It is the give and take that makes the conversation keep going. Having said that, there are always people who are very talkative and might tend to dominate a conversation. With these people, you may not have the chance to speak much, you may only be able to make very short comments in active listening. If this happens, then try to let the other person talk; do not try to stop them from talking if they have a lot to say. Be a good listener!
The following are examples of conversations including safe topics. They are hypothetical situations regarding work, hobbies, movies, pets, and talking about a party. Read through them on your own to get an idea about what two people talking might say.
Examples of conversations Talking about work: (at a work social party for a company called ABC) Speaker 1: Hi, I’m Adam Jones. Speaker 2: Hi, I’m Sandy Martin, nice to meet you. Speaker 1: Do you work at ABC company? Speaker 2: No, I actually work at Anderson Company, I’m an accountant. What do you do? Speaker 1: I’m an analyst for ABC. I’ve been here for about five years now. What do you do? Speaker 2: That’s great. I’m an analyst as well. Do you like your job? Speaker 1: I do like it, but sometimes it gets a little crazy! Speaker 2: I know what you mean. It’s the same way at my office. I never seem to have enough time to get everything done. I could work 24/7 and still not have enough time to finish my projects. What kinds of things are you working on right now? Speaker 1: Lately, I’ve been working on a big project that involves two departments. We’re trying to develop some new strategies for next year. Because its such a big project, we’ll be working on it until the end of the year. Hopefully, we’ll get some good information that we can use. Speaker 2: It sounds like you’ll have your hands full for quite a while.,
Talking about hobbies: Speaker 1: How are you doing John? Speaker 2: I’m fine, and you? Speaker 1: Great! I’ve been trying to get into shape by jogging every day. Speaker 2: Really. I didn’t know you jogged. How far do you usually go? Speaker 1: I started out jogging a mile. Now I’m up to between 3 and 5 miles a day. I feel so much better since I started working out! Speaker 2: That’s great. I’ve been trying to get to the gym a few times a week. I play basketball with some guys from work. It’s a lot of fun, but I’m not as young as I used to be! Do you have a favorite place you jog? Speaker 1: I usually go to the park near my house. There are some great trails there.
Talking about movies: Speaker 1: Did you have a good weekend? Speaker 2: It was nice, thanks; very relaxing. Speaker 1: Did you do anything exciting? Speaker 2: My family and I went to a movie on Sunday afternoon. It’s one of the few times this month that we’ve had the chance to go out all together. Speaker 1: Sounds nice. What movie did you see? Speaker 2: It was called “Wedding Crashers”. We were in the mood for a light comedy and this one was pretty good. The kids enjoyed it too. My husband I really enjoy movies, pretty much any kind. It’s a nice relaxing time out together, and we both enjoy mysteries, thrillers, comedies and other kinds. Speaker 1: I haven’t seen Wedding Crashers yet. I like going to the movies, but lately I haven’t had time to do much of anything, because I’ve been working so much. Maybe I’ll wait until it comes out on video and rent it. It sounds like a good movie!
Talking about pets Speaker 1: Hello, my name is Amy Speaker 2: Hi Amy, I’m Jenna. Speaker 1: Are you having fun at the party? Speaker 2: I think it’s great, and you? Speaker 1: I’m really having a good time Speaker 2: It’s nice to be doing something other than working. Speaker 1: I know what you mean. I’m either working or taking care of my new puppy. Speaker 2: You got a new puppy? I love dogs! What kind did you get? Speaker 2: It’s a little Yorkshire Terrier, and it only weighs about 2 pounds. It’s the cutest thing! Speaker 1: What’s its name? Speaker 2: It’s a female, and her name is Amber. The kids named it. She’s black and brown and is absolutely adorable. The kids spend every waking moment playing with her. Do you have any pets? Speaker 1: I used to have a dog when I was a kid, but we don’t have any pets now. Someday I’d love to get a dog though, maybe a big one. I kind of like German shepherds, I think they’re good watch dogs. Speaker 2: I’ve heard that, too. My sister used to have a German shepherd and she liked it a lot. I’m more of a small dog person, though. The littler the better! Speaker 1: A big dog could eat your little dog for a snack! (laughing) Speaker 2: (laughing) I know!
Talking about a party Speaker 1: Hi John, how are you? Speaker 2: Hi Anne, I’m fine, and you? Speaker 1: Great thanks. This is a wonderful party; thanks so much for inviting me. Speaker 2: My pleasure. I’m glad you’re having a good time. Speaker 1: We always look forward to your parties; you are a great hostess!
Cheryl Posey, MS CCC-SLP firstname.lastname@example.org 774-212-3241 Copyright 2010-2019