Small Talk…Big Problems?

Small Talk: Not Rocket Science

If you struggle with small talk, you’re probably making it more complicated than it really is. Small talk is about finding common ground. It is about filling a small amount of space with little nothings. It’s about passing the time in a friendly way and fostering goodwill. It is not rocket science, even though it can feel like it sometimes.

Your best bet for getting a conversation started is to ask questions. People love to talk about themselves and what’s going on in their lives. Quick comments about common subjects are also good ways to invite people into a light conversation.

No-Brainer Conversation Starters

  • Weather

The weather is something that everyone experiences, making it one of the easiest conversation starters, especially with people you don’t know at all.

Talking to someone in your geographic location? Say “Wow, it’s so hot/cold/humid today!” or “Can you believe how hot/cold/humid it is today?”

Talking to someone outside of your geographic location? Say “What’s the weather like over there?”

  • Weekend happenings/Weekend plans

Most people have weekends off. If it’s a Monday or Tuesday, ask “What did you do over the weekend?” or “Did you do anything fun over the weekend?” If it’s a Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, start asking about the upcoming weekend. By Wednesday, the past weekend feels too far away for most people to remember. Ask “What are you up to this weekend?” or “Have any fun plans for the weekend?”

If you know that the person you’re speaking with doesn’t have weekends off, modify your question. Ask “What do you plan to do on your days off this week?” or “How were your days off last week?”

  • Upcoming Events

The beginning and end of school can be great conversation starters for students, teachers, and parents. You can ask questions like “Are your kids/you looking forward to school starting?” or “When do your kids go back to school?” You can also make comments such as “The end of the school year is always so crazy!”

If there are upcoming events that you know the other person will relate to, those can be good conversation starters. In Austin, Texas, that could be Austin City Limits (a music festival) or SXSW (a conference/festival). Ask “Are you planning to go to [insert event]?” or say “Traffic is so crazy with [insert event] happening this weekend!”

  • Holidays

Keep in mind that people from different cultural backgrounds will celebrate different holidays. If you know the person celebrates a particular holiday, you might ask something like “What are you doing for Easter this year?” If you aren’t sure whether the person celebrates the holiday, but you know they will get an extra day or half day off of work, ask “Do you have any big plans for the long weekend?”

You can still use holidays as a conversation starter shortly after the holiday is over. For example, upon returning to work after the holiday, ask “What did you end up doing for [insert holiday]?”

  • Breaks/Vacations

During certain times of the year, it’s really common for people to take trips, either for vacation or to see family. At the beginning of the summer, you could ask an acquaintance if they’re going on any trips. At the end of the summer, you could ask if they’ve been anywhere interesting over the summer.

If you know that the person had a break from school or from work (maybe the office was closed), you could ask “What did you do over the break?”

  • Work

Just about everyone works and can relate to the struggle there. You can make comments like “Work has been so crazy this week!” or ask questions like “How has work been going?”

Final Thoughts

You can see that you don’t need to say anything groundbreaking. You just need to say something broad and simple that emits a feeling of friendliness and openness.

Now that you have some concrete ideas for getting conversations rolling, you’re ready for the next phase, which is keeping the conversation going once you’ve gotten it started. Check back soon for a follow-up article about how to maintain engaging conversations. If you’re still left wondering why small talk is so important, stay tuned as we will cover that topic as well!