How to Be a Master at Small Talk

Chit-chat, better known as small talk, is a great way to connect with people. (RossHelen/Shutterstock)
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By Bill Lindsey

Not everyone can make small talk in work or social settings, but it’s a great icebreaker and may even lead to new friendships. Here are tips on how to master chit-chat and become an expert at brief, meaningful conversations.

Say Something Nice

Skip the weather and start with a compliment. The goal is to put the other person at ease; by finding something to compliment them on, such as a great outfit or asking about the functions of their interesting watch, they can let their guard down a bit. Pay attention to make sure this doesn’t make them uncomfortable. If it does, make a complimentary comment about someone else in the room. Avoid snarky comments, as you may be talking about their spouse!

Smiles Are Contagious

When you see someone new enter the room, whether it is a conference room, a living room, or even a Zoom virtual meeting, greet them with a genuine smile. Making others feel welcome goes a long way toward making them, and you, comfortable. If you’re part of a group discussion, but not sure what to say, smile. If you notice a shy person not talking, a smile may be the way to put him or her at ease.

Make It About Them

The Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “’We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Not interrupting the conversation to tell your own story shows respect and good manners. Maintaining eye contact with whoever is speaking shows you are paying attention and are interested in what they’re saying. People like others who listen to what they have to say; making eye contact shows that you’re interested.

Pass the Test

If you are chatting with someone you casually know from work, school, or the neighborhood, make a point of asking how their pet or child is doing, using the child or pet’s name you learned during an earlier conversation. The two goals of a conversation are to make sure everyone is enjoying themselves and learning something new. By centering the small talk on something important to the other person, it’s easier to make a connection.

Keep Small Talk Small

Not everyone enjoys chit-chatting, so if they stop, or never start talking, fill the awkward silence with a smile, saying something innocuous such as, “Isn’t this a great place to hold a party?” or “How did you meet Sid and Nancy?” It can take some effort to draw out a shy person, but the reward when they open up is well worth it. If all fails, quote Joey Tribbiani, “Hey, how you doin’?”

Bill Lindsey is an award-winning writer based in South Florida. He covers real estate, automobiles, timepieces, boats, and travel topics.

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