Getting More Out of Small Talk

Casual conversation, or chit-chat, as it is sometimes called, may seem insignificant, and more of a way to pass the time than to get things done. But even informal exchanges can help to build personal or professional relationships. The following tips may help.

Avoid the obvious.

Most of us are equipped with a cache of stock phrases for casual discussions:

  • How are you?
  • What’s up?
  • How’s it going?

Questions like these do little more than acknowledge a person’s presence or offer a superficial comment. While better than ignoring someone, there are more effective ways to communicate while passing the time. Instead of asking about someone’s health or well-being with a cursory inquiry about how the person is doing, ask how their day has been thus far. You can also refer to a current health topic, such as whether the person has been able to avoid the flu, or if he or she enjoys the balmy or freezing temperatures. Comments like these suggest a more thoughtful approach and perhaps even a slightly more caring or concerned attitude.

Be creative.

Consider the person with whom you are chatting. Have some fun trying to guess the type of person he or she is, and then ask a question that might be of interest. If a business type, mention a related news item, like the Dow rising or falling sharply. When conversing with a parent or grandparent, you could ask about their satisfaction with the local school system or curriculum. Tailoring your questions to the person’s potential interests can lead to more interesting conversations that lay the foundation for ongoing meaningful dialogue, or at the very least, help the time to pass more pleasantly.

Coax a response.

When bringing up a conversation topic, remember to invite the other person’s opinion. If you are asked what your company does, after explaining, you can ask the other person the same. By encouraging the other person to share views, the conversation will become more of a two-way communication rather than a monologue, which quickly become boring. If someone compliments your appearance or presentation, try to similarly praise the other person, unless it would seem artificial.

By engaging in a mutual discussion that targets the other person’s interests, you are likely to keep the conversation going in a meaningful way. You will also be remembered as a considerate conversing partner.

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