I hate small talk. Hate. It. Talking about the weather or TV is boring, current events usually pisses someone off, and mere observations about others can often be interpreted as judgments or microaggressions. I’m not perfect and sometimes awkward moments really must be filled with words, but there are lots of other topics you can talk about than basic “small talk” —
When you ask someone how work is, they most likely do not work in your office or your field and you will have no idea what they’re talking about, so they will likely respond “good” and keep it neutral. Instead of asking about work, ask what they’re working to improve. Most people engage in some sort of personal development, whether it’s learning a new skill or trying to work on punctuality. People usually pursue personal development in their free time, so it is likely something they are passionate about. Initiating a passionate conversation that’s still simple? Yaaas.
What big projects are you working on right now?
Are you working on any personal development currently?
What book are you reading right now?
Have you tried any new workouts lately? (okay, this is very relevant to half of my readers — my apologies to the other half)
Has this person mentioned they also have a dog? Awesome, ask them about their dog! Do you have mutual friends on Facebook? Ask how you know them (and pray it’s not going to be an embarrassing story about a Tinder meetup).
How long have you had your dog? Do you have any favorite dog parks?
How do you know our friend (X)?
What’s your favorite song on Ed Sheeran’s new album?
When was the last time you went to a Cubs game?
Have you seen Hamilton yet?
Does the person you’re talking to know about a topic you’re interested in? Have they recently traveled somewhere you might want to go one day? Approach a conversation as a learning experience instead of a stale rally. Asking them about something they’re passionate about will again inspire a deeper conversation as well as be more interesting, but don’t dig your own grave here. Small talk can still be small talk.
Have you traveled anywhere lately?
How did you get involved in (your favorite hobby)?
What is your favorite place to eat in the city?
Where are you hoping to travel next?
What causes are you involved in? How can I become involved in a volunteer opportunity?
When in doubt, compliment the person you’re talking to! Please, let’s go beyond, “OMG I love your purse!” Even if they have one hell of a purse, be creative with your compliments. Ensuring they’re positive is important, because some observations can come off judgmental, if you don’t actively point out that you like it. “Wow you’ve lost weight!” or “You’re really confident to being wearing that,” or better yet, “You look tired/stressed/sick” — why?! Never forget that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all, even if you think your observation is ambiguous. Shhhh, embrace the silence.
Everyone loves a good, sincere compliment.
Your skin is glowing! I would ask what highlighter you use, but I think it’s natural!
Your smile is contagious!
I love your energy! You are so driven and motivated.
You would really like my friend (X). They are bubbly and intelligent like you!
Your humor amazes me. I aspire to be as witty as you are!
You can also always remain silent and not respond. This is my usual reaction, but I’ve learned my social anxiety kinda weirds people out, so I wouldn’t recommend it. Share with your friends and remind them that yes the weather is weird and no you don’t need to ask “How are you?” instead of saying “Hey.” You don’t need to ask a half-assed question to say hello.
What’s your favorite conversation starter? I always ask about travel, workouts, or food, but I think you all knew that already 🙂
++ Mary K