Have you ever found yourself wanting to start a conversation with someone but not knowing how or what to say? Perhaps you’ve just met someone for the first time, or you know who they are, but you haven’t spoken before. You could even be waiting to enter a meeting or a lecture and standing next to somebody whilst an awkward silence looms over you. These situations can make people feel awkward, anxious and unsettled, particularly when they want to make a good impression on a new colleague or classmate! If you have ever found yourself in a similar situation, then you should consider using a very useful conversational technique known as ‘small talk’.
What is Small Talk?
Small talk is a polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters. It’s the type of casual chat that wouldn’t cause a fight or an argument because it’s about topics that are not serious and are not intended to cause debate or offence. Small talk is, therefore, a great way to make new friends, build relationships with colleagues or classmates, and even make someone feel more relaxed in your presence. People commonly use small talk at the start of a job interview to make the candidate feel more at ease or when they have just started a new job and want to get to know their co-workers.
Which topics should you choose and avoid for small talk?
Small talk is an essential part of communication, especially in professional and social settings. It helps to build connections, establish trust, and create a comfortable atmosphere. However, not all topics are suitable for small talk. In this blog post, we will discuss which topics you should choose and avoid for small talk.
Topics to Avoid
Considering that small talk is only intended to be casual and light-hearted, you should be careful with your choice of conversation. Certain topics could potentially cause offence to people of different cultures, genders and age groups, therefore it is generally advised that you avoid any of the following:
- Politics (do you support your country’s leadership style?)
- Money/salary (how much money do you make?)
- Religion (do you believe in God?)
- Sex/sexuality (are you gay?)
- Family (are you married?)
- Health & weight (you look a little fat!)
- Negative comments about appearance (you have food in your teeth)
- Controversial topics (like abortion, life after death, feminism etc… )
As you can see from the examples above, these choices of conversation could easily cause offence, start an argument or create a very negative impression of yourself on others. If you are trying to make friends or build your reputation as a working professional, these topics will certainly not help you achieve those goals. ‘Safe’ options for the small talk can include any of these ideas:
- The weather (I can’t believe how hot it is outside! Are you doing anything nice after work?)
- Entertainment (cinema, movies, books etc..)
- Hobbies/interests (what do you like doing in your spare time? Do you like playing football? We could ask the rest of the team if they fancy a game on Saturday?)
- Travel (have you got any nice holidays planned this summer?)
- Food (do you know any good lunch spots? I’m craving sushi!)
- Pets (Do you have a dog? I love dogs! Do you know any good parks around here for dog walking?)
- Sports (do you play any sports? Oh, I like basketball too, let’s play sometime)
- Work (what do you do for work?)
- News (be careful, only choose news topics that are uncontroversial)
How to become good at small talk?
Although small talk topics are generally easy to discuss, some people still feel very awkward or uncomfortable making small talk with people they barely know. Maybe you’ve tried to start a conversation about the weather, but the other person gives you a one-word answer, and the conversation doesn’t really go anywhere!
The best way to avoid these kinds of situations is to be more natural with your choices. Instead of asking closed questions that are likely to generate a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer (like nice weather, isn’t it?), consider open-ended questions that allow the other person to give more detail, e.g. this sunshine makes me want to grab a smoothie. Do you know any good smoothie shops around here? Or ‘have you been working in this industry long, or have you recently entered it?’.
These types of questions allow the other person to give you more information, to which you can ask further questions and turn it into more of a conversation than a quick chat.
In conclusion, small talk is an important part of communication, and the topics you choose can make a big difference. Stick to neutral topics like the weather and hobbies, and avoid sensitive topics like politics and religion. Remember to be respectful and considerate of other people’s feelings, and you’ll be sure to make great connections through small talk. Finally, remember to just be yourself and be confident!