The Smart Way to Make Meaningful Small Talk

I have shared tips on how to deal with social anxiety during the holidays on the blog – but I wanted to go deeper into all the ways you can make small talk more meaningful and easier to navigate. My anxiety has been at an all-time high this year, and after 6 months of seeing basically nobody but family and people in my close circle, going into any social situation feels a bit like stimulation overload. Hopefully, these tips can ease any feelings of anxiety, whether you’re attending in-person or virtual gatherings this season! Here are 7 smart ways to make meaningful small talk.

*To help reduce the spread of COVID-19 during the holiday season, make sure to read the CDC’s detailed guide on how to socially distance during the holidays, check the infection rates in your area before attending or hosting events, avoid crowded gatherings and – as always – wear your mask, frequently wash and sanitize your hands and limit physical contact!

Ask “why” & “how” questions

Asking open-ended questions that demand stories and opinions vs. one-word answers is key in keeping the conversation going. Using “why” and “how” instead of “what” requires more complex answers that will help expand the conversation. Asking, “What do you do for a living?” usually leads to a one-word title or position, but asking “Why/how did you end up in this line of work?” will make the person feel more invited to share something personal and elicit a more thoughtful response.

Be curious

One of my favorite small talk tricks is to ask people about themselves! I always do this when I feel stuck in social situations. People usually love to talk about themselves – and it’s an easy way to start conversations. By allowing the other person to initially take center stage, you can build your comfort level and test the waters before sharing your own thoughts. Being curious and asking questions is also a great way to find common ground!

Ask for advice

For the most part, people love to talk about themselves AND their experiences. Studies show that talking about oneself activates the same areas of the brain that light up when eating good food and having sex, and people are motivated to talk about themselves more than other topics. So use this to your advantage and take the opportunity to learn something new!

Talk less & listen more

Truly listening involves hearing what the person is saying and paying attention to non-verbal communication. Responding by reflecting on the conversation and paraphrasing what the person said is a great way to keep the conversation moving forward. You can also encourage elaboration with these 3 magic words: “Tell me more.”

Follow the traffic light rule

In the first 30 seconds of talking, your light is green, which means you have the listener’s attention. After 30 seconds, your light is yellow; the risk of being perceived as too chatty and the listener losing interest is increasing. After 60 seconds, your light is red. There might be times you want to run that red light, but the majority of the time, it’s best to spotlight the other person by asking questions or letting them step in.

Be aware of body language

Paying attention to body language is a good way to get a feel of the conversation. Non-verbal communication such as eye contact, sincere nodding, leaning in and facial expressions all help to communicate interest. Show that you’re engaged by smiling, uncrossing your arms and paying attention!

Ditch the phone

A study showed how even the presence of a phone can ruin a conversation. So ditch the phone! Leave it in your pocket or purse, but never place it on the table. If you’re expecting an important call, text, etc., you can let the other person know so they don’t think you’re mindlessly scrolling through your phone.

Would you consider yourself a social butterfly or a wallflower? I’d love to hear your small talking tips!