3 Ways To Initiate Small Talk In Conversation
I used to be an introvert back then.
I disliked having to turn up for meetings or gatherings as I hated the small talk. Come on – I’m sure you will agree with me that it is uncomfortable to pretend you know the person standing in front of you well when you are meeting him or her for the first time. It was tiring having to put on an act. And knowing my character, I can’t tell a lie.
What’s worse was to act as if I was the pro in the room. When in reality, I was the misfit in society, the odd one out. Yet I couldn’t do anything about it except to keep myself in check all the time so as not to behave silly or speak incoherently.
It was the pathetic, insipid old me…the old me that I couldn’t wait to bury deep in the recesses of the Sahara Desert, widely acclaimed to be the world’s largest desert.
If you find yourself nodding fervently to what I have shared about the old me, do not worry.
Because the good news is…you are not alone.
Many people hate having to initiate small talk in conversation. But trust me, it doesn’t always have to be painful. In fact, if done expertly, small talk can be a very useful way to break the ice and open pathways to meaningful friendships, relationships or partnerships.
Let me share with you 3 ways I personally use to initiate the art of small talk. And mind you, if you read my story, you know I have successfully transformed myself beyond my introverted, nerdy days. So if I can master small talk, so can you.
Tip #1: Give A Compliment
As Asians, we are a pretty shy bunch of people.
But do you know we all love a good compliment?
There is a molecular chemical in our brains scientists call dopamine. Dopamine is said to be the neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s pleasurable senses urging us to take action to achieve the rewards we hanker.
Based on this important piece of research, we can safely say that when someone compliments us, the dopamine levels in our brains rise thus making us feel emotionally rewarded and satisfied. In short, we feel good inside.
That’s why it makes sense for us to compliment others. The tip is to be sincere in paying the compliment. I like to personalize the compliment to the person. For example, if it’s a lady, I can compliment her on her good fashion sense, makeup or hair.
When she receives the compliment, she feels good and will automatically return me one. This is called basic courtesy.
Similarly, when someone compliments you, just smile and say thank you. Then you give a compliment in return.
Tip #2: Find A Common Topic
I love this one as it always works.
People are generally conversationalists by nature. You just have to unlock their chatterboxes within while giving them the license to speak. And there’s no easier way than to find a common topic.
My small talk list of topics never steers away from the evergreen ones because regardless of month, season or economic outlook, they are always in vogue.
Evergreen topics I love to small talk about include food (we are a food paradise!), movies (that’s one of our favourite past-times in Singapore) and holidays (don’t we love travelling?).
If it’s a guy specific and I observe that he’s pretty fit, then I’ll talk about sports and working out in the gym. Or if I sense some degree of geekiness in him, then I’ll mention something about IT gadgets or smart phones.
If it’s a lady and she’s immaculately dressed, then my topics would revolve around fashion (trends, tips and styles) and skincare (Korean skincare is huge!)
There is a common topic that binds people (strangers included) together. You just have to know which one works best.
Tip #3: Listen Actively
If you are still feeling shy, don’t worry.
Just ask questions. But not interview style questions. Instead, ask open-ended questions as it promotes conversation flow.
By allowing the other person to take centre stage, you are also allowing yourself to slowly build your comfort level while listening to him or her share.
When you listen, listen actively. Some people are passive listeners and it’s easy to tell them apart. Physically they are there standing in front of you. But mentally and emotionally, they are light years away. Some tell-tale signs include checking their phones all the time, gazing around the room with lost eyes and acting busy.
If you are listening actively, these are the three behavioural patterns that you will subconsciously do.
• Your body will lean forward (torso facing the speaker). This shows you are interested in the conversation.
• You will nod or smile from time to time. This shows you are in agreement.
• You may add subtle responses of your own (examples include that’s true, I know right, tell me more etc).
And here’s an interesting fact I discovered.
Do you know that just by listening, you are able to glean so many nuggets of information about the person standing in front of you?
When you remember some of these information nuggets, you are able to feed them back to the speaker at a later stage.
There will naturally come a point when he or she will pause and ask “how about you?”
Now this is your cue to start talking. And you have to talk. Small talk.