Make small talk less of a necessary evil and more mutually satisfying with these tips.
I hate small talk.
At least, I used to. In social interactions, I used to plaster on a fake smile, fumble my way through uncomfortable questions and answers, and secretly wish I could be shoving toothpicks up my fingernails because anything would be preferable to having to make inane conversation with a stranger.
Eventually I changed my tune, though, because succeeding at small talk is a fundamental social skill. Why? Because apparently we have nothing better to talk about than the weather. Just kidding! (That was the old me talking.)
Small talk is an important social ritual that allows you to discern friend from foe. Seriously. If you can’t talk about the weather without contention, what the heck can you talk about? Engaging in small talk helps you establish common ground so that you can move to more important territory. You have to start here.
Unfortunately, with more and more of us working remotely, opportunities to make small talk have gone the way of the VCR. It’s just too easy — perhaps even expected — to keep conversations focused exclusively on the matter at hand and avoid all the awkwardness of “So… how was your weekend?”
If this is your experience and you want to improve your social and networking skills, here are some tips:
If all your interactions with other people are “small,” well, that’s a problem. But if none of them are, that’s a problem, too. Stop waiting until everyone else has joined the video call before you jump on. Get in there and discuss how much better you like your commute when working from home or why you chose that virtual Zoom background. A waste of time? Not if you care about getting work done — productivity requires people which require relationships which require connections which require … small talk. (Sorry.)
Develop a Formula
When I first realized I was terrible at small talk, I started googling conversations starters. I needed help. And sure, it can be helpful to have a few go-to questions that you carry around in your back pocket.