How you can master small talk

social skills Aug 30, 2023

If you ever stop to observe those who struggle with conversation, you'll notice that they struggle with multiple aspects of it. Maintaining conversation tends to be lower down on the list, with the highest item being trouble with small talk. Small talk is the gateway to having enjoyable conversations, so it's understandable that those who struggle with it struggle with conversations in general. Today, I'll be showing you how you can master small talk.

Many people hate small talk. They say it's awkward and they would rather skip it entirely. You can't; it's like meeting somebody and not saying 'Hello, nice to meet you.'

Because we are social creatures, we have certain "rituals" for how we handle social situations. Small talk is one such process, one that shows how socially adjusted you are.

Despite the usual grumbling against it, mastering small talk is not that hard. Here are three things that make small talk easy to master.

1. The first hurdle

Ah, first steps. Always so hard. And tedious. And nerve-wracking. I think we can all agree that first steps are pretty dreaded by many. Despite how much people may hate taking first steps, you still need to take them to make any headway. Plus, they never turn out as bad as you think they will.

Yes, initiating small talk is terrifying. It seems like it'll be awkward and that they may not want to have a conversation with you in the first place.

To that I say, yes, it might be true. It will be awkward, no doubt, and they may not want to talk to you. However, this is only one possibility.

You cannot get rid of the awkwardness of starting small talk, that's a given. It is quite tryhard to initiate an interaction, especially if you're meeting for the first time.

There's nothing wrong with that, however, as one of you will have to do it to make something happen. If you take on the burden of seeming a bit tryhard, your impression in their mind will be better than if you did nothing.

Taking on that burden becomes easier when you realize that most people are open to having interesting interactions, even with strangers.

As children, we were told not to talk to strangers. While this helped us when we were younger, as we get older it does more harm than good.

We keep this idea that we shouldn't talk to strangers when we're old enough to protect ourselves and think for ourselves. As a grown man, or at least a man who isn't in his pre-teen years, you are capable of taking those necessary risks to improve yourself.

Challenge yourself to initiate small talk with somebody you enjoy interacting with. Start off with precise, simple questions that still provoke thought-out answers. Something like, "What adventures have you gotten up to this week?" or something simple like, "What did you do yesterday?"

If you know they're doing something on a certain day, you could ask them how it went. If you don't know what they're doing, you could ask them that also.

Pick a question that suits the scenario you're in and roll with it.

2. It just needs to work

The biggest factor that holds back so many people is perfectionism. We want everything to go as smoothly as possible. We want there to be no hiccups, no trouble, and definitely no conflict. While the likelihood of this happening is very low, we still stress ourselves over this, and for no good reason.

Nobody is perfect, but you already know that. Yet, so many people, most likely including yourself, still act like you need to be perfect.

More often than not, the perfection we aim for is a product of being exposed to the scenarios that improve us at that particular skill set. Funny enough, we learn along the way that we don't need to be perfect.

What I'm saying here is that you don't be slick or smooth, you just have to do what works to get results.

You don't need a smooth transition from topic to topic. You don't need the perfect window to approach or close the interaction. While you don't want to make things awkward, your focus should primarily fall on making things work.

If you've ever seen a guy almost fumble with a girl and clutch it back afterward, you'll know what I mean. 

More often than not, we don't want to be seen as being pushy. We don't want to force the interaction on them, especially if they can't keep pace.

However, most people also don't want to put in that kind of logistical effort. Rather than directing the conversation, most people just want to talk.

They want to know what to talk about, not think about where to steer the ship. When you take on the burden of directing the small talk, both of you can get into that flow. Combine threading with that, and you get conversations where you're both putting in healthy amounts of effort.

3. Of duds and studs

How many times have you tried something, and it failed when you thought it would work? More times than you want to admit, or you never bothered to keep count, I would know. Many people fear failure because they think it makes them feel incompetent. They feel stupid or not as skilled. As a result, they try less and less until they aren't trying at all.

The reality of trying anything is that you will fail in one way or another. So the question isn't how will you avoid failure, but how will you handle it?

The obvious answer is to take it as a learning moment, but there's more to it than that. How do you handle the failure in the moment?

You can't just drop a conversation because you fumbled with what you were trying to do. This kind of behavior leads to nothing but botched skills.

To really become better at small talk, you need to learn how to handle when you fumble so you don't fall down every time you do fumble.

When you try something in small talk and it doesn't stick, you simply need to accept that you need to take an L and move on.

The moment you understand that it hasn't stuck, you need to pivot. More often than not, this will be you asking them a question on a different topic.

When you do this repeatedly, it instills into your brain the idea that when something doesn't stick, you simply need to pivot to a different conversational pathway.

This kind of flexibility when baked into your subconscious becomes an invaluable tool in your toolkit for having more fluent, flowing conversations.

We're all capable of charisma

So many people are capable of being amazing conversationalists, yet so many of us don't bother trying to improve. Yet we still wonder why we see nothing happening or changing in our social lives.

Small talk is the gateway to becoming charismatic. If you can master small talk, you're set. The path becomes clear and simple, you need only follow it.

With enough effort, you'll go from struggling to start a conversation to struggling to keep up with others when they keep talking. And I'm sure that's a problem you'd rather have.

- Karl