Time to Get Good at Small Talk.

Many people find small talk awkward and pointless, but it plays a critical part in building connections with others.

Humans are programmed to expect a warm-up period of small talk (light, everyday conversation) to build a foundation of trust for more important discussions. In many instances it is regarded as rude to jump into a goal-driven discussion without taking a few seconds to “break the ice.”

These informal exchanges also help us sense the mood of others and signal ours to those around us. Your tone will set the tone!

Comment on something: the simplest way to start is comment on something in the shared environment and then follow up with an open-ended question.

Example: in a virtual meeting, one person has a teams’ memorabilia in view.

“I see a Yankee supporter is in the meeting today.” 

Person reacts. 

“What was the best game you ever saw?”

Compliments: if it is appropriate, a compliment always draws someone out.

“I heard you speak at last month’s meeting. The info you shared was very helpful.”

Current events work well: reflect on a situation most people will know about. 

“Wasn’t it a relief when that hurricane avoided the mainland?”

Avoid contentious topics (money, politics, etc.)

Questions: these can work well but avoid asking a lot of questions or it becomes too much like an interrogation. 

“Who will be at the off-site get together?”

Generally, people are happy to talk about themselves but make sure to listen closely and contribute as well.

Note: if you are leading the meeting or hosting the event, it is up to you to get the small talk started, but keep an eye on the time.