Small talk: 9 tips & 5 pitfalls + topics for effortless chatting
Many people find it difficult to chat in a relaxed and informal manner. But small talk arouses sympathy and makes it much easier to get to know someone. We show you useful tips and pitfalls as well as suitable topics for successful small talk.
In small talk, we find out: How does the other person affect us? Do we engage in a deeper conversation, or does it remain superficial chit-chat? Small talk is also important for building trust.
Advantages of Small talk
Starting a conversation with a stranger or someone you know only slightly can be quite difficult. We are supposed to chat casually about innocuous topics and come across as nice and personable.
A few words over the garden fence or in the office hallway are important for social bonding. But how does "small talk" go? What do I talk about? How do I prevent embarrassing pauses in speech? And how can I cleverly end the small talk again? After reading our tips, you will hopefully already see more clearly.
Topics for effortless small talk
Now it’s getting serious: choosing themes for a small talk is very important for its success. Basically, you can give free rein to your creativity when choosing topics Well suited, however, are for example these topic areas:
- The weather (even if it sounds a bit trite): "Now it has become quite warm again" is a perfectly legitimate small talk topic. You’ll be amazed at how productive talking about the weather can be.
- The environment or situation: "How long have you been with the company?", "Do you often take the train?", "How do you know the host?" or "What did you think of the talk?" are good introductory questions.
- Hobbies: Passions and interests are wonderful to chat about. Just make sure you don’t get into monologuing about your favorite topic.
- Sports: If there’s a big sporting event going on (and you’re following it at least superficially), that’s a worthwhile topic that most people have at least a few sentences to say about.
- Vacation: About the last trips or the planned vacation most people like to talk. After all, they usually associate their vacation with something positive.
- Movies, series or books: About current movies, TV series or favorite books can be great chat. Knock but before carefully whether you have overlaps in your tastes.
- Food: In a situation where there is something to eat (for example, at a party or during the lunch break of a conference), remarks about it are well suited small talk topics. Be careful, however, to only comment positively at first.
9 Tips for Successful Small Talk
Whether it is the fleeting conversation with colleagues, the boss or the neighbors. Making casual small talk is an important skill in everyday life. With our tips, you’ll be able to approach others more actively and make a more personable impression.
Start the conversation
An awkward moment often arises in small talk situations when no one really dares to start the conversation. Even if you don’t think you’re the hero of small talk: Dare to make the first move.
Being embarrassed and silent is in any case more uncomfortable than a somewhat bumpy sentence. Don’t be afraid of bumping; that’s what "small talk" is usually about.
The trick is to leave your comfort zone. You’ll see that conversation openers aren’t so hard once you’ve done it a few times.
Don’t forget to smile
Even if you’re unsure yourself, smile first! This immediately makes you more likeable and makes the rest of the situation easier. Smiling is not only healthy, but it also automatically creates a connection with your counterpart. Especially when flirting, smiling plays a big role.
Express yourself positively in small talk
Small talk is supposed to be trivial. That’s why you should exclusively express yourself positively. If you blaspheme about the food, the boss’s clothes, or the lousy lecture, first, you won’t come across as likeable.
And second, you run the risk of ending up with the completely wrong person. The boss’s wife will probably not be thrilled if you blaspheme about his clothes (and a disliked colleague could pass it on directly to him), the party guest may have brought the reviled cake or your counterpart is completely enthusiastic about the speaker.
In case of doubt, you only risk the respect of your counterpart. Don’t take this risk, just leave out negative remarks in small talk.
Ask open-ended questions
"That was an interesting talk, wasn’t it?" To this question, your counterpart can only answer with "Yes" or "No" and the topic is already over again and the conversation comes to a standstill. Better are open questions, to which your conversation partner must answer with at least one sentence. In this case, that would be, "What did you think of the lecture?" If only a one-syllable "Good" follows here, you can follow up with, "What did you particularly like?".
Interpret the reactions
When making small talk, pay close attention to your conversation partner’s reactions. To his or her mimic and gesture. If he or she turns away, seems inattentive, or keeps looking at his or her watch, something is not going well. Maybe you’re talking too much about yourself or you’ve chosen an uninteresting topic?
Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If necessary, change the topic. If that doesn’t help either, you might want to end the conversation smartly.
End the small talk skillfully
Some small talk situations automatically turn into an exciting conversation, in other cases it remains with a few irrelevant sentences or your small talk partner even turns out to be a terrible nuisance.
If you don’t have the perfect conversation partner, you can save yourself with different exits:
- Introduce another conversation partner
This tactic is particularly clever, but unfortunately not always possible. Introduce someone else present to your counterpart and make them both acquainted. Ideally, it should be someone who you think will harmonize better with your interlocutor.
"Excuse me, I have another appointment/would also like to chat with other party guests/would like to get something to eat." Already you’re out of the situation.
- Start boring topic
If nothing at all helps, then you can change the subject and talk about something that bores your counterpart. With a little luck, he or she will then end the conversation soon.
- Emergency exit
This requires a little acting talent. Look up suddenly surprised and realize that a guest had just arrived, with whom you had something very urgent to talk. And then quickly disappear. In a pinch, you can also look at your cell phone and say that you need to call someone back.
Take every opportunity to practice
If small talk is hard for you, you’re probably grateful for any situation where you don’t have to chat. Unfortunately, it’s the same here as it often is: only practice makes perfect.
Therefore, use every opportunity for a few trivial words and thus train your small talk skills in everyday life. The better you get, the more positive it will be for your self-esteem.
Favorable opportunities include:
- at a chance meeting with your neighbors
- on the train or bus (or at the bus stop)
- at the cash register
- at the hairdresser or massage
- in the waiting room
- in the canteen
Gather appropriate introductions and topics for small talk
If you’re afraid of awkward silences or keep getting carried away with topics, why not make a list of possible conversation starters, questions and topic areas.
Of course, you can’t refer to the list during the conversation, but this way you increase the chance that you’ll come up with something appropriate right away. To be even more specific, before a party, conference, or job interview, think about exactly what topics are appropriate for that situation.
Watch others chat
There are true masters of chatting from whom you can learn a lot. Why not consciously observe how others handle this situation? What topics do they use? What is their body posture?
How do they avoid awkward pauses and how do they escape the situation again? And most importantly, what do they do differently than you?
While "learning on the object," you’re sure to get lots of ideas that you can try out in the next situation.
5 Pitfalls of Small Talk
You can make numerous mistakes when making small talk. What these usually have in common is that you usually make the whole thing more complicated than it is.
The mental gyroscope in your head
Maybe you think that every sentence that comes out of your mouth must be gold. But that’s not so, and you don’t have to be a professional of rhetoric. On the contrary, this attitude will only make you feel inhibited and actually hold back good conversational ideas. If you put every word on the gold scale, the unforcedness of small talk is lost. So don’t be so hard on yourself – or, for that matter, your conversation partner (discard perfectionism).
You shy away from changing the subject
Often people get stuck in a conversation and talk about a topic that is actually dead. On the one hand, that’s pretty boring. On the other hand, you need to talk to the person you’re talking to about different topics to get to know them better. So if you can’t say anything more about a topic, feel free to change the subject – even if it doesn’t match the previous one at all. You can also jump back to a previous topic. For example, by saying, "You were talking about your new dog earlier…"
Don’t talk non-stop
For good small talk, it’s important that both people in the conversation participate. For example, some people don’t even notice if they talk non-stop and don’t let their counterpart get a word in edgewise.
That’s why you should always pay attention to the share of speech. If you notice that you talk much more than your conversation partner, ask him open questions.
This shows him your interest and your appreciation. Only when he tells you a longer story about himself should you go into similar detail. A healthy balance makes the conversation much more enjoyable.
Talking about difficult topics
You, too, are bound to have put your foot in your mouth at some point, even though you just wanted to have a casual conversation. Often the topic of conversation has drifted into a too personal or controversial level. Then the risk increases that your opinions differ or you make a comment that is not well received by the other person. That’s why it’s better to avoid the following topics in small talk for the time being.
- Personal problems
- Criticism of the other person
- Rumors and gossip
You think too much about yourself
It is human nature to want to think about yourself almost constantly. Particularly introverted people tend to do this.
Thoughts like "How do I seem?" or "Can he see my pimple on my forehead?" then haunt our minds. But when we are too busy with ourselves, we divert our attention away from the conversation itself.
We then can’t react naturally at all to what the other person is saying, and often the conversation then stalls. Small talk is also one thing where you should follow your intuition.
You also shouldn’t think about what you might say next, but instead focus completely on the person you’re talking to.