How to Develop the Skill of Making Small Talk

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The ability to initiate small talk with your coworkers may seem mundane or something that is not a big skill to master.

But I would argue that your ability to talk to others is, in fact, something that can make a significant impact. 

The ability to make small talk isn’t just about schmoozing. It’s about improving and exercising the ability to connect with others, leading to big things in the business world. Your capacity to talk to others has a lot more bearing on your progress at your job than, say, your university grade point average or the college you attended.

So to fine-tune your small talk skills while you are in your office and at networking functions, use the tips below:

  1. Listen more and speak less. Anyone who controls a conversation tends to seem pushy. Allow your partner to speak. Do not interrupt them.
  2. Make healthy eye contact. Stay focused on the person to whom you are speaking. Be attentive. Don’t keep staring around the room.
  3. Begin a conversation with a compliment. Try to make the praise specific and open-ended, such as, “That’s a fabulous tie knot you have. Is it a six In Hand?” Or, “I like that ring that you have on. Was it gifted?” Also, if you hear a compliment, don’t give a self-deprecating answer such as, “Oh, I’m so tired today; there’s no way I look good.” Instead, thank the person and use it as a gateway to begin a discussion. You can always turn the compliment around back to the person, too. For instance: If someone says, “I like your sweater,” your answer could be, “Thank you. I’m sure you noticed my sweater because you always dress so beautifully yourself.”
  4. Better to watch your body language. Try to avoid sitting with your arms crossed, which can be seen as a guarded posture. Try to keep your posture relaxed and open.
  5. Have something exciting to contribute. Often our small talk consists only of: “How are you today?” “I’m fine, thanks.” This is not very personal or interesting. It’s generic. Instead, try asking questions such as, “Hey, did you catch (fill in the name of popular Netflix show show here) last night?” Or, if you’re at a networking event, try an impartial observation such as, “Attendance seems to be rather good this month. Is this the first time you have visited?”
  6. Evade long-winded and extra-personal stories. “Small talk” is this way named because it should not be too controversial or personal. Bringing up current events is acceptable. But try to avoid anything that could cause a powerful riff.
  7. Have a smooth exit line. Gracefully and politely exiting a conversation is a lot better than having it fizzle or drag out. Things such as “I’m on my way to (wherever), it was nice talking with you,” or, “Excuse me, I need to catch (fill in name here) before she leaves the office” work best.
  8. Put substantial efforts to remember names. I know a lot of people have an arduous time with this, but it is crucial. Make a concerted attempt to remember names. If you can’t, gently say something to the effect of, “I’m so sorry I’ve misremembered your name. Could you please remind me?” If someone hands you their business card, take the time to go through it carefully, then correctly place it in your wallet (don’t fold it). Don’t directly shove it in your pocket without looking at it, as this makes it seem like it is not appreciated and valued.

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