It’s Saturday, and we all know what that means: time to get out of work and get out on the town.
Maybe you’re catching up with old friends this weekend, getting to know a few new coworkers over drinks, or perhaps you’re looking to meet someone new. But regardless, unless your plans are with people you see regularly or know well, chances are you’re probably going to stumble upon some awkward, quiet moments.
So, what do you do?
Develop some small talk skills. Seriously. And while I’m certainly far from expert-status, read on for some tips I’ve discovered to make chatting up someone new a little less nerve-wracking and/or agonizing.
Take a deep breath.
Don't wig out, girlfriend. Whether this person has been thrown into an awkward
situation with you or they voluntarily approached you, know that you're
probably doing them as big a favor as you're doing yourself by sparking a
conversation, no matter how vapid or sparse.
Be engaged. I'm not talking unbroken direct eye contact for minutes at
a time or anything. But it's easy to let yourself fall into a disinterested
attitude when you're talking to someone you dislike or think isn't quite on your level... but I think a
major part of interpersonal communication should revolve around letting people
know that, YES, they matter, even if it's just for five minutes while they
awkwardly hold a cocktail weenie on a skewer and try to figure out something
intelligent to say. And hey, showing that you at least appear to be genuinely
interested in what they have to say might help put them at ease and could
facilitate a smoother dialogue. Win/win!
What's been going on in your life lately? Ask questions like: what books have you read lately? Have you heard the new insert-artist-here’s CD? Have you seen that new exhibit at the museum? What did you do today? I just saw such-and-such movie -- have you? I'm planning a vacation to some-exotic-place -- ever been?
Also, think about broad topics/concepts you may have in common with the person:
where do you work? Do you like your job? How'd you end up there? Where'd you go
to school? What did you study? Does that relate much to your current job? Got
any future plans? Do you have a favorite author/book/show/movie/musician/album?
Why? Are you a dog person or a cat person? Do you like to travel? What's your
favorite place to visit? Are you from around here? (These are just ideas - don’t
spring all these questions on someone, barrage-style!)
Take care when you
share. In other words, don’t be, as Carrie Bradshaw put it, “emotionally
slutty.” Over-sharing is a great way to stop a nascent conversation in its
tracks. Funny anecdotes can make great ice
breakers in an awkward situation, as long as they're not overly-personal or
When someone makes small talk a smooth transaction, PAY ATTENTION. You can learn so much from talking to other people - even if you’re not absorbing facts, you’re absorbing new behaviors and new ways of approaching new individuals. So, if you happen upon someone like my former boss who has loads of charisma and the ability to put anyone at ease, take note of what they’re doing and try to put that to work for yourself next time around.