The First Rule of Small-Talk is…

Most of us hate small talk, and for good reason, we’re terrible at it. Researcher Knapp spent most of his life studying what he calls early phase interaction (the fancy term for small talk) and why we find it so hard.

During the early phase of conversation we aren’t really listening to the person we’re speaking with. Instead, our brains are on autopilot, following standard social scripts such as, ‘what do you do for work, where do you live, how do you know blah blah’. This allows us to devote mental resources to what we believe is really important, analysing the person’s body language for signs of danger.

Since both parties are doing this dance, we end up caught in an extremely boring, surface level conversation about nothing. But, it doesn’t have to go down like that. You can learn to break out of your autopilot mode and, in doing so, break the other person out of theirs. The best way to do this is to view small talk as a transition towards more interesting topics of conversation.

The best topics of conversation to get to know someone, often revolve around experiences such as food, travel, culture, music, leisure etc. Your goal should be to smoothly transition the conversation towards one of these topics. And while you don’t necessarily want to start using scripts, if you have a general flow in mind, it will help to make things so much easier. Here’s how it might sound:

Start by asking a standard questions such as, ‘what do you do for work?’ – this helps you to pass the safety test.

Then, ask a follow up question such as, ‘do you get much time off?’ – this is a follow-up transition.

Next, ask what they like to do with their time off such as, ‘did you holiday last year?’ – if they did, they’ll tell you about their trip – if they didn’t you can always tell them about your last holiday.

Hey presto! You’re now in an interesting conversation! Keep it going by asking more follow-up questions. If you get the person talking about their experiences they will feel far more comfortable.

Remember, everyone you meet will have experienced something interesting at some point in their lives. It’s up to you to find out what it is. Follow-up questions are the key.

The first rule is – try to follow topics of conversation more than you change them. 

This allows you to delve deeper into a person and will help the conversation to have a more natural feel. If the person you’re speaking with tells you something interesting, ask them about that. Think of it this way – would you rather chat to someone who has 10 unrelated questions lined up for you, or someone who wants to know everything about your favourite holiday destination, or band, or tv show?

This is just one of the 9 sub-skills that fall under our 3 Simple Skills of Charisma. The other 8 are in our 14 page eBook called, obviously, The 3 Simple Skills of Charisma. To help spread the HSL love, for a limited time, we are giving you a FREE copy of this book. Pop your email below and we’ll send a copy straight to your inbox.


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