We’ve all been there. The lines at Lower are too long, but the quesadilla waiting for you on the other side looks too good, so you cave. Standing in line, you awkwardly make eye contact with that person you have that one class with whose name you really should know by now.
Do you quickly look back down and find that 100 question Harry Potter Buzzfeed quiz that must be taken at this exact moment, or step up and actually talk to the person next to you? The former may be the easy answer, however, the latter is likely the better.
Small talk is an art form that’s been lost in the age of mobile media. It’s so much easier to get lost in the one-way interaction with our phones rather than get lost in conversation with an actual human being.
The worst part of small talk is actually doing it. Yes, it can be awkward and weird, but that’s for the best. Here are some tips to get the conversation flowing because, who knows, you could be talking to your new best friend or–maybe even better–employer.
Step One: Say My Name, Say My Name.
Most likely, you’re not the center of the universe and that person you’re about to talk to doesn’t know your name just as much as you don’t know theirs. Learn their name, and file it in your mind’s “important” folder. Using their name in conversation not only helps you to memorize it for future run-ins, it makes them feel good.
A person’s name is the greatest connection to their identity and individuality; saying their name validates their existence. For some, it’s the most important word in the English language, and those generic greetings with pet names (“hey girl” or “yo bro” being my favorites), can only last so long until they will be onto you.
Step Two: Drop a Genuine Compliment
People like to be recognized. Whether it’s their hair being curled or a new pair of sweet kicks, tossing a compliment their way shows that you recognize and dig their outer appearance, something that is too often highly critiqued, and not nearly enough praised.
Sometimes, a handmade necklace or t-shirt with too many words can have personal meaning to its owner and is often a great place for you to learn more about a part of their life. If there’s really nothing noticeable to compliment, that’s fine—here’s when you resort to mentioning the great weather we’ve been having lately.
Step Three: Not the Time to Play 20 Questions
Unless you are planning on going into a job as an interrogator, shooting off questions with quick answers is usually not widely praised. To really get the ball rolling on a conversation, ask questions that involved more than one-word answers. “What’s up” is only a valid question if you are instant messaging someone on AIM in middle school.
People really want to talk about themselves, and asking them leading questions will give them an avenue to do so. When you show that you genuinely care about how someone’s day is going or are interested in what he or she has been doing lately, this person will be more inclined to take an interest in what you have to say as well. This back and forth will make the conversation less of a painful 20 Questions game and more of a conversation worthy of both your time and their time.
Step Four: Exit Gracefully
While not my personal forte, making a smooth exit can set the tone for further conversations. To get away from a conversation before it dies, you need to recognize that the conversation is weaning.
End on a good note by explaining that while you need to head out, you want to follow up on something that they mentioned in your conversation later on. Whether you plan to meet up for lunch or coffee, or leave it as an open invitation, make sure you end the conversation on a positive note.
Or better, if someone interjects in the conversation, make that your high time to skedaddle, and say that you will catch them later. All great (and not-so-great) conversations have to come to an end, and finishing on a good note will keep the other person coming back for more.