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10 Tips for Improving Small Talk

Small talk is a part of everyday life, whether you are sitting next to a new colleague at work, interviewing for a job, or at a wedding where you don't know many people. How do you get past initial introductions with a decreased sense of fear or awkwardness?

For those with extroverted personalities, small talk in a social situation may not be as painful. For those with introverted personalities, however, the idea of small talk with a stranger may cause stress and anxiety.

Success in the small talk domain is similar to success in other social situations such as online chats, job interviews, and social networking. The main premise is to find common ground with the people with whom you are communicating by using just the right amount of self-disclosure, empathy, and tact.

Here are 10 tips for improvement:

1. Listen

Often times in conversations with new people, individuals get nervous and try to fill silences by talking about themselves. A good rule of thumb is to listen first, talk second. Once the conversation has started, if both individuals are listening to each other, conversation will flow more smoothly and naturally.

2. Use empathetic reflective skills

Restate what you heard or what you think you heard when in a conversation with someone else. This will show the other person you are listening and will allow for clarification by the other person if you were incorrect in your judgment of what you heard.

3. Turn on your nonverbal detectors

Refocus your attention from how you are feeling inside to how you think the other person is feeling based on that person's nonverbal cues. If you get the idea that the other person is feeling uncomfortable with where the conversation is going, shift gears. Read body cues such as eye contact, posture, and hand movements to help you gauge the impact of what you are saying.

4. Avoid snap judgments

By following steps 1-3 above, you will be less likely to misjudge the person you are talking to. Remember that things aren't always as they seem when meeting someone for the first time. If you listen carefully, reflect back what you heard, and keep your nonverbal channel open, you will be less likely to make a snap judgment.

5. Be an online detective

If you know you will be meeting someone new and are worried about what you may talk about, you can look to find out a little more about the person prior to meeting. This way, you will be prepared to ask questions that will be relevant to who you are meeting.

6. Do not assume people will agree with you

Research has shown that many people assume they share similar opinions with other people they are meeting for the first time. However, this may not be the case. Debating can be enjoyable, but assuming everyone feels the same as you do may end badly and you could end up starting a conversation on the wrong foot.

7. Try to learn from each interaction with a new person

People from other states, countries, and environments can give you new perspectives. Be open to learning something new from another person as this will also make you a more interesting conversationalist.

8. Stay on top of the news

Being familiar with current events is a great way to have enough topics to bring up in conversation.

9. Know when not to talk

Be aware of times when people may not want to strike up a conversation, such as in confined spaces like public transportation. Look for hints or cues that others around you are not interested in conversing and follow accordingly.

10. Don't overshare

Sharing your deepest, darkest secrets to strangers you think you will never see again may not be beneficial for a couple reasons. You may see this person again or you may have a shared friend in common. Also, people may feel uncomfortable hearing your secrets. If you put yourself in their shoes, you may not like hearing the secrets about someone else's personal life.

Making small talk may not be everyone's favorite pastime, but with these steps, small talk can be a little less anxiety provoking and a little more enjoyable.

Original article written by Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D.