let’s talk small talk.

by Janetha on November 7, 2012

in tips

as i mentioned in my last post, i went to a concert last night. i always run into old friends when i go to shows… it’s inevitable. there was a lot of small talk going on. that’s also inevitable when you see people that you haven’t seen in months—or even years! what do you get?

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you know the run-ins i am referring to. those people who you used to run in the same circle with and see multiple times a week but then life happened and you slowly drifted apart.. you were always great friends, but not great enough to make the effort to see each other anymore. this happens.. A LOT. i have many, many friends like this. an ex-boyfriend’s best friends.. your old roommate’s sister.. a co-worker that now lives on the opposite side of town. it is sad, but it’s a fact of life. i miss those friendships often, but i also remind myself to smile because they happened rather than cry because they are over. it’s not like there was a falling out with these kind of folks. you just take different paths when there is a fork in the road!

so, set the scene.. you bump into one of those old friends. you haven’t seen this person recently enough to actually talk about current events that relate to both of your lives, but you also know them well enough and were good friends with them at one time, meaning you know it is possible to carry on a quality conversation. because of your once-was-there friendship, you want to avoid asking meaningless questions, but you also aren’t sure what things to discuss to connect on a level even remotely close to the one you were once on with them.

soo.. of course, last night, i asked some of those dumb, empty small talk questions i typically want to avoid (and that i cringe at when i am asked them—so why was i asking them?!) and then i did manage to dig a little deeper have better than sub-par conversation with some really, really old friends. of course, right when things were getting good with our catch up session, the music started and the small talk was over. sadly, i will probably not see those people for another year or two. such is life. at least i got to see their smiling faces!

after my small talk shenanigans were over, i got to thinking about small talk in general. for the most part, i could do without it. most people would agree, i think. how many of you see an old friend or acquaintance at the grocery store and spend the rest of your shopping trip strategically navigating the aisles so you don’t bump into them? you know you are guilty! it’s because you want to avoid that cringe-worthy small talk. it’s usually full of useless information and neither party engaging in the small talk really has much interest in the exchange. half the time their answers aren’t even true. when was the last time someone asked how you were doing and you were having a shitty day and your answer was, “horrible, thanks!”? yeah.. that’s what i thought.

with small talk we are bombarded with boring questions with an easy out—it leads to a dead end conversation or, even worse, an awkward one you just want to get out of. the reason for this? the wrong questions are being asked!

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1. “how’s life?” (or, if you are recently married, “how’s married life?”)

oh. it pains me to even think of what i say to this question. i get the “married life” one the most, even though i have been married for over two years. my answer is usually, “the same as unmarried life except we live together and share a bank account now.” i mean, what do you say to that?

if i ask someone how life is (guilty as charged) i always get answers like “pretty good!” or “not bad, hanging in there.” or some other generic ho-hum answer that leads to a dead end conversation. it’s too general and people typically aren’t willing to get specific unless you ask them specifics.

2. “what’s new?” OR “what have you been up to?”

guess what you are going to get as an answer? “not much.” or, “the usual.” maybe, “the same old stuff… you know…”

this question is an easy out. people are not going to dive into telling you every last, little detail of what they have been up to. they probably won’t even tell you any of the BIG things they have been up to.. like buying a house, winning the lottery, or curing cancer. a person’s typical reply to this question is just as general as the question itself. sad, but true.

3. can you believe the (insert anything about weather, politics, or a mix of the two here)?”

come on. you can come up with something better than that. if it snows, all the small talk is about how we can’t believe it snowed in whatever unseasonable month it may be. if it is summer and it is hot, we chat about just how damn hot it really is. and i know you can all agree with me that small talk about the election has GOT TO GO.

so, there are a few of the DON’Ts for small talk. i could go on, but i won’t. how about we shift gears and talk about the DOs?

you know i am a big fan of answering questions. i fill out surveys like it’s my job (i sure wish it was!) and i always ask you guys questions at the end of my posts. i just love Q & A! i am a fan. i know most people are not. i decided to think of a few “replacer” questions to ask when you run into an old friend… these may seem silly and oddly specific, but at least they will generate an answer that has more content than, “oh, nothing much…”

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1. what was the best thing that happened to you today?”

it’s specific. it’s regarding something that’s fresh on their mind. it requires a real answer. it makes them think. people don’t want to answer a broad question regarding what’s new since the last time you saw them sixteen months ago… that’s too much to think about. but if you ask them about their day? simple! they will give you an answer and you can get the ball rolling from there. just don’t let them say nothing good happened. OR.. if it really was just a super shitty day.. they may say so and you can generate some content from that!

2. “what are you doing here right now?”

again, this question addresses the here and now and does not involve racking your brain for answers from yesteryear. you cannot expect people to recap everything they have been doing since the last time you spoke, so just ask them what they are up to NOW instead of what they HAVE been up to.

you run into them at a grocery store.. what are you shopping for? a party? just a weekly grocery run? what are you making for dinner?

you run into them at a concert.. is this your first time seeing the band? how about the venue, do you like it?

you run into them at school.. what class are you on your way to? or did you just come from?

you run into them at the bar.. what brings you here tonight? special occasion or you just needed some booze?

you get the idea… right? right. just ask people about the here and now, it will generate a more specific answer and you can feed off that to ask more questions that are relevant to the situation!

3. “what’s something you are looking forward to?”

EVERYONE is looking forward to SOMETHING. whether it’s something in the far off future or right around the corner, i know that everyone has at least one little thing they think about and it puts a smile on their face.

your job is to get that one little thing out of them.. and create a conversation about whatever that thing may be. might as well converse about the future than rehash the past, right?

SO.. those are my suggestions for small talk questions. i know there are a zillion more, but these serve as a jumping off point. think about your small talk before it takes a turn for the boring!

i should also point out that your ATTITUDE can totally make or break your small talk session. if you go into it rolling your eyes and dreading it—as most do—you will not get anything out of it. if you strike up a small talk convo with a smile on your face, use some body language, and really engage yourself, chances are you will walk away feeling happy that you bumped into your old friend or acquaintance.

it’s funny that i got to thinking so much about small talk at the concert last night, because i got into another conversation about small talk at work today! my friend is on match.com—AKA the mecca of awkward small talkin’ shenanigans! it’s funny to read what her potential suitors (haha) have to say via email. most ask awkward and/or boring questions, although i will give some of them props for coming up with worthwhile content that has warranted a reply from my friend.

i know this post was a little off the beaten path of meals & moves standard.. but it was on my mind so i thought i would share! i would love for you to chime in with your thoughts.

Qs~

1. small talk: love it or loathe it?

2. what are some small talk questions you LOVE and/or HATE?

3. ‘fess up: have you ever purposely avoided someone you know so you didn’t have to engage in small talk?

xo. janetha g.

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{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Katie @ Talk Less, Say More November 7, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Okay seriously, LOVE this! Because I am AWFUL at small talk and absolutely LOATHE it. I even bought a book (though I haven’t read it yet…) to help me work on my small talk because it makes me feel so awkward and uncomfortable. But yknow what? It’s good to know it’s not just me… ;)

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Momma b November 7, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Great post!!
1. It really depends who I’m small talking with, sometimes it’s good sometimes it’s bad!
2. “So I guess this economy has killed your real estate career”. Seriously?!? FYI no I’ve stayed very busy and I still love being a realtor…said in truth and with a smile!!
3. Yes yes yes I must admit I have. Sometimes it’s just better to be alone with your own thoughts!!

I love you!

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Amy M November 7, 2012 at 9:18 pm

I usually feel awkward during small talk but recognize the role it plays. It helps you acknowledge you want to talk to someone but you’re keeping them at a distance with super predictable (safe!) topics b/c you don’t know them, not close to them, time constraints, etc. I do like the idea of asking more specific questions for at least a little authenticity/personality to shine through the small talk. I like asking about past vacations and trips — people get really passionate about it!

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Nicole @ Curly Mommy November 7, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Guilty. So, so guilty. I’m living back in my hometown and pray the whole time I’m at the grocery store to not see anyone I went to high school with. I will say my favorite way to get out of small talk is when whoever I see has a child with them. “Oooh, who is this?!” You can kind of talk to the kid and not have to have too much interaction with the person you’re trying to avoid. I’m a terrible person.

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Kerryne November 7, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Oh man… have I ever. I have ducked, hid behind clothing racks, and covered my face with magazines to avoid people I know. Ugh! Don’t really love small talk… however can’t decide what i loathe more, small talk or talking to someone who likes to get so deep so you can swim out of it right from the get go. I have an old friend who likes to start by saying “hey, how are ya?” and within two seconds is pouring his guts out to you all over the place about things that happened 15 years ago. I can’t handle that. I just hide. Its safer. ;)

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Sam @ Better With Sprinkles November 7, 2012 at 9:45 pm

Hehe this is so awesome! I HATE small talk so much. If I notice an acquaintance while I’m out and about, nine times out of ten I will do the duck and cover to avoid it. I do love the questions you came up with though, it would make it seem more tolerable for sure.

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Sarah @ The Healthy Diva November 7, 2012 at 10:59 pm

My best small talk question: what is the most beautiful thing you’ve seen recently?

Totally catches people off guard but makes for great conversation :)

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Khushboo November 8, 2012 at 12:01 am

Okay this might be off M&M blog content path but I loved this post! I am guilty of engaging in small talk and all it does is make me want to hit myself for getting into it! Great tips, Janetha :)!

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Sara November 8, 2012 at 5:45 am

I am horrid at small talk. Some people are so great at striking up conversations about the most inane things, not me. Not a good thing as I recently moved and have be trying to meet people. A friend, that I haven’t seen in about 6 years, asked me “How do you think you’ve changed in the past 10 years?” It was a really thought provoking question. I will totally cop to the duck and cover method of avoiding people. Sometimes it just makes life easier… :)

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Lauren November 8, 2012 at 6:24 am

What a great post! I completely agree, and ever since I left my full time career, when I run into old co-workers or people who knew me in that role, I get the same annoying questions and I hate it. I almost feel like my entire wroth was placed in my job and I’d rather be asked other things, like “What is making you happy these days?” rather than, “So what are you doing for work now?” Kind of the same idea but sometimes, just the way you word it has a big impact.

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Emily @ www.main-eats.com November 8, 2012 at 6:30 am

Ha ha oh small talk! I realized how AWFUL I am at it when I commented about the weather to someone through TEXT the other day…I felt like my grandma…oh man… : ) Great topic!

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Jennifer November 8, 2012 at 6:53 am

That is too funny how u mentioned match.com. I just joined the site a month ago. I was a little hesitant just because I dnt want to ever have to say ‘oh, we met online’. I have never wanted to meet say thats hpw I met my future other half like that but I decided to give the site a chance. It is true about the small talk some of these guys make. I will give some of them kudos for trying to be creative at some of their ‘liners’ they start with. They do get creative with it. One that sticks out is ‘did u have lucky charms this morning cause u look magically delicious’ seriously how do guys think that kind of stuff works

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Janetha November 8, 2012 at 7:14 am

Ha!! Wow that is hilarious! And I’ve had multipłe friends find their husbands on there. No shame!

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Kacy November 8, 2012 at 8:26 am

I loathe small talk so much! Especially with strangers. I avoid it all all costs. And I am very anti-social at work to avoid awkward small talk with coworkers as well.
I instantly like people better if they talk to me about real shit as opposed to small talk.

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Calee November 8, 2012 at 8:42 am

Thank you so much for posting this! I could have used this last weekend. I did a craft show that involved a lot of vendors that I used to do a craft show with on a monthly basis back in 2009-2010. I hadn’t seen a bunch of them in years. Not to mention there were people who used to frequent those shows and buy from me that I haven’t talked to in years. Obviously I wasn’t great friends with all of them, but super-awkward convos were held ALL DAY.

And yes, I’m socially awkward, so I will go out of my way to not talk to somebody if it’s going to be uncomfortably awkward. I’m getting better (see: blend 2012).

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Janetha November 8, 2012 at 12:55 pm

i know exactly what you mean. but luckily blend is never awkward, yay!

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Corey @ When We Wander November 8, 2012 at 8:52 am

Oh my goodness I hateeee small talk with a passion! I know that makes me sound like an unfriendly person but I promise I’m not! But because of the company I work for, small talk is inevitable when I’m on a business trip. Oh well!

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Natalia Baage-Lord November 8, 2012 at 8:53 am

Very smart post. Thanks, Janetha!

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Kendra November 8, 2012 at 9:08 am

1.) I don’t mind small talk if I happen to run into someone but small talk at social gatherings defeats me. I try to find one or two other socially awkward people and hang out with them all night.

2.) I love conversations about the weather. I work outside year round in either construction or outdoor theatre. I also snowboard. Talking about weather patterns bringing more snow is always welcome.

I hate when I forget to ask a person “how they are?” back.

A friend has cystic fibrosis and is bound to a motorized wheel chair. Every time I run into him one of the first things he asks is “Tell me something that made you happy today”.

3.) I tend to sidle up to people and say “Hi”. I inevitably feel good after but I have avoided people in grocery stores. The lighting is terrible and your mind is on the task at hand.

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AK November 8, 2012 at 9:55 am

Wasn’t this an exact article in Real Simple magazine? Same questions and everything..

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Janetha November 8, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Are you joking? Because no, it came from my head. All of it. Yesterday, when I sat down to blog. I haven’t read Real Simple in months and months. Kind of a strange comment…

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kristen @ livinlifeinlouie November 8, 2012 at 10:40 am

Small talk is alright for short periods of time, but I definitely have avoided it. i work with 200 women. I try to stay away from it haha

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Bridget B. November 8, 2012 at 10:43 am

1. I loathe it. (Skipping a bit here…)
3. I definitely avoid other people. I just can’t deal with the “how is your life?” and “what have you been up to?” I don’t really function well with one sentence answers. Far too many times have I navigated the aisles of the store avoiding others….shame on me! ;)
2. My favorite small talk is the weather convo. It can’t really go anywhere. There is no point. No one actually cares that much, other than that we are all experiencing it. Plus, it is so blatantly obvious that neither of you cares to talk about more. Haha.

I like your suggestions a lot!

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LG November 8, 2012 at 10:59 am

Thanks for this post! Small-talk (and all conversation) is such an art! It’s a learned thing to be able to dig out nuggets of the other person’s life and just listen and love. I like to think I’m slowly getting better at it.

Two things I always focus on with smalltalk are “events” and “family”.

With events, f there was a long weekend or is one coming up, I ask what they are doing for it. Or plans for Thanksgiving or summer vacation. Or if they are going to the local fair (The Calgary Stampede here) or festival.

With family, I just ask how their spouse or kids are doing, or if they have family in town, or if they have siblings, etc.

Usually when someone answers one of these questions, they will also throw out “conversation nuggets” that can be mined further. Like if they say “I have a four year old” then I can follow things up with “have they started school, how are they doing with that”, etc. Or if I ask their plans for Halloween and they say “we don’t celebrate Halloween”, then I may opt to ask them their reasons, what they do instead, what Halloween was like when THEY were a kid, etc. In all of that, they are throwing out even MORE nuggets to be mined. It’s fun!!! But I find it takes practice and intentionality, like lots of things in life. Worth it though!

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Annette@FitnessPerks November 8, 2012 at 11:39 am

LOOOVEEE this! What a great post!

I’ve done that before when someone asked me ‘how are you?’ And I answered ‘horrible.’ HAHAH. It was kinda funny.

I like small talk actually–but I tend to dig deeper b/c I am nosy-and esp if I have more time :)

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Nicole C November 8, 2012 at 12:14 pm

1. I would say loathe more often that not. I tend to recognize potential awkwardness and remedy it by being totally honest. Maybe it helps break the ice. “How’s life” “Oh pretty spectacular right now, I have some awesome travels in the works…”

2. This one Marshall may love. My most hated questions are always about my brother and his tattoos! I went to a post homecoming high school game a few months back and the first thing this guy asked me was ‘Hows’ brandon?!” Not, hey Nicole, wow it’s been so long you probably don’t remember me…blah shitty blah. So, my reposne was snarky and mean “I don’t care, I don’t really talk to him much, if you go to the Hard Rock you can go ask him” My Mom almost passed out of embarrassment. (I really do care and talk to him but not enough to give a solid honest answer). The same goes for when they ask me why he has so many tattoos. Goodness, they are personal to him so back off. He has them because he likes them. End of story. He gets ridiculed by some people but that is another funny story for another day.

3. I purposely avoid a lot of people because I’m more of an introvert trying to be a social butterfly, like my Mom. If I know the conversation holds no value, I tend to keep on moving. I don’t know too many people so it doesn’t happen often. I like meeting new people much more than ones from days gone by.

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Janetha November 8, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Haha yes marshall haaates!

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meggi November 8, 2012 at 1:13 pm

1. small talk: LOATHE IT! But I think it is unfortunately a necessary evil. Sometimes when we run into old friends, they have a new significant other so topics are always questionable. For ex. does the new beau know my friend used to drink like a fish and party her butt off? Is she now mormon? Etc etc etc. It can be rough!

2. what are some small talk questions you LOVE and/or HATE? I love asking people if they have anything exciting going on. I always start with the “Hey! How are you?!” then go straight to a probing question like “What’s new? Anything exciting going on?” Still generic but it usually opens people up to something they are looking forward to or that recently happened in their life.

… i HATE questions about babies! Give us some space to breathe! We will have one some day!

3. ‘fess up: have you ever purposely avoided someone you know so you didn’t have to engage in small talk?
… ALL the time! I always say hello but the constant talking at every aisle is super awkward :)

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Shannon November 8, 2012 at 1:23 pm

ha, i hate it too, but definitely am in the habit :) love the suggestions for specific questions though. it was definitely a good way to screen for potential dates (I was on eHarmony)… when someone asked what the one kitchen tool I couldn’t live without, I knew it was someone worth meeting ;)

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Carly November 8, 2012 at 1:27 pm

I just recently broke up with my boyfriend…..so I loathe small talk. Because whenever people see me alone, they ask where he is (because I’m not allowed to go anywhere unsupervised??). So I avoid everyone, right now. Sunglasses help in this mission.

My most hated question is “whats new?”. Typically this comes from someone I haven’t seen in a long time….so I usually just answer “pretty much everything”.

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lindsay November 8, 2012 at 1:37 pm

ahh i love this! i usually ask how’s life? But then dig deeper or ask about a certain thing. In fact, this just happened to me the other day too and i ended up talking to an old friend for a good hour at the grocery store. And not about the weather or politics. thank god!

i always like it when people ask about my family though!

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Kait @ yogabeautylife November 8, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Instead of asking what someone does, one of my mentors asks, “What’s awesome in your life?” I haven’t worked up the courage to do it yet (my inner bitch keeps telling me that I’ll sound stupid) but I LOVE the concept!

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Lisa November 8, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Ha ha, I love this. I kind of like small talk though. I’m weird. And it’s awkward because you can totally tell if the other person isn’t into it. But, I have a talking problem and usually go on and on..and just when you think I’m finished I go on…and make it more awkward. Maybe I should take these tips and just shut up for the most part;)

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cookie November 8, 2012 at 2:11 pm

I am really bad at small talk. And honestly? I avoid people on a regular basis just so I don’t have to make small talk… I like your question tips though.

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Tamara November 8, 2012 at 2:19 pm

Like Lisa, I’m not that averse to small talk. But I absolutely LOVE your new question ideas!!! I’m totally going to try to keep those in my back pocket because I think they’d generate far more interesting conversations.

I definitely have “hidden” to dodge someone I didn’t want to make small talk with, but I’ve also gone out of my way to call someone over or engage with someone. It all depends on the person and how glad I am to see them, I suppose, and to a lesser extent my mood.

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Emily R November 8, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Awesome blog! Your alternative questions were great; I especially liked “what’s something you’re looking forward to?” because most of us could easily come up with an answer to that immediately!

1. I HATE small talk. Because it’s just as you described… full of useless information, awkward, not engaging at all. 9 times out of 10 I find myself discussing the weather. Ugh.

2. I loathe the married question. I’ve also been married just over 2 years, but of course, if I talk to anyone that I haven’t seen in a while.. it’s the first question they ask.

3. Yes. I’ve done this way more often than I’d care to admit. And for some reason, it’s always in the grocery store… ha. :)

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Jennyb November 8, 2012 at 3:59 pm

I used to dread it but mainly because i never had the answers to give. when people asked me what i’d been up to…. well 6 months it hospital is a bit of a conversation killer :) But now i WANT those questions! What have i been up to? Oh nothing much… college, work, study for work, gym, organising the gym xmas party….like i say nothing much ;)

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BroccoliHut November 8, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Small talk hater here, mostly because I’m terrible at generating conversation with people I don’t know very well.
So as you might expect, I do avoid people I don’t want to engage in conversation. This actually happened with Seth the day after I met him–I guess it’s a good thing I stopped avoiding him!

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SweatyGirl November 8, 2012 at 4:29 pm

I like small talk… because I’m shy, and without it, there would be no talk at all. I like those go-to conversation prompts because he beats awkward silence and questions that are too deep for a brief conversation with an acquaintance… I think I use all the usuals – How are you? Have you talked to so&so lately? How’s work?
Blah blah. :-)

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andrea November 8, 2012 at 8:19 pm

1. hate small talk
2. are you going to have any more kids
3. YES i avoid like the plague and it pains me if it doesn’t work!!

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Mary Legare Whaley November 8, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Bahaha! I love your small talk questions…only because I hate them. You know when someone doesn’t care to talk to you when they ask those questions. Or it’s just super forced and uncomfortable. I like small talk when it evolves quickly into something worthwhile. I do t have any prepared questions, but if I run into someone I haven’t seen in a few years, I usually ask about their job or school. That usually evolves into substantial conversation. Of course, if they’re unemployed and living with their parents…abort mission! And I have no shame admitting I avoid people to skip out on small talk. I’ve been known to fake talk on my iPhone while leaving the gym so I don’t have to talk to the awkward desk attendant who keeps trying to set me up with his even more awkward son. True story. I always respond when people are persistent… But I try my best to sneak away. In Charleston, SC…everyone knows everyone. It’s not a bad thing, most of the time, but small talk is hard to avoid. Great post, you’ve got me reconsidering my strategies (and my questions for people I don’t want to talk to). How about exit strategies? Next Thursday…if you need a cynical guest post…let me know.

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Janetha November 8, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Haha I love it. The platform is yours, my friend.

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Neil November 8, 2012 at 10:40 pm

Loved this post. Seriously VERY insightful. The questions to ask are FRICKIN cool. The thing is, I’m pretty good to stand and make STUPID small talk, because I usually want to sit and talk to my old friends. I mean, I’m willing to endure it to just be around this person. As much as I hate the ST I like that I got to see them. Now, I’m going to shock them with one of your questions.

One time I was at the State Fair. I saw this guy I knew from high school. One of those guys I haven’t even thought about for 20+ years (I’m old). I didn’t remember his name. Was fairly sure he didn’t remember mine. Somehow he felt compelled to give me a rundown of the last 20 + years. This included his Bankruptcy, wife’s affair, divorce and a bunch of other stuff that I was horrified to learn. I actually prayed a suicide bomber would set himself off – right there! Now I use the above mentioned duck and cover tactics whenever I see someone from long ago.

Was laughing all the way through your description.

Thanks for this.

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Joy November 9, 2012 at 1:27 am

I hate small talk. And have totally avoided people to avoid it. I have a friend who has three great questions he throws out at parties to get people talking and to know each other! They are:
How did you get your name?
What is something most people don’t know about you?
And what’s a brag you’d like to share
I use them now ;-)

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