How can I get beyond small talk?

Last updated Jul 6, 2022 | Communication

How can I get beyond small talk?

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Small talk, even the phrase leaves me cold. Unfortunately it’s not only me, it leaves most introverts hate smalltalk too. But here’s the odd thing, there are extroverts who hate small talk too! Some people see it as a barrier to proper conversation and some see it as a conversational lubricant. However you see it  I suspect you’ve asked yourself “How can I get beyond small talk”. Here are 5 ideas to help introverts (and some extroverts) get beyond small talk,

Why does small talk really matter?

You may hate it and may want to move your conversation to business talk, but the ability to have some general conversation (small talk) helps the business conversation and sales talk you might move into. I suspect you don’t want to do be known as a cold business person, allow some small talk to lubricate the conversation so it flows more easily. Smalltalk oiling the conversation

How to move beyond small talk, to better conversations

You can’t skip it altogether. The skill is to move beyond smalltalk and into business talk (or just more meaningful general talk) needs your effort, questions and thoughtful comments. Your objective is to find some connections to the other person. Three things that will help you

  • Be interested. If you see each person you talk to as a chore to prevent yourself feeling like a loner you’ll struggle to get beyond smalltalk.
  • What’s their story? We all have interesting stories inside. Some extroverts may wear them on their sleeves, some introverts may hide them deep inside, but we all have them.
  • What similarities are there in your thinking or experiences? These are things you can easily talk together about. They be useful later when you’re looking to humanise the business part of your conversation.

How to have a conversation without asking too many questions.

Have you ever had that feeling like you’re doing all the work and you’ve run out of questions to ask so you’ve giving up? Clicking here will give you some more questions you could ask, but better is to focus on direction not questions.

  1. Look for stories, not answers: Change your approach, ask questions that help unlock stories, rather than lead to one word answers? Use more open questions like “how did you get started in your profession”, rather than “what do you do”. Aim to open up a story and with it some passion.
  2. Focus on their (business) passions: It’s said that introverts aren’t good conversationalists, maybe you’ve even said that about yourself. But it’s wrong. We all have moments when conversation just flows, which is where their passions and your passions are similar.
  3. Don’t just focus on the business, take an interest in the person: If you want them to take an interest in you (or your business) be interested in them.  A string of (however good) business related questions immediately leaves me expecting being pushed into something or heavy sales questions. When somebody says (for example), “I’m an Accountant”, ask unlocking questions to uncover what makes them think positively about important issues. Rather simple questions (how long, where, when), try – “Wow, you must see some incredible things, what are the best changes you’ve seen”, or “what is the most rewarding thing about being a…..”
  4. Tell a personal story (even introverts can): Rather than give one words answers, use their question to bridge into a story about yourself. This can be hard as an introvert as introverts tend to be quite private until they know somebody. One way round this is to have an area, or two, of your life that you’re happy to talk about. For example I’ll talk about scuba diving and what makes it exciting (for me). Having decided to be open about this part of my life it’s easier to then link it back to things they do and to work related issues. Scuba diving can quickly become a story about business communication, or I can link the reasons I get passionate about diving to things they’ve said they’re interested in. Now I’ve opened up and created links.
  5. What’s underneath their answer?: If the conversation is going to move beyond small talk you need to know what makes the other person tick. Don’t just look for facts, look the reason (e.g. what made them make certain decisions). Great you know they’ve had a good week, better to know what makes a great week for them. Then ask yourself how you could link to their answer “oh yes, I love it when that happens, the other day I…..”

What if they don’t want to talk?

It’s possible that you get one or two red flags while trying to initiate or move beyond small talk. Don’t stop at the first red flag, but don’t keep pushing either. Reg flags could be things like:

  • One-word answers, not reciprocating questions
  • Looking at her phone or appearing to not hear what you are saying
  • Crossed arms or other closed body language
  • All the things that you probably (un)consciously do; perhaps you need to consider if you’re doing them too!

Don’t “flog a dead horse”  try a simple business question, politely move on or do something more radical admit how you hate small talk and find it difficult and see what happens.

Moving to business talk, not small talk

Assuming the aim of the small talk was to talk business, you’ll want to move the conversation on at some point. Start to ask open questions about their business, or ask business questions that show you’ve done your research.

  • I see on LinkedIn you used to work in the xxx profession. Was it a challenge moving into a xxx?”
  • I really appreciate your time, as you must be really busy at the moment. The re-organisation your company announced recently sounds hectic.
  • The announcement of your company results announced yesterday was good news. How did you feel about them?”
  • What makes a great prospect for you?
  • What’s the biggest issues people have with your profession?

Now you’ve moved to the territory you want to be in, have shown an interest in them and may even have learnt some things that can help you sell (if that’s an aim).

Related content you may find useful:
Business networking | Conversations | Networking | small talk | Smalltalk
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