The Art of Small Talk


Small talk is probably the most useful skill you could have. If being successful is all about knowing the right people, it’s good to know some conversation starters. Maybe you’re new at a company, not knowing how to start a conversation with the colleague who sits next to you, or at a business meeting with new clients, or maybe even a time filler while waiting in line at the cashier.

While Singaporeans are not always inclined to make conversations with strangers, it’s rare that someone will actually ignore you totally or shrug you off.

Here are some tips for different situations:

Practice makes perfect.

The first thing you have to build up is confidence. Practice at the cashier, with your neighbours, their kids or with co-workers. You can start, for example, at ma-ma shop near your residence, instead of just propping your shopping down on the counter, paying and scooting out of there with out a word, create small talk, comment on something genuine, maybe the change in arrangement or how long his shop has been at the same location. You’ll be surprised at how much you can find out, and you’ll leave an impression on him, and not to mention, probably cheering up his day.

Notice things

Creating small talk is an art, it’s not simply picking out conversations from your rear end, but it’s taking a notice in people. Humans want to be taken notice of, complimenting your colleague’s new hairstyle alone will brighten up her day, even though you’ve not spoken to her in the 2 to 3 months you’ve been working there. She’ll most likely tell you modestly that she got it at a bargain or bashfully disagree. That’s how easy a conversation can get going.

It’s rude to be silent

Although they say silence is golden, don’t take it literally. Silence can be rude. Especially when someone makes the first step to make small talk. Ask back questions and listen intently, people can tell insincerity. Always make sure you have a smile on, and look at least cheerful, even though you’ve been having a bad day.

Increase your general knowledge

The best way to make conversations work is to at least have background knowledge of things, like sports, what’s going on in the world, business, the arts, food, health etc. It’s all about expanding your horizons, getting out of your comfort zone to know more. This will help you in making conversations with people from all walks of life.

Overcome your shyness

The hardest step is always the first one. Open your mouth. It is very rare someone will shout back at you or shoot you a nasty look for trying to be friendly. Of course, make sure you’re speaking at an appropriate time, and not when the lady in front of you is frantically finding her credit card in her bottomless pit of a bag.

If all else fails, here are some good conversation starters:

  1. Talk about the weather
  2. Compliment on his or her looks
  3. Ask about his or her hobbies
  4. If you know mutual friends, ask about them, eg. “Have you met so-and-so recently?”
  5. Comment on the new idea brought up at the business meeting
  6. Ask if he or she caught the news today
  7. Talk about an upcoming event
  8. At a party, ask how he or she knows your mutual friend

There are lots of conversation starters, so be creative, relax, and smile.

Related link: Why not me?

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