Small Talk Shenanigans that Kill Conversation

by Christa Melnyk Hines on December 11, 2013

Small talk gets a bad rap as painful and a waste of time. For many of us it is the anticipation of having to engage in small talk that causes nervousness and avoidance or a past experience left a bad aftertaste.

Must we talk small?

Small talk can actually help us form connections in way that isn’t as intense as delving immediately into deeper issues. And, as much as many people hate “ice breakers,” these strategies can help segue people into a convivial social atmosphere. Small talk is low-commitment. It’s a chance to get to know people in a friendly, no-pressure way. Plus, you never know when small talk can lead to a stronger connection.

The casual nature of small talk also allows natural exits during pauses in conversation: “Well, it was so nice visiting with you! If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go refresh my drink.”

Small talk behaviors to avoid

If you hope to come across as warm and friendly, avoid these six behaviors that can kill small talk quickly and leave a bad impression.

  • Look at your watch. Gee, am I that boring?
  • Look around while the other person is talking. No one wants to talk to someone who appears not to be listening or who seems to be scoping the party for someone better to talk to. If you would like to exit the conversation, figure out a more polite way. For example, when there’s a break in the conversation or if someone else approaches, you can excuse yourself.
  • Talk too much. Sometimes when we get nervous, we monopolize a conversation. If you catch yourself doing that, quickly say “I’m sorry, I’m talking too much about myself.” And, then ask the other person a question.
  • Start texting someone or scrolling through your email while the other person is talking.
  • Negativity. Remember the “Debbie Downer” character from Saturday Night Live? While referring to something that happened in the news or pop culture is a good conversation starter, try not to dwell too much on the downside of everything, which can put a damper on the mood and the conversation.
  • Launch into a political diatribe or other polarizing topics. Never assume that your listener shares your views, which can make her extremely uncomfortable and seeking a quick exit herself.

What are some of your small talk turn-offs?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue LeBreton December 14, 2013 at 4:36 am

One small talk turn off is when the person doesn’t volley back with the conversation. It feel rude and awkward to be the initiator over and over again. I am sensitive that this is difficult for some people but feel we can all make a small effort for small talk :-)

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Christa Hines December 14, 2013 at 1:25 pm

I agree, Sue. It is exhausting to try and drag conversation out of another person. One thing I try to do if I’m worried about being the person who is going to struggle with things to talk about, I go in with a few ideas of conversation starters or questions I can ask. For example, people often like to talk about what they do for a living, their kids and their holiday plans.

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