Small talk can be a real challenge – especially for introverts. Many people consider it an utter nightmare when they reach a point where they don’t know what to continue speaking and the awkward silence starts creeping.
While it’s not always the most preferred activity for people who like some deeper topics, these topics can’t just come out of nowhere, and you do need small talk to introduce yourself and get to know the other person better.
You simply can’t start talking about the fate of humanity or the burdens of life if you haven’t learned a bit more about the other person, can you? And for that, you need small talk.
So, researchers from the Harvard Business School decided to analyze what makes a small talk successful by analyzing 300 conversations (online and face-to-face) between people who were getting to know each other.
The research, divided into two studies, focused on what makes a person likable in small talk. What they found was that the participants who asked more questions, especially follow-up questions, were perceived as more likable by the people they communicated with.
The study concluded that when people ask more questions, they are seen as “higher in responsiveness, an interpersonal construct that captures listening, understanding, validation, and care,” adding special emphasis on follow-up questions.
Follow-up questions show genuine interest in what the other person is speaking, and the focus shifts from you to the person you are trying to get to know better.
Instead of the ‘me, myself, and I’ mistake that many people make during small talk, asking questions allows for a better communication where if both participants ask just the right amount of questions, there is healthy communication and a better mutual impression.
The authors confirm that follow-up questions are crucial to creating a good impression about yourself in the eyes of the other person. By analyzing speed-dating face-to-face conversations, they discovered that this element increased the likeliness of the success of speed dates that led to a second date.
Debra Fine, a nationally recognized communication expert and author of The Fine Art of Small Talk, explains the importance of follow-up questions opposed to asking different questions that jump from topic to topic as a crucial element to a good conversation.
As she tells the HuffPost, follow-up questions eliminate the awkward jumping from one question to another unrelated question which may seem more like an interrogation than a dialogue.
Which is more, this kind of questions creates a greater depth to the conversation and make it more real. She also suggests some questions that can help you to achieve a better small talk with acquaintances and strangers.
1. “What do you do for fun?” or “What keeps you busy outside for work or school?”
Fine says that she uses these questions in business interactions, as they foster a business friendship. “You learn something about the person beyond what they do for work,” she explains.
2. “Where are you from?”
Even if that person is from where you are, she assures that this question works like a charm. Especially because you have so many options for follow-up questions, such as “Have you ever considered living in another place?” or “What do you like best about living here?”
If they are from somewhere else, you can ask them what they miss most about their home, she adds.
3. “How’s work/family or that one hobby I know you’re interested in?”
If you have already met someone, you should prepare yourself by thinking what you already know about that person. Fine’s advice is that you should always think about what to talk about before you start the conversation. “The worst time to think of something to talk about is when there is nothing to talk about.”
So, don’t be afraid to ask questions and make sure you show some interest and ask more about what they are talking about. This advice is extremely beneficial to those who can’t find their way around small talk, but it’s also very useful even for those who are good at communicating. We all tend to lose our way sometimes, won’t you agree?