So without further ado, here is my general small-talk advice for the awkward, the introverted, and the slightly-annoyed:
Look for the good in everyoneAs much as I hate the idea, I have definitely judged people prematurely before. I think we all have. I have thought to myself "I don't like this person" because of one thing they said or did, or something I heard about them. But people are more than a single action, so give them a chance. No matter how polar opposite a person may be from you, there is good in everyone. And it will be easier to communicate with them if you find it and appreciate it.
Make them feel like you care about themYou know those people who make you feel important whenever you talk to them? They always make you feel included, and like what you say is valid, and like you're worth their time? I know people like that, and I've always admired that skill. I may not be a charismatic genius, but I've picked up on a few things:
- Refer to them by name. Remembering a name is no small feat (especially when you've learned approximately thirty-thousand new names in the past two days, as I have), so it will probably make them feel a tiny bit good that you remember.
- If you're talking in a group, include them. One of the worst things ever is when everyone is standing in a circle talking, and you are just barely out of the circle. Like you're behind someone, and you're trying to squish in, but nobody's letting you in. SO, LET PEOPLE IN. And if you noticed that someone hasn't talked in a while, bring them into conversation.
- Ask a random, moderately-personal question. Small talk is usually all about the weather and your schedule, I know. But asking people deeper things about themselves and their lives is a great way to make someone feel like they are possible friend material. The other day (on, like, my second day of college) a random person walked up to me, introduced themselves, and said "so, what are you passions?" I was kind of like "uh what", but it ended up turning into a real, interesting, conversation. Other good ideas could be to ask people about their family (brothers, sisters, etc), or their future career plans.
If you don't know where to start, check up on factsIf there's ever an awkward silence and I just don't know what to say (which is pretty much all the time), I just ask fact-check questions. What time is our meeting? Who's teaching class? What time does dinner close? Where do we pick up our books? This works on multiple levels. 1.) Because I'm pretty much always confused about what's happening, and knowing the answers to all of these questions certainly helps with that. 2.) Because often times, little questions like these lead to bigger conversations. Often. But if the awkward silence continues and you just don't know what to say, who cares? Silence is an essential (and wonderful) part of life, and it's only awkward if you make it that way.
Complain about things togetherOkay, I know everyone should try to be positive most of the time. I know complaining isn't a quality that is generally considered admirable. But think about it, people love to complain, and they love to feel like their complaints are valid and shared with others. Collective annoyance is a great bonding strategy. For example, during this first week of college, the weather was absolutely (hilariously) horrible. A tornado and a flood. Not kidding. But I could walk up to any random person and say "so this weather is insane, huh?" And then we'd start complaining and sharing our miserable, weather-related experiences, and ta-da, a perfectly effortless, somewhat substantial conversation was formed.
Ask tons of questions about themselvesAnother strategy of making small talk that requires absolutely no skill, is asking a bunch of questions. It's even okay if they seem super random like, "do you like dogs?" The person you're talking to probably won't care if they're random, because they'll just be relieved that one of you thought of something to say. Then when they answer, ask more questions about what their answer is. "So you have two dogs, what kinds?" You get the idea. This can pretty much go on indefinitely.
If they ask you a question, just ask them the same one.Chances are, especially if you're starting college and everyone is in a state of desperate friend-making, people will ask you questions, too. Answer them (with more than one-word answers. Seriously. Just keep talking, even if it seems pointless and dumb. Small talk is really about quantity rather than quality, let's be honest). And if you can't think of anything else, just ask them the same stuff they asked you.
If you run out of things to say, turn to technologySo I know that people usually think of technology as something that ruins our ability to communicate face-to-face. I guess that could be somewhat true, because I'm certainly not a small-talk-making prodigy. But at the same time, if you're a slightly-awkward introvert who doesn't knows what to say (like me) it can also be a tool. Picture this: you're talking to someone, neither of you know what to say next, so you both start idly looking at your phones. You see something funny on your phone. Show it to said person. Person laughs, maybe comments, and maybe you think of more stuff to say. Other possible ideas are Buzz-feed quizzes and ooh-ing/ ahh-ing at clothes online.
There you go, my small-talk-making tips, tested and approved by my first week of college.
Here are my final words of wisdom: I know small talk sucks. I am the type of person who loves to have meaningful, somewhat philosophical conversations, but that can only be built upon, like, a foundation of knowing where they're from, and what their major is, and if they think the weather is insane. Small talk is like a mindless game of chance; you keep trying, and trying, and trying, to think up random things to say, until one of them clicks and you start having a meaningful conversation that feel more effortless than awkward. But sometimes it takes a long time. And sometimes it makes you tired and annoyed (unless that's just me?). But remember to be patient, because maybe this awkward conversation with a stranger will eventually lead to intimate talks with a new best friend. :)