Small talk is not only boring, but it also hinders your shot at happiness, science says. But you might be wondering how to avoid small talk, since it seems to finagle its way into every conversation at some point, especially with new people.
Fortunately, there are tons of ways to steer clear of surface-level chit chat and dive deeper.
What are nine ways to avoid small talk?
If you find yourself stuck in small talk or have the feeling that it's on the horizon, here are nine simple ways to avoid the mundane chit chat altogether — and to hopefully move on to some more substantive, genuine conversation.
1. Divert the other person's attention elsewhere.
If you've run out of things to talk about and you don't want to start hearing about the miserable weather or the bad traffic this morning, talk about something in the room (or outside, depending on where you are), that's funny, random, beautiful, eye-catching in some way. This should be something to which you could both relate — something that both of you can discuss, not something that you saw earlier in the day that has no meaning to the other person.
2. Bring up a current event that'll engage the other person.
If there's been something in the news lately that's garnering a lot of attention, bring it up (so long as it's not a controversial hot topic and your first date or boss or someone else with whom you shouldn't be discussing such topics). For example, if there was a recent flood and you know that the other person's family lives in the area of the flood, you can ask them how their family is doing. Likewise, if there was a new law implemented recently, you can bring that up and ask the other person their thoughts on it. Surely, these topics will spiral into more, deeper conversations.
3. Come to the conversation prepared with deeper questions.
Come to the conversation prepared with general, deep questions. Instead of asking them what they do for work, which warrants a one-word response, ask them how they got into their field or what they find most challenging or most fulfilling about their line of work. Instead of asking them where they're from, ask them what it was like growing up where they're from. There are tons of other deep questions you can ask someone, such as about their fears, passions, beliefs and more.
4. Frankly tell the other person that you couldn't care less about the small talk topic.
If a person brings up a topic about which you don't care, admit it. Perhaps they start talking about the traffic on the parkway, tell them you'd rather not talk about it. Maybe they bring up the fact that the weather channel mentioned snow the week, tell them that you don't really care to talk about the impending snowstorm, but that you are interested in whether or not they have any ski or snowboard trips planned for it.
5. Ask questions in which you know the other person would be interested.
If you're worried that the person you're meeting is going to be a small talker, or you're just nervous about what to talk about in the first place, do some background research on that person. Find out a bit about where they're from, what their hobbies are or anything else you think that they might be interested in discussing. Then come prepared to the conversation with questions about their background, hobbies and other interests. People love talking about themselves, and this will certainly steer them clear of "the grass is green" talk.
6. Reveal something slightly personal about yourself.
In order to get someone to feel comfortable opening up with you, you might need to first open up with them. Don't drop something super serious on them that can make the conversation just as awkward as small talk, but consider revealing something that's just slightly more personal about yourself. You don't eat seafood because of that one time in Morocco when your host family forced you to eat sardines and you passed out. You love kickboxing because your mother and you used to go together as a bonding hobby, and it was the only workout with which you ever stuck. You love to travel so much, the most recent place you visited was Peru, but you really regret not bringing warmer clothes with you because of the unanticipated altitude weather.
When you open up with them, it might spark something in them — whether it's about something to which they can relate to you or something you made them think about, too.
7. Change the subject from the weather or the traffic, every time.
When in doubt, if the other person starts referring to the weather or the traffic or any other objectively cliche small talk topic, change the conversation to just about anything else.
8. Talk about something specific that you're working on.
If you've been working on any exciting or challenging or different projects at work lately, mention it. You never know if the person across from you will care about it, but if you share the details of it with enthusiasm, that's often a contagious emotion. Even if they're not particularly interested in the project itself, they might have questions and curiosities about how you became involved in the project, the challenges you may be facing or your interest in it. They may even feel comfortable then sharing exciting undertakings over their own.
9. Ask open-ended questions that prompt stories instead of answers.
Instead of asking the other person yes-or-no questions, ask open-ended questions that prompt stories. For example, switch up "Do you like the winter?" or even "What's your favorite season," which will warrant a yes, no or the name of a season and that's it, with a "Tell me about your favorite season and your favorite memory in it."
How do I get into deep conversation?
Getting into deep conversation isn't something you can force — some people just won't want to have deep conversation with you (or anyone at all), and that's okay. In these cases, it's best to leave the chit chat in a cordial manner and move on to friends, family, your partner or prospective partners who are both capable of and interested in diving into deep conversations.
There are tons of ways to get into deep conversation but it should come naturally; you shouldn't just spring an existential life question on someone when they're least expecting it. Instead, ease into deep conversation by establishing rapport with your conversation partner and making them feel comfortable opening up to you. The best conversation, after all, happens when both parties are engaged and stimulated.
So how do you start deep conversation once you feel that you're in a comfortable safe space with the other person? Simply ask them deeper questions. Whatever it is that you're talking about, peel back another layer. For example, if you're discussing their busy work day (surface-level small talk), ask them how they got into their line of work anyway. When they give you their story, you'll learn even more about their background that'll, ultimately, open up more questions you'll have for them. If this person is interested in a deeper conversation with you, they'll provide substantive answers and ask you questions, as well.
How do I stop awkward conversations?
Stopping awkward conversations can be, well, pretty awkward. How do you tell the person with whom you're talking that the conversation to which they're seemingly subjecting you is the furthest thing from a conversation you feel like having? How do you tell that person that the conversation in which you've found yourselves is making you feel uncomfortable — since telling them in and of itself feels uncomfortable?
Maybe you don't want to tell that person that you want to stop the conversation. There are ways, however, to stop the conversation without bluntly telling them to move on. Here are some examples of how to stop awkward conversations:
- Comment on something situational that's relevant for both of you, such as an item in the room or something on the street wherever you are. Once you divert the other person's attention to whatever it is that you mention, you can change the subject entirely.
- Comment on something current that's happening in the world. You can bring this up randomly by saying that it's just been on your mind lately and, not to change subjects (but to change subjects), you want to get their input. Talking about current news is an easy conversation starter assuming that the other person knows enough about it to contribute to the new conversation, as well.
- Cut into the conversation by asking a relevant but deeper question. Surface-level conversation, arguably, isn't ever riveting — but you don't need to stay on the surface. Ask dimensional questions that'll take the small talk to the next level. Again, you can do this by simply peeling back the conversation layer by layer.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.