The Do's and Don'ts of Small Talk

March 22, 2019
Read time: 2 mins

You’ve had a bad day. Nothing went right at work, you were late to pick up the kids and have absolutely no idea what’s for dinner because there’s nothing at home to eat. So you run into the grocery store for inspiration on an easy meal and bump into your friend Kate. Your meeting goes something like this:

Kate: Hi! So nice to see you. How are you?
You: Hi Kate! I’m good, how are you?

Good? Really? But should you say - “I’ve had the worst day ever and I’m super crabby”?

The art of small talk needs to have nothing to do with the question how are you? Instead we should all store more thoughtful questions in our back pockets when faced with wanting to ask this meaningless one. Here are some ideas:

  • Be cognizant of where you are. In this instance you could say something like “Hi Kate! What are you having for dinner? I need some ideas.”
  • Share some good news. There must be something good going on with you, so bring it up. “Life is busy! Did you hear Rosie made the varsity soccer team? We are so excited for her!”
  • Consider what you have in common. Do your work paths ever cross? Ask about Kate’s promotion or the merger that’s happening at her company.

It is a knee-jerk question that we should all work on eliminating by asking something with more substance (and by the way, Harvard researchers agree). Oh, you’ll be tempted, but don’t do it! Practice makes perfect and with a little time you’ll be asking engaging questions off-the-cuff, starting conversations of meaning from the get-go.

do don't