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6 Tips for how to initiate conversations with strangers and have more satisfying small talk

Get better at the art of conversation with these handy small talk hacks.

6 Tips for how to initiate conversations with strangers and have more satisfying small talk

1. Take control

“One of the most effective ways to have a good conversation is for you to lead a good conversation,” says Georgie Nightingall, founder of Trigger Conversations in London, UK.

“Take the initiative: go, ‘Right, I’m going to ask questions that are interesting and meaningful, I’m going to feel at ease first, I’m going to act like this person is a friend or familiar’ and then it has the effect of setting the other person at ease.’’

2. Break out from the script

‘The Script’ is what you usually say and what people expect. For example – ‘How are you? Good, how are you? Good’. Or, ‘I’ll have a latte please, double shot, almond milk’. Think about what else you could say, observes Nightingall.

“‘The best Americano in the world, please – I would like the coffee that no one has. If you were to have a coffee what would you have?’ Or try sharing something about yourself. Or notice something about the person, notice if they are wearing a cool T-shirt, wearing glasses or something like that. Building an interaction and treating them like a human being can be really powerful. Those moments can build a sense of connection and belonging.’’

3. Don’t use one-word answers

Rather than saying ‘good’, or ‘fine’ to a question such as ‘how are you’ or ‘how was your day’, maybe tell them something meaningful that happened to you that day, suggests Nightingall.

“Try sharing something outside of work, something that you are curious about. Give people offers, hooks, and opportunities for them to ask more questions and be interested. The mistake is that we don’t put enough information out to enable them to latch on and go somewhere with it.’’

4. Choose the right place

You can practise by starting up a conversation in a sanctioned conversational place, for example transactional places where you are buying something, where micro-interactions are normal. Then you can build up to other situations or places from there, says Nightingall.

5. Be curious

Want to go from small talk to an interesting and meaningful conversation? “Curiosity is what allows you to ask more interesting questions to go somewhere else and find information,’’ suggests Nightingall.

“It’s a pathway. You need to learn, ‘Oh okay, we are having small talk right now, how can I be interested, how can I learn about someone then navigate out (of small talk)?’’’

6. The 5-second rule

Wait five seconds when someone finishes talking before you say something. “That space allows something fresh to emerge often, people feel quite safe and heard,” says Nightingall.

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