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3 Ways to Ace Small Talk in Any Situation

Understanding the art of small talk is a big deal, according to experts. 

Understanding the art of small talk may not seem like a big deal, but according to experts it is one of the fundamental keys to acing life, helping out with everything from making friends to being a great employee. "In a world that feels dominated by social media, it's rewarding to give and get personal validation through feelings of goodwill rather than online 'likes.' Doing so requires practice and a mastery of the art of conversation," Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., author of Fragile Power: Why Having It All Is Never Enough, tells Best Life. Here is everything you need to know about the importance of making small talk – including three ways to ace it in any situation. 

Social Anxiety Is Common

Close up shot of a mid-adult man listening to someone speaking whilst sitting in a support group session.

If you get anxious in social situations, you aren't alone. "Many of my patients struggle with social situations. They suffer from what's known as social anxiety which is basically a fear of being judged as less than or in a negative light," explains Dr. Hokemeyer. 

Small Talk Is Helpful in Overcoming Social Anxiety

man letting woman off elevator

To help them overcome this unique form of anxiety, Dr. Hokemeyer coaches his clients in the art of small talk. "Mastering small talk entails focusing one's self off of oneself and onto the other person," he says. 

Small Talk Involves a Bigger Goals

A couple talking loud on an airplane.

Small talk is based on empathy, compassion and altruism, explains Dr. Hokemeyer. "It means that you lose yourself, and your anxiety, by focusing all your attention on your conversation partner's experience regardless how dreary or mundane it might be."

Small Talk Involves Validating the Other Person

Talkative Guy with a Friend

Matt Abrahams, a Stanford University lecturer in organizational behavior and author of ″Think Faster, Talk Smarter: How to Speak Successfully When You're Put on the Spot,″ recently revealed his three tips for acing small talk in any situation to CNBC. First, it involves validating the other person, listening to them and making them feel understood. "They'll use paraphrasing or follow-up questions to demonstrate 'I heard you and I value what you said,'" Abrahams says.  For example, if a person is talking about their recent vacation, they will ask about specifics or say "tell me more," while someone who isn't great at small talk will steer the conversation toward themself. 

It Also Involves Mirroring the Other Person

smiling woman talking to a businessman

Abrahams adds that someone who understands the art of small talk will mirror the other person, imitating their behavior in social situations. THis could be matching the facial expression or tone of the person they are talking to. 

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Finally, It Helps to Use Nonverbal Language

Young couple having great time together

People who are small talk aces also use open nonverbal language, including body language. "People who have a higher EQ are more open in their posture, they are nodding more," Abrahams says. They also give more "backchannel" responses, like "uh-huh" and "I see," he adds. "People with high EQ are better at understanding what's important to other people," Abrahams says.

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more
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