Making small talk can be tricky and a source of stress at times. When you're first getting to know someone, you may feel tongue-tied or unsure of the right questions to ask to move the conversation -- and the relationship -- along. Asking good questions can help you get to know your new acquaintance better, and strengthen your connection.
A good rule of thumb when chatting with acquaintances is to ask them questions they can answer as they choose, which doesn't box them in or put them on the spot. No one likes to feel like they're in a job interview when they're just hanging out and getting to know someone. Since most people like to talk about themselves, ask acquaintances questions that let them choose the focus. "How's life?", "Anything new these days?", or "What's up with you?" are all good general questions.
It's also vital to ask questions that are open-ended, and can't be answered in a single word. Doing so will help the conversation flow more naturally. For example, instead of asking "How was English?" (which will likely receive a "Good" or "OK" in response), you might say "What went on in English today?" Instead of asking "How was your weekend?" you could ask "What were you up to this weekend?"
Sometimes it's hard to avoid questions that will get a single-word answer entirely. An easy way to keep the conversation moving is to ask follow-up questions that build upon what you just learned. For instance, you might ask an acquaintance, "What town are you from?" After learning the answer, you could ask "What's the best pizza there?" or "How far is that from school?" The question "Do you play any sports?" might get a "Yeah, basketball" in response. But if you ask "What's the coach like?" or "How was your last game?", the conversation is more likely to flow and continue.
People love the chance to reveal their passions and interests, and show what makes them unique. Get your acquaintance to show you who they are by asking fun, slightly personal questions that spark interesting discussion. For example, you might ask "What do you want to do when you finish school?", "What's your idea of a dream job?", "What's your favorite movie?", "Who's your best teacher?" or "What song are you loving right now?"
Noticing something that makes someone special is also a way to spark conversation. Most people have traits, qualities or possessions we admire, or are curious about. If you have fashion sense in common with your acquaintance, you could ask something like, "I love your shoes! Where did you get them?" If you both like art, you could compliment something she created: "Those are awesome doodles on your binder. What type of pen did you use?" Combining a sincere compliment with a question is a great way to strengthen your connection with an acquaintance.
- The Happiness Project: A Menu of Options for Making Small Talk
- The Fine Art of Small Talk; Debra Fine
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