Does even the thought of making polite small talk make you squirm?
I can relate.
As an introvert, I naturally gravitate towards deep and meaningfuls. I want to know all the interesting stuff, not talk about the weather.
Knowing what to chat about doesn’t always come easy. That’s why I like to have some go-to talking points up my sleeves.
Even better, these talking points may sound simple, but can still lead to hidden depths.
So for all you fellow introverts out there, I’d like to share my list of questions and phrases.
That way we can still satisfy our desire to have meaningful conversations AND get better at this whole chit-chat thing!
1) When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I love this one because the answers often surprise you. Not only that, but it can even reveal hidden things about someone’s character.
Perhaps that’s interests you never knew they had or little clues about how they’ve changed over the years.
There’s often a hidden story lurking in there somewhere. And sometimes it’s pretty funny.
For me, I wanted to work at the supermarket checkout so I could do the “beeb beeb” scanning. I just thought it seemed fun.
Potential follow-up questions might be: What changed and when?
2) That’s fascinating, I’d love to hear more if you’re happy to share
Showing an interest in someone is incredibly flattering.
It encourages them to open up and reassures them that you want to hear what they have to say.
The safer someone feels, the more likely they are to trust you and open up. And that’s bound to lead to more meaningful conversations.
3) What’s your dream job?
Rather than go with the standard (and sometimes boring) ‘What do you do?’, why not ask them what they would love to do?
Tap into fantasy, desire, and imagination.
If there were no limits, what would they want to be?
Nothing lights people up like talking about what they’re passionate about.
4) I got super frustrated this morning queuing in traffic. I’m curious, whether it’s big things or small, what really winds you up?
Okay, some people might consider this a “negative” question. But the reality is that passion comes in many forms.
And that’s not always what we love. It can be what we hate too.
Because behind the things that trigger us the most are the things that we care about.
Perhaps you find out about a cause they are heavily invested in, like animal protection.
Or maybe just a little quirk that rubs them up the wrong way, like when someone drinks straight out of the milk carton.
5) I was reading the news today about X, and am intrigued to get your take on it
There’s nothing wrong with picking something topical and diving deeper into it.
People generally like it when we ask them their opinions and ideas.
It’s up to you what story you choose, it can be light or heavier.
Although the unofficial “rules” of making small talk would normally steer you clear of anything potentially controversial, there are plenty of interesting current affairs topics floating around that you can dive into.
6) What was the highlight of your week?
The problem with a lot of small talk questions is that they quickly turn into dead-ends.
Rather than being open questions that lead to an explanation, they’re closed ones that can quickly be answered with one word.
That means after 2 seconds you’re awkwardly scanning your brain for something else to say, with very little to go on.
“How was your day?” is a good example. Once they say it was “ok” or “not bad”, then what?!
But when we ask someone to pinpoint the best part of their week or day, they share with us much more information.
7) How would you describe the place you grew up to someone who has never been?
Again, rather than going with the standard “Where are you from?” or “Where did you grow up”, this invites them to tell more of a story.
It makes them think.
How they paint a picture of where they’re from can spin off into plenty of other follow-up questions too.
“Oh, you didn’t like it?” or “Sounds idyllic, ever think of moving back?”
8) I’d never thought about it like that
Whenever we want to encourage debate and discussion, we need to create a safe space for that to happen.
One of the reasons why people often stick to mundane small talk is because they want to keep it safe.
They’re worried about rocking the boat or accidentally offending.
So when you let it be known that you value other people’s take on things, it makes it easier for them to bring up more gritty topics.
9) Why did you choose to study X?
This is a really great adaptable question to ask someone. Because it doesn’t need to be a topic they chose to study.
You could just easily ask them why they decided to learn Italian, why they wanted to take up rock climbing, or why they got into a certain line of work.
It’s the “why” that’s actually important.
Rather than asking “what” someone does, or is interested in…ask them why to peel back the layers.
10) I’m wondering, what was the last book you read that you couldn’t put down? I could do with some suggestions
For me, the whole, “Are you reading anything good at the moment?” can feel a bit forced.
Plus, if someone asks me, and I’m not, it also makes me feel a bit embarrassed. Almost like I’m uncultured for not constantly reading. But maybe that’s just me, LOL.
Yet, it’s still fundamentally an interesting question.
So I like to jazz it up a little and let the other person know I need suggestions and want to hear about only the most engaging books they’ve ever read.
That’s going to give you plenty of insights into their tastes too.
11) I heard this interesting psychological question the other day…
Would you rather be invisible or be able to fly?
When I was first asked, I knew my answer straight away to this one…to be invisible of course.
It may sound like a frivolous question. Just another one of those “Would you rather A or B” sort of things.
But the best bit about it is that it’s actually got so much hidden meaning.
So what seems like a bit of fun, opens out into this whole psychological conversation.
That’s because what someone chooses reveals secret things about their personality and what makes them tick.
As explained in Forbes, if you pick flying you’re more likely to be much more confident. Meanwhile, if you’d rather be invisible you much prefer to stay in the background.
“When you are flying, you are in the public light. Others notice you. You are at center stage. There also seems to be something more powerful about flying than about being invisible. When you are invisible you can sneak around, no one knows where you are, and you can find out what others are saying about you.”
Super interesting, right?
12) What was the best vacation you ever took?
Asking someone if they’re going on vacation this year is another one of those questions that can abruptly end if they’re not.
But asking them about the best vacation they’ve ever had presents more opportunities for storytelling.
Their most memorable trip may have been due to a special place or country that they visited. If so you can ask them about what they liked so much about that place.
Or it could just have been a really special time in their life, like spending time with family or friends.
Small talk isn’t always easy, but practice makes perfect
Sometimes the thought of mingling at a party fills me with dread, and I think that’s okay.
We still have to honor our introverted nature. So that means allowing ourselves to recharge whenever we need to and being mindful of our social limits.
But at the same time, we still have to push our comfort zone.
Because conversation, and communication in general, are skillsets that we learn. That means we can hone those skills with practice.