Avoid small talk with these simple questions
I’m not sure that I know anyone who enjoys small talk. If you do, let me know who they are, so I can ask them how to make small talk enjoyable. Anyway - not only do people find small talk boring, I (and many others) have said before that they’re just unsure of what to ask or where to even start, aside from talking about the weather, the drive to get to wherever you are, or the mundane “so what do you do.”
“So what do you do” might be the worst question of all time, given that it implies that work is what you do, all you do, and the most important thing you do (it’s not, by the way). Let’s replace boring questions like “what do you do,” “how was the drive,” and “what do you think of all this rain,” with conversation that actually holds meaning, helps you get to know someone, and interests both of you.
What’s the most enjoyable way that you spend your time?
This question is great because it lets people talk about what’s actually most meaningful or important to them, rather than being invited to talk about things that may or may not really show who they are. Some people’s work is a just a job that they don’t really care about. For others, it’s tied to their identity. Asking people what they like to do for enjoyment invites them to actually show up as themselves in conversation.
What brought you here?
This is a twist of the classic “so, how do you know so-and-so,” but allows for interpretation. For example, the person may talk about why they decided to come to this event, might make connections to other areas of their life in which this socializing is important, and so on.
What’s something new you learned or experienced this week?
This question is interesting because it shows you what this person’s attention has been drawn to, and also tells you about the current experiences that are fresh in their mind.
Stop asking questions.
Comment on something that you notice about the person, whether it’s an accessory, what they’re drinking or eating, something you overheard them say, whatever. We always assume that small talk (and even conversation) is about asking questions, which puts a lot of pressure on us to actually come up with questions and find a way to engage. The idea of commenting on something else is not at all novel, this is just a reminder.
No seriously, stop asking questions.
During small talk situations I also like to listen, echo, and prompt for further explanation. People are interesting! When they’re chatting during small talk, it’s mostly likely only the surface of what they’re thinking or experiencing. When they share something with you (for example, perhaps, what they do to enjoy their time), prompt them to tell you more by commenting or even saying “tell me more about that.”