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4 Tips to Turn the Tittle-Tattle Off

Do you dislike small talk?

Me too.

I’ve always considered it a waste of time, but I dislike small talk even more since I read a recent study about friendship conducted by Professor Hall, with The University of Kansas, and published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Professor Hall (probably an introvert like me . . . and likely, like you) found small talk to be the enemy of friendship.

The reason?

People who talk about mundane topics become less close over time.

I can see that. If all I could talk about with a friend was the weather, the traffic, and our dogs, I would likely distance my calls to avoid the pain of small talk, and our friendship would gradually cool off.

Now, here are a few things you can do to turn trivial conversations into meaningful ones.

1. Offer Deep Answers

By opening up first, you set the example and show the other person it’s okay to be vulnerable and get personal. (But maybe NOT start with your beloved childhood pet’s trip to “that farm up north”; we’re not trying for waterworks here.)

Here’s an example. If the other person asks you, “How was your weekend?” you could provide a boring answer (“It was ok”), a superficial answer (“It was fine. I watched the game”), or a deep answer (“I didn't do much—I was pooped. I’m a perfectionist, you know, and last week I worked over 60 hours. I’ve struggled with perfectionism since I was in college . . . “)

Just don’t go into a monologue! If you ever do, give them $300 for the therapy session.

2. Provide a “Safe Zone”

True friends listen to others without judging them. They provide a “Safe Zone” where others can be themselves without fear of being judged, criticized, corrected, or controlled. Work on being aware of whether you tend to judge others or try to “fix their lives,” and if so, stop it! If you want to get deeper connections through more intimate conversations, people need to feel safe around you—then they’ll open up.

For instance, if someone says, “I bite my nails when I’m nervous,” don't say, “You shouldn't do that! . . .” Instead try, “Have you been doing that for a while?” People sense sincere curiosity and appreciate your interest.

3. Kill Conversation-Killing Questions

Avoid the two types of questions that kill conversations:

  • Closed questions: Those who can be answered with just one or two words, such as “Did you have fun this weekend?”

  • Boring questions: Those that most everyone else asks

Listen to Marilyn Monroe, who said, “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius, and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.” Dare to be ridiculous!

Aren’t you bored of the same ol’ same ol’, “How are you?” “How do you like the weather?” “How was your day?” “What’s up?” All of them are not closed but open questions—yet they’re lame.

4. Don’t Ask Questions; Ask for Stories

Comedian Chris Colin and Journalist Rob Baedeker[1] recommend asking for stories, not for answers. These are some examples they offer:

  • “What’s the strangest thing about where you grew up?”

  • “How’d you end up in your line of work?”

  • “What does your name mean? What would you like it to mean?”

  • “What are you looking forward to this week?”

  • “Who do you think is the luckiest person in this room?”

  • “If you could teleport by blinking your eyes, where would you go right now?”

Take some time to write fun, interesting, or even ridiculous questions that will allow them to reply with a story. Then, practice them with a friend, your partner, or a stranger. (Stay away from questions like, “And where were you on the night of the robbery?” That’s less boring but WAY more confrontational.)


Adapted excerpt from Dr. Sofia Santiago's course "How to be Likable and Make Everyone Like You."


[1] “What to Talk About: On a Plane, at a Cocktail Party, in a Tiny Elevator with Your Boss's Boss,” by Chris Colin and Rob Baedeker

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