Big Discomfort: Let’s Talk About Small Talk

Small talk: it’s something that many people don’t think twice about, but for others, it can be a mess.

In college, small talk becomes more relevant than ever. You meet new people every day, whether it’s in class, during extracurriculars or on the weekends. When you see people outside of that context, it can be hard to figure out what to say.

Do you stop and talk? Do you just say “Hey”? Maybe just wave and keep walking? Should you take your headphones out in case they want to stop and talk to you?

Most of the time, you only have a few seconds to decide what to do. If you choose to stop and talk, there are many ways to give yourself the best chance of leaving a good impression. The ultimate goal is to make the interaction as smooth as possible.



Starting the conversation

You’ll probably start by asking each other the most basic question, “Hey, how are you?” When responding, try to add in something extra about how your day is going. It might help if you talk about something positive that has happened to you, instead of something negative. This keeps the conversation going smoothly and will help you leave a good impression.

For all of the overthinkers out there, one of the worst things to respond to when making small talk is, “What’s up?” It seems like a simple question, but what does it even mean? Should I tell them how I’m doing? Should I tell them what I’m doing, even though we’re both in the same place at the same time? Try to avoid answering questions like these with one-word responses, because the other person is probably going to say something very similar. This is going to make it hard to keep the conversation going. Again, try to add more detail, but not too much. The key is to find an even balance, so make sure to give the other person enough time to talk.

Word Vomit

If you end a conversation thinking, “Why did I tell them all of that?”, you may have suffered from a case of word vomit. This happens when you don’t know what to say, so you spew out everything that comes to your mind. Remember, It’s called small talk for a reason. Keep it short and sweet.  

Eye Contact

When talking to certain people, making eye contact comes naturally, but with others, you may feel very awkward. Using hand gestures and body language can help you to stop focusing so much on making eye contact. When you stop paying attention to it, it will come naturally.

How do I make a graceful exit?

Once you’ve made it through the heart of the conversation, you may start wondering how to gracefully make an exit. It can be hard to do this without mistakenly cutting someone off or having an awkward silence right before saying goodbye. It’s best to take initiative yourself before these awkward silences sneak in. “Well, it was nice to see you!”, is always a good one to end on.

Fake it ‘til you make it

Even if you feel uncomfortable talking to people, at least pretend to be confident, upbeat and outgoing. If you can master this, you won’t feel like the awkward one in the conversation.

Don’t think about it too much

Avoid putting too much thought into the interaction afterward. You’re probably being too hard on yourself, and the other person most likely didn’t think anything of it. After all, it really isn’t that big of a deal.