By Caroline Maguire, PCC, M.ed.
Making small talk can feel dreadful, wasting time talking about topics no one cares about just to be polite. Perhaps your conversations are stilted and awkward because you don’t know when or how to “jump in”. If you find yourself sitting in silence because you prefer it to endless banter, you are not alone.
Making small talk can be difficult – very difficult – for people who have ADHD. When you don’t engage in small talk with co-workers and peers, others are unclear if you are awkward, shy or disinterested. They may assume you are just plain rude. Without communication and interaction, no one can get to know you and you don’t move deeper into connecting and intimacy.
Want to Make Friends? Look for Opportunities to Connect
Small talk at social events, groups and when you run into someone are all opportunities to connect and to begin to nurture a friendship. Bonds are not created overnight. Small conversations and interactions help us connect and feel each other out, to increase sharing and intimacy and to see if there are mutual interests or a connection.
Relationship building skills are critical in order to bridge to longer conversations. Knowing someone’s likes and dislikes and reciprocal sharing builds relationships.
What Is ‘Small Talk’?
Small talk is breezy and light. It is a “chat” around a topic that you engage in for a few minutes or use as a bridge to longer conversations. Small talk has a purpose – it bonds people together. It is not pointless, as some have coined it. It allows you to bridge from “hi” to a deeper relationship.
How To Make Small Talk
Place yourself in an environment where people congregate. If you are at a loss about what to talk about, quietly observe how others engage in a reciprocal conversation. What do they do with their hands, facial expressions, and tone? Is this a chatty group or are people speaking in whispers? Look for opportunities to interject, such as “That just made me very happy!”
9 Steps to a Conversation
- Greet – Practice starting the dialog first. “Hello” is a great place to start. If you don’t know the other person’s name, simple remind them of yours. Smile and look attentive. Have an open and welcoming stance.
- Ask or Add Comments – Small Talk is reciprocal. Be curious. Ask a question to learn more. Asking a question can begin a reciprocal and light natured chit chat. Examples are, “How are you?” “Wow did you see that traffic jam?”
Building on the last comment from the other person. An example is, “Tell me more about xxx.” Practice staying on topic and note if the other speaker is veering off or sticking with the original topic.
- Build Common Ground– Joining groups, clubs, sports and activities gives you opportunities to spend time and learn about your peers. The more you chat with someone and engage in shared experiences, the more you get to know them and the more you have to talk about. Keep building on common interests to help you know more about people.
- Listen – Listening is a key to communication. Look the other person in the eye. Try to be present and respond to what they have to say. Practice listening and then recap and reflect back what you heard them say. Physically turn your body toward the speaker and wait for your turn to join the conversation.
- Make Supportive Comments– Short comments lets the speaker know you are listening. It encourages the speaker to continue. Don’t over-think it, just do your best to make the author feel supported. Examples of supportive comments are, “Thank you for putting the time into explaining this to me” or “Mmm, I can see that.”
- Read Body Language and Nonverbal Signals–Up to 90% of all communication is nonverbal. Body language conveys a lot about the person and their intentions. Approach someone with an “open stance,” with your body facing the other person so you know they are open to chat. Get to be an expert on reading others. Ask yourself, “What does this facial expression mean?”
- Keep the Conversation Going – Be curious, but don’t interrogate. Ask thoughtful questions and add bridging comments. Example of bridging comments: “Oh, I never heard of that, I would love to know more.”
- Watch Your Tone –Be careful of a tone that is harsh, jarring, passionate, aggressive, abrasive. How you project your tone can change the meaning of what you are trying to say. “I can’t believe you did that!” could come across as praise or condescending.
- Practice– Do your best to keep the conversation moving forward. Give yourself a mission to practice once a day at family dinner, at work, at Starbucks, in a meeting or in your community. Try to step into their shoes, empathy is a very valuable “glue” when connecting with others.
Friendship Builds Over Time and Has Stages
Bonds are not created overnight. Through small talk, you are detecting whether this is someone you want to continue building a friendship with and see if they can earn your trust. Try not to overshare or else others feel flooded or bombarded. And they also wonder can you keep their secrets? Don’t venture into topics that might be off putting. You are trying to build rapport, not get into a heated debate.
As my Grandmother said, “Every stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet!”
Engaging in conversation is a recipe for success!
Caroline Maguire, PCC, M.ed., is a mom, wife, daughter, writer, lifelong learner & SEL advocate dedicated to helping people become their best self: socially engaged, confident, and open to the unlimited world of learning and connection. Caroline is also the author of Why Will No One Play With Me?
Caroline will be offering a course for Adults with ADHD: Learn to Overcome the Discomfort of Making Small Talk. Do you get flustered when making light chit chat? Caroline Maguire outlines the specific, proven steps – that bridge the gap from hesitant to engaging. Join Caroline Maguire for an interactive seminar and training. Learn more here.