Small talk opens doors; it creates rapport; it starts conversations and relationships and greases the skids for a positive interaction. But for some of us, it's awkward and uncomfortable to do well.

But there is a secret to effective small talk that works almost every time: changing the questions you ask from "close-ended" to "open-ended."

Take, for example, the simple idea of asking a colleague about his trip. A close-ended version of the question would be something like: "Did you like your trip?" or "Was the trip good?"

The problem with this close-ended version is that it invites a simple "yes" or "no" response -- and in doing so, brings the conversation to a halt:

You: Bob, did you like your trip?

Bob: Yes -- it was great. Thanks!

Conversation over -- or at least stalled awkwardly.

Enter the solution to this problem: the open-ended question. Asking questions in this subtly different way is a great little trick for increasing the chance of a lengthier answer from Bob -- and then giving you a better chance to help extend the small talk conversation.

So, instead of "Did you like your trip," say instead: "Tell me about your trip?!"

You might think this is an inconsequential difference, but it's not. It's actually pretty powerful. With the open-ended prompt, Bob will likely share more information with you -- and that's information you can pick up on to keep the conversation going. For example:

You: Hey, Bob. So tell me about your trip!

Bob: It was great. We went to the Grand Canyon for a few days, and then rented a car to drive to L.A .and then down the coast to San Diego.

Voilà -- now you have it! Fodder for continuing the conversation. You might ask about the Grand Canyon -- or potentially tell Bob that you too have visited the Grand Canyon (if that's true) and enjoyed it. Or maybe you know something about L.A. or San Diego -- or have even made the drive yourself. The point is that even if you know nothing about these places, you have much more to go on with the open-ended version to extend the conversation. And that's how to really make small talk work.

Try it out for yourself. You'll be surprised at how effective it can be.

Published on: Dec 20, 2016
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