How can I get better at small talk? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by James Altucher, blogger, author, Wall Street investor, on Quora:

Most people want to get better at small talk. This means avoiding the uncomfortable silence when two people are standing close to one another and vaguely know each other.

Bad small talk is, "The weather is bad today." Or, "Busy day today?" Or, "I can't wait until this election is over."

Small talk takes an uncomfortable situation and stuffs it back into that tiny area of our brains we often call "the comfort zone."

Here's the reality:

  • People are complex. So it's okay to talk about complex things.
  • It's also okay to be silent.

But both of those things are uncomfortable. To get good at both things, you have to be able to be good at improvisation. And you have to be able to get good at stepping slightly outside of your comfort zone.

It's not a big step. There are levels of discomfort outside of the comfort zone. This may be the simplest.

Here's how you can practice:

  1. Ask people on an elevator what their weight is.
  2. Compliment people on the street about their clothing in a very specific way, i.e., "I love the lapel on that dress." Do it with everyone on the street.
  3. When someone asks how your day is going, give at least a drop of a real answer. "Well, this deal I am working on could be better, but hopefully good things will happen today."
  4. When holding the door open for people, ask their names. A name has power. Like Rumpelstiltskin. If someone gives you the code to his inner life (his name), then that's not small talk.
  5. In a conversation with someone, ask a question and be silent as long as possible. Sometimes we're happily chatting along and suddenly we notice there's an awkward silence. This is a great moment to practice. See how long you can make the awkward silence last.
  6. Go up to people and ask to take their picture. I've been doing this over the past few months. It's difficult. I am getting better at it, but it never gets easy.
  7. People relate to each other not when they share the weather, but when they share vulnerabilities. Next time there is a chance for small talk, share the worst thing that has happened to you recently (although not in a complaining way) and then say, "How about you?"
  8. Give someone a two dollar bill and ask if she wants two ones for it.
  9. Watch a lot of standup comedy. Those guys are the best at improvisation. Learn from them.
  10. Tell a story about who a specific person reminds you of. The other day I was in a business meeting. There was small talk. But one of the people really reminded me of someone else, and I wanted to say something, but never did. It could have opened up a whole new way of relating to the person rather than just small talk.

The idea of all of this not to get better at small talk, but to make the interactions in life more meaningful to you.

Life is disorder. Life is chaos. That's what makes it so wonderful. Rebel a little against the order that society tries to clamp down on us.

Small talk is a prison of words. Breaking free will unleash the mind and the imagination. It will be fun and will create laughter. And, if you're lucky, you'll make a friend.

Here's a post that might help: How To Win Friends and Influence People.

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Published on: Oct 26, 2016