Here's my unpopular opinion: small talk can be extremely enjoyable.

Now, I know that most people will probably disagree with me. To many folks, making small talk is about as enjoyable as a trip to the dentist. If you're one of these people (I'm just going to play devil's advocate here) What if you don't like small talk just because you've been going about it wrong?

Here's the thing: small talk doesn't have to translate into boring exchanges about the weather, or your plans for the weekend. Instead, you can have genuine, meaningful conversations with whoever you're talking to -- even if you've just met them a few seconds ago.

How do you do this? Well, according to a 2017 Harvard study, the key to making the most out of small talk lies in asking follow-up questions.

More specifically, conversationalists who ask more follow-up questions are seen to be more caring, understanding, and responsive. On top of that, asking more follow-up questions can also make you better-liked.

Asking follow-up questions to create more meaningful conversations.

Doing this is simple -- just identify a topic that you want to talk about, and dig deep.

For example, say you ask someone what they do for fun, and they tell you that they paint. Instead of moving on and talking about the event you're both at, or trying to figure out how many mutual acquaintances you have, go on and ask them more follow-up questions about this same topic, such as "What kind of paints do you use?" or "How do you get your inspiration when deciding what to paint?" or "Do you complete an entire painting in one sitting, or does your concentration drop off quickly?"

Chances are, both you and the person you're talking to will become more engaged and involved in the conversation -- and they'll come away thinking: "Wow, what a great guy. I'm glad I got to meet someone cool today."

The art of making small talk: don't overthink things.

Here's my number one rule to making successful small talk: don't overthink things.

If you want to talk to someone, just go up to them and talk to them! Don't worry about the timing, or whether you're putting them out, or anything else.

After all, what's the worst that can happen? Maybe you won't have a particularly good conversation, but hey, that's not the end of the world. Life goes on.

Now, if you're used to keeping to yourself, and you'd never approach a stranger at an event, I can see how this might be hard for you.

But trust me -- just put yourself out there, and see what happens. You'll find that it gets easier and easier to talk to people, and before you know it, you'll be having tons of high-quality, meaningful conversations with folks from all walks of life.

Personally, I've met and recruited a ton of A-players to my team, just from small talk alone.

I like to strike up conversations with people wherever I go -- at restaurants, at airports, you name it. Sometimes I meet really amazing people who I know would make a great addition to my team -- and I end up hiring them.

Published on: Apr 30, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.