Getting Past Small Talk


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Small talk is one of those things in life that it pays well to be good at -- but also pays equally well to move beyond as quickly as possible. When you've just met someone new, dwindling on small talk can be one of the most stultifying "nowhere zones" to end up in. Many a great new connection has been lost by the conversationalists' inability to move past this sometimes daunting formality.

So what exactly is small talk, why do we engage in it -- and most of all, how do we get past it and get to real conversation?

Wikipedia has this to say about small talk:

“[S]mall talk is a bonding ritual and a strategy for managing interpersonal distance... it helps new acquaintances to explore and categorize each other's social position.”

In laymen's terms, what that means is that small talk is how we get to know the basic facts about one another. “What's your name?” “What do you do?” “Where are you from?” – all that is small talk. Small talk's also used by friends, family members, or acquaintances who haven't seen each other in a little while – a way of catching up. “How's the job going?” “How's your daughter?” That's small talk.

And while all that is fine and good, it's feels infinitely better to get beyond small talk and get to the meat and potatoes of conversing with other people – getting to know them better.

Scientific American has even published a podcast here about a recent study with the following findings by researchers on the happiness level of study participants who engage in different levels of conversation to different extents:

“[T]he happiest participants spent 70 percent more time talking with others than the least happy people. But more than just measuring amount of time spent talking with others, they also found a difference in the type of conversation happier folks engage in.

“The happiest participants had twice as many substantive conversations and only a third as much small talk as those who are least content.”

Apparently, according to the latest science, not only is getting past small talk good for your love life – it's good for you overall.

The problem that a lot of people have with small talk is that they can't get past it. Ever have one of those conversations where you've met someone new (or ran into someone you hardly know) and the two of you are both trying to make conversation, but you both just keep circling around and circling around and not finding anything to connect on? You can never quite get out of that awkward place of one person asking a question, the other person answering, and the conversation never really getting started?

“So where you from?” a man asks a woman.

“I grew up in Los Angeles; moved here four years ago. You?” she answers.

“I'm from Portland,” he replies.

“I see,” she says. “What do you do?”

“I'm an accountant,” he responds. “I count dollar signs, mostly. How about you, what's your profession?”

“I'm in the administrative office at the university downtown,” she tells him.

“That's great,” he says. After an awkward pause, he asks, “So... how do you like working at the university?”

“It's ok,” she says. “Nothing special. How do you like being an accountant?”

“Well, it pays the bills,” he tells her. She offers some polite laughter, and he laughs in kind, and then there's another awkward pause.

“Ok, I should probably go get another drink,” she tells him. “It was really nice meeting you.”

“You too,” he says.

What happened? They didn't get past small talk, and the conversation ended. Now, it may have very well been the case that she liked him and he liked her, and both of them were in fact interested in getting to know each other better, but eventually the failure to move beyond small talk made the conversation feel progressively more awkward and less comfortable and eventually the social pressure was too great for them to endure – and the woman, in this case, ended the conversation (and that uncomfortable awkwardness) by exiting it.

Why does it feel awkward when people fail to get past small talk? It's because they end up talking about stuff they don't care about and they fail to relate. Does the guy above really care how much this girl likes working at the university? Does the girl above really care that this guy is from Portland? Not likely on either count. The function that small talk provides – or is supposed to provide – is as a jumping off point into getting to know each other. But that never happened in the conversation above.

What went wrong here was that both partners in the above examples missed opportunities to get to know each other better and build a real conversation (and get past small talk) by getting personal and delving into meaningful topics – instead of staying on superficial levels. How does one do that? By asking pointed questions to get the other partner in the conversation to divulge more meaningful and more interesting tidbits and information.

For instance:

After our gentleman notes that he's from Portland, the lady may say:

“I've never been to Portland. What's it like, and why did you leave there for here?”

What she's done is asked him to tell her some of his story. “Why did you leave there for here?” invites him to go into his background. Once he begins relating the details of his life, his situation, how he came to move to this new town they both find themselves in, suddenly she knows much more about him and has more to relate to him on – and make more interesting and meaningful conversation on.

Similarly, after she notes that she works at the university, rather than asking the pointless question of how she likes it, he might say:

“Really? My friend works there too. What do you like better, being around college kids all the time or getting to work in the middle of downtown?”

He's given her a couple of interesting options for telling him about what she likes. Now she can tell him about how she likes being around young people, or what she likes to do downtown. He's just handed her a few different ideas she can use to branch out in the conversation, rather than staying on the same boring topic of her job at the university (which she probably doesn't really want to think about a whole lot in her free time – unless of course she sees it as her calling!). He's also noted that his friend works at the university – giving her the opportunity to ask him who his friend is (maybe they know each other), what she does there, etc.

If you're picking up a trend here, you've got a good eye; in each case, I've given you a few examples on how people can get to relating to each other better. Because that is what getting past small talk is really about – it's about reaching the point where the two of you are relating to each other and connecting to each other under mutual understanding.

A failure to get past small talk is a failure to relate to another person.

And that's really all it is. And that's why it feels so awkward. When you're speaking with someone and you just can't get past small talk, what you know instinctively is that you're just not relating to her. And she feels the same.

It can be terribly frustrating, especially when both of you want to be relating to each other (and moving beyond small talk), and it's just not happening. But here's a secret: once you master the art of getting beyond small talk, you can connect with almost anyone. The reason why is, most people want to be building new connections with other people, but often don't know how or aren't very good at it. It only takes one of the people in a conversation to be able to move the pair past small talk; once you're past it, you're conversing on a deeper level and relating to each other and conversation flows along far more smoothly and naturally.

So let's go over how to get past small talk, and get you relating to the new people who come into your life. First, here's one more invaluable piece of info on what connecting to people really is all about: it's about getting them telling you about themselves.

A really cool study I saw quite recently found that how connected to you a given person feels has nothing to do with how well that person knows you, and everything to do with how well that person thinks you know her. Which means that the more she tells you about herself, the more connected to you she feels. Because of this, when all she's told you is where she's from and what she does, she doesn't feel connected at all. But once she's begun telling you her dreams, hopes, passions, motivations, and story, she will begin building that connection more and more. Helping other people to feel you know and understand them is what relating to people is all about, and that's what getting past small talk really is.

So without further ado, here are some of the best ways to move past small talk.

Ask the right questions.

Some of the most powerful questions you can ask are:

  • “What do you like about that?”
  • “Why did you decide to do that?”
  • “Why are you doing XYZ instead of ABC?”
  • “If you could do anything else instead of XYZ, what would it be?”

The reason these questions are so powerful is twofold.

  1. It breaks your conversation partner out of autopilot. By the time someone's reached the age of 20, he or she is so used to being asked the standard small talk questions that the answers come without thought. But we don't want her answering on autopilot. When she's on autopilot, she's failing to connect with you; instead, you want her thinking, putting in some work in the conversation, and building a connection. When you get her thinking about things like what she likes, why she's doing what she's doing, or what else she could be doing instead, you get her telling you about herself and building that connection.

  2. It moves instantly beyond the trite. How often does she get asked why she decided to become a photojournalist, or what else she might do instead and why? How many people are generally interested in what she really likes and wants to do? People love to talk about themselves, their passions, and their motivations, and when you give them the chance to do so with you, you've instantly broken past small talk.

Relate to what you hear.

Always try to relate whenever possible to what people tell you. So when someone says, “I'm from Portland,” you can say, “No way, I have a really good friend from there. It's rare to meet people from Oregon. How'd you find your way down here?” When you let someone know that you relate – something as simple as saying, “I've been to that town a few times,” or, “My friend can't stop talking about that restaurant,” or, “I've been trying to get up the nerve to try that sport forever,” you set them at ease and reassure them that they're not talking your ear off about something you don't care about. It relives the social pressure on them and allows them to relax and know that you're relating.

Offer more detail.

The number one reason people can't get past small talk? A failure to get enough information to make conversation on.

When you go back and forth with another person, giving each other near-one-word answers for each question, the conversation dries up soon. e.g.,

“Where are you from?” a woman asks a man.

“New York. You?” he says.

“I'm from DC. How do you like New York?” she replies.

“It's a great town. Ever been there?” he asks.

“A couple of times. Have you been to DC?” she says in turn.

“Once or twice,” he responds.

There's nowhere to go with that conversation. But if you throw some details in, it starts to look like this:

“Where are you from?” she asks.

“The City That Never Sleeps. I love it, but it's nice to be out of the concrete jungle for a bit. Where do you hail from?” he says to her.

“I'm from DC. How do you like New York?” she says back.

“You know, it's a great town,” he tells her. “I used to live in a place that didn't have any public transportation; I'm grateful for it now. And there're always lots of different things to do; it's nice being in a town where you never have to worry about getting bored. What do you think of our nation's capitol?”

Now, this conversation is primed to go somewhere. The man in question here took the opportunity to give his new connection some information about himself to work on; he mentions living in a place without transportation, and living in a town with lots of different things to do. Now, instead of making polite conversation that doesn't really scratch the surface of either party, he's given the woman he's speaking with the chance to ask him, “Where did you live before?” or, “What kind of things do you do in New York?” (which she'll likely ask him after answering his question about how she likes DC) and he can go into some detail on his background, and ask her about hers.

Note that conversation is all about leading into topics; there needs to be a progression from one topic to another. That's why you'll never see a conversation that goes:

“Where are you from?”

“Melbourne, in Australia. Have you ever skied the Alps?”

“No.”

“Oh. Too bad.”

It doesn't make sense. The poor person asking where this guy is from is going to be scratching her head, wondering why on Earth he asked her if she's skied the Alps. But you could see a conversation like this:

“Where are you from?”

“Melbourne, in Australia. I was just traveling in Europe, though – have you ever skied the Alps?”

“No – did you do that while you were there?”

Or like this:

“Where are you from?”

“Melbourne, in Australia. Have you ever skied the Alps?”

“No.”

“Hmm. Well, the reason I ask is, I first left Australia about two months ago, and my mission was to ski the Alps. I got seriously sidetracked though – that's how I ended up here. I'm planning on getting back to Europe and skiing those Alps before I make my way back to Melbourne though – seeing how charming and adventurous you appear, I thought to suggest you come with me.”

Remember to tie a train of thought back to the preceding thought – either at the beginning of the thought (how it's normally done), or by explaining the relation at the end of the thought (less common – more of an advanced conversational technique) – and you can relate just about anything to anything and make it natural. Forget to do so, and the conversation seems to randomly jump from topic to topic and thought to thought – so it's important to remember to tie it all together!

~~~~~~~~~~~

If you follow those three basic rules for breaking past small talk

  1. Ask the right questions
  2. Relate to what you hear
  3. Offer more detail

you'll be flying by it and getting to building connections fast in no time. Ideally you want to spend as little time in small talk as possible – use it only as a tool to jump off into real conversation and get relating to people. Do that and you'll be in real conversations quickly, reliably, and regularly – and I guarantee you'll enjoy meeting new people a whole lot more. And they'll enjoy meeting you too.

All my best,
Chase Amante


UPDATE: to get into deep, meaningful conversation in a hurry, be sure to check out "The Art of the Deep Dive," "What Does She Want? The 8 Things You Must Ask Her," and "20 Ways to Talk to Women and Make It AMAZING."

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Comments

Eddie's picture

I did that


I did basically everything you said in that article yesterday and it's cool because I'm reading this article today. The girl I was talking to complimented me on all those things. The fact that we were able to move past the surface and delve into some really deep things in a matter of minutes. It really is a cool thing to do

Kmillz's picture

Have you ever skied the alps?


Have you ever skied the alps? lol

Anonymous's picture

There is some really


There is some really perceptive analysis on this site. Well done, Chase! It seems like PUA's keep building and improving on knowledge and techniques and Chase has taken it to the next level. You're at the cutting edge right now, I believe. Your info. is helping me greatly, so thank you very much!

Jogi's picture

Hey Chase Keep up the good


Hey Chase

Keep up the good work!! Well anyways I've hang out with this girl and I was able to past small talk( thats what I think it is). Well, at the begining it was really boring we weren't talking something fun but I turned it upside down and we went on an intersting subject. Anyways, we would be on that subject for a couple of minutes and then when I got nothing to say, I would dramatically change subject. I don't know if that is a good way to do it or correct me on how I can stay on a particular subject for long and avoid akward silence. Well, we we're talking and when it comes to the point where he have nothing to say, I tend to think hard on what I could say to her. It doesn't come easy on me. And also a problem that I got is how I can do with the touching? How can I confort her without going to far? How can I make her touch me more than I touch her?

Thanks

Andrakis's picture

Where do I find girls?


Hey Chase, first of all thanks for all the great insights, I'm trying to get out there and implement at least some of it. My main problem though is that I just don't know where to find girls my age or close to it (18). Part of my dilemma is because frankly I'm a coward but I'm also limited because I'm a Christian (no sex before marriage, no drinking etc). I don't go nightclubbing and I don't go to all that many parties. I find it difficult to interact with people in those environments. Do you know of any quieter places I can meet girls? Or should I just grow some balls and go clubbing? I just want to date some interesting girls

Anonymous's picture

Im a practicing christian as


Im a practicing christian as well, and there is NOTHING wrong with going to parties or nightclubs. To be honest it is annoying when christians dont do "normal" sociable human being things.

You dont need to drink, and in fact at 18 you have a legitimate excuse if youngo to a bar or nightclub since they will stamp your hands so you cant order drinks. Go to a party with friends and be the DD or drive yourself and say you cant drink because you have to drive soon. I would rather be sober -- or closer to sober than drunk -- to talk girls anyways, thats just how i feel comfortable.

However, some good places you can go to is a bookstore, grocery store, in your small group/bible study, or even on the street (college campuses equals goldmine!). Saying you cant find girls your age means one of two things, lazy or coward. Dont be either of these and youll be finding yourself some girls to talk to.

One last thing, dont judge girls if they arent christians or if they party or sleep around, not only will you lose a girl who may be amazing, but they will look down on you and look down on christians. Jesus said to love everybody.

sam's picture

Chase, your blog is great!


Chase, your blog is great! I'm really thankful I've ran into it. :)

The other night I was chatting on FB with a girl that I like and it felt like I was asking one question and she'd just answer and not ask me any questions. The conversation was mostly focused on her. Am I asking the wrong questions, reading into this too much or is she just not interested in me?

Thoughts? Suggestions? Thanks.

Anonymous's picture

Keep it coming


Sam,
There is nothing more enjoyable to a woman than being able to talk about themselves. When they talk about themselves more and begin to open up to you, they feel, in a way, connected to you. Therefore, are willing to do more with you..

Joe's picture

Grocery Girl


Hey Chase, I introduced myself to a girl at a Stop and Shop by complaing about a torn bag at the meat counter, we went from laughing about it to small talk and I started to get nervous not being able to think of what to say so SHE realized this and started talking about her school commute. While we talked she would play with her necklace and when we both realized I couldn't keep the conversation going she mentioned she's "always around" (she works there). Should I move on or should I approach her again next time I see her?

Chad's picture

Great Post!


Very very insightful! That shed a lot of light on my own difficulty with conversations

Dick's picture

Oh god... I tried all these


Oh god... I tried all these things and the date I just had failed terribley. I thought things were going okay, maybe a little awkward because we couldn't get past small talk despite my efforts. So I got her to move with me thinking this will give us a distraction. I made a move and she seemed receptive, but it still felt awkward. After this she kept looking away from me and would stay quiet when I was trying to talk to her. Suddenly things were in shambles. I could tell she wanted to leave so I just drove her home... What an awful feeling. I'm still clueless.

Anonymous's picture

still clueless?


to me it sounds like you need to work on your humor. try tying it in next time.

if anything it's all about balance and control at all times. if you're just talking and it's serious/neutral the entire time it gets too heavy.

Anonymous's picture

Good one!


I gotta admit Chase, I've stumbled onto this site yesterday and I've been hooked on it like crack. You write extremely well and your capability to expound and illustrate the subject matter is probably the best i've seen. This is probably the last 'seduction' site i'll really ever read.

Quick backstory:

This past year, I've been on a whole life transformation thing after a breakup. I had forgotten how to be in the 'game'. I was clueless in my early 20's when I was single and just 'luckily' got with my ex (i was slightly above average looking and in good shape). Life happened, people changed, we broke up. It's kind of funny, when i think about how I got girls back in my younger days, it was by being passive. Girls would be the ones that would initiate with me and i'd just have to manage to not fuck it up. You have no idea how many times i fucked up or how many times I yearned for a particular girl but never had the balls to go get her because i was afraid of being reject. Alas, post breakup last December (I was 31, now 32) I went on a tear, going out and just being sloppy and randomly hooking up with girls. I just didn't care, i was upfront about what i wanted talked to people openly. Didnt hold back, no fear. The thing is, I wasnt really aware of what I was doing. I was half smashed most of the time so I just didnt really mind what i said.

It was then that a buddy pointed out my apparent success with women and asked me if I had read 'The Game'. At the time, i hadnt, i grabbed it shortly there after and went down the PUA/Seduction path.

I'd read all the typical bullshit stuff, the gimmicky shit, all the dumb phrases. In the beginning I tried some of those 'tricks'. It just didnt feel right to me, i kept going out and doing my thing though. Over the course of time, I got ride of 90% of my approach anxiety. Today, i can say that I am pretty much a war machine when I'm at a bar. I see a girl, I imagine bungee jumping, and just jump into it. No thought. Just action. Im not afraid of rejection. I know there are plenty of women out there. Its funny, back in the day I used to watch what a lot of the successful guys were doing wondering what the hell they had that I didnt. Now, I dont even realize there are other guys at the bar. Literally, I feel like i dont even see them. When i'm out, i'm only looking at which women i want to talk to. Nothing else is a factor.

Anyhow, I've taken to your blog as a refresher and deeper insight. Reading this article in particular really solidified what i had always been good at. Even prior to getting into the whole chasing women thing, I've always been the 'sticky' guy. Someone who gets people deeply. The one who people have the deep talk with. I'm a good listener as well as a good conversationalist. I can extrapolate peoples past and current thoughts based on very brief conversation. It freaks girls out sometimes when I can tell them about their past or how they are without me really even knowing them.

Your deep dive is spot on. You just gotta know how to ask leading questions and follow ups and generally be interested in knowing the other person. if you're doing it just for the end result, it will not come off as authentic and will probably be counter productive.

Keep up the good work, your articles are very well written and thoughtful

Mr Engel's picture

Holy Ra


This is awesome. I'm trying this now, just being more warm with people and the response has been staggering. Keeping it fun, light-hearted, playing around and ascending from small-talk. Trying now to deep dive. This website is awesome!

Anonymous's picture

i am loving this


i am loving this site,especially about this topic because am just getting hoocked up with a certain girl and apparently she single
i just want to know how i can make it go deep like that...

greg's picture

great post


"A really cool study I saw quite recently found that how connected to you a given person feels has nothing to do with how well that person knows you, and everything to do with how well that person thinks you know her."

Do we have this study?

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