How to escape small talk in two simple steps

Photo: Michael Goodman

Photo: Michael Goodman


We’ve all been there. You’re at a party, and somebody asks you a small talk question that you’re afraid will beget more small talk and before you know it, you’re thirty minutes deep into a discussion about traffic patterns in your local area. Whether the question that somebody is asking you is, “Where are you from?” Or, “Wasn’t the traffic getting here awful?” You can prevent your conversation from slipping into a night of small talk by responding the following way:

  1. Offer an internal state and/or anecdote
  2. Instead of asking them the exact same question that they asked you, ask them something related, but more specific and personal.

Here’s what that looks like when you put it together:

If somebody says, “Weird weather we’ve been having lately, huh?” You might say, “Yeah, I went to the beach on Tuesday and had to cancel hiking plans on Thursday. I was so bummed! What sort of stuff do you like to do when the weather's nicer?”

When someone asks you where you’re from, don’t just say, “Miami, you?” Try instead, “I grew up in Miami, which I hated because I was a nerd who read a lot, and everyone around me seemed more interested in clubbing and drinking. How about you? Did you like where you grew up?”

If you’re asked, “What time did you get here?” You might say, “I got here half an hour late-- I never know what time to get to parties. I want to make sure I’m not the first one there because that’s always a little awkward, but I also don’t want to be a jerk to the host, ya know? How about you? Are you more of a 'right on time' kind of person or a 'fashionably late' kind of person?"

This technique works nicely because it’s a gentle invitation to jump into every-so-slightly deeper conversation without being too overwhelming for most folks. At worst, it might take some people by surprise, but it’s very unlikely to be offensive. It’s a good middle ground between the small talk mode you might go into when you’re on autopilot and the deep conversation mode you might go into with very close friends (or at Skip the Small Talks or with people with whom the stakes feel low). It’s also a handy litmus test to see if someone might be open to moving the discussion to more interesting topics, or if they’re committed to staying in “small talk mode,” which might influence your decision to keep talking to someone or talk to someone else.

Let us know in the comments if you end up trying it!