What's most important about casual conversation and connecting with another person is simply getting the conversation started. Even though it seems like chitchat is inconsequential and meaningless, this small talk helps you to establish rapport on a job interview, make new friends, spark new romances and even makes you a better problem-solver, according to Oscar Ybarra, a psychologist who published a study in 2010 on the benefits of friendly conversations. As with all skills, your chitchat improves the more you practice.
Breaking the Ice
Even though the impact and consequences of chitchat can be profound, the actual subject matter of this conversational art concerns topics that are, by definition trivial, lightweight, generic, unimportant and commonplace. The day's weather, seasonal changes, last night's football scores, a favorite TV show, or a local traffic jam all provide fodder for chitchat and provide topics that most people can talk about with equal ease.
Starting a Conversation
There's no such thing as the perfect thing to say to start a conversation or to keep it going, according to Debra Fine, the author of "The Fine Art of Small Talk." Overcome your reluctance to sound boring or trite and simply comment on the weather or any other of the traditional chitchat openers. Think of chitchat as the opening, simple notes for the melody of a symphony that will become more and more complex as the music, or the conversation, continues.
Keeping the Conversation Going
Your best strategy for keeping a conversation going are to listen carefully, with your full attention, to what the other person says and to pick up and comment or ask a question about some part of the person's comments. For example, if you've said, "How about those Mariners?" and received a response of "I hate baseball," don't let your attention shift to belittling yourself for picking the wrong topic. Instead, ask what sport or hobby the person does enjoy or what he did yesterday instead of watching the game.
You run a risk of losing the goodwill you've developed with chitchat if you end the conversation too abruptly or don't end it soon enough. If the other person becomes distracted, with wandering eyes, take that as your clue to move on. Simply state at a party that you need to refill your glass or use the restroom. In a business setting, say you need to return a phone call or finish a project. In any case, tell the other person that you enjoyed talking and repeat their name for extra friendliness.
- Thomas Jackson/Digital Vision/Getty Images