Giving Small Talk a Facelift

Many years ago I read about retiring the standard small talk question “What do you do?” You know the scene: you meet someone at an event, introduce yourselves and within moments one of you will ask that question. And while it does promote social civility, it doesn’t do much for helping the conversation progress into anything memorable. If you join the quest to abandon the boring, you’ll need some different questions in your repertoire.

Nate Damm shared a fantastic one: “What’s your story?” He describes:

“What do you do?” usually sparks a conversation about work and the daily grind, and a lot of people really don’t like their job. Even if they do like it, it consumes their life for 40+ hours per week and that’s enough. Don’t make them go over THAT again.

“What’s your story?” is much more personal, but not in a creepy way. This will get to topics such as hobbies, travels, schools attended, former home cities/countries, current home cities/countries, family and passions really fast. It kind of skips all the formalities that many of our boring conversations go through before getting to any real valuable or memorable stuff.

A slightly riskier question is: “What’s the work you want to be doing?” or “What’s the work you do that matters?” I’ve used these in crowds with a make-a-dent-in-the-universe vibe and they worked great.

In the spirit of retiring “What do you do?” I also retired “How are things?” as my standard small talk when I run into people I know. My favourite replacements have been “What’s going well?” (which almost always sparks a smile) and  “What are you reading these days?”

What questions will you try out this week? See if they turn your small talk into meaningful talk.