Small talk is an important skill for any connector, regardless of age, to master. From the check-out line at the grocery store to the person sitting next to you on a flight, you just never know which connection can result in something big or wonderful. When you look at it that way, every connection you don’t make is a potential opportunity missed, so engaging meaningfully is a skill that’s best learned early.
Here are five strategies your kids can use to connect with people in any scenario.
1. Share something extra about themselves.
When adults meet a new child, they’ll often ask easy-to-answer stock questions like, “What’s your name? How old are you?” In addition to providing the “bare bones” answer, help your children think of something extra they can offer. For instance, your son might say, “Hi, I’m Billy. I’m 5 years old and I love to play baseball!” Voilà! What might have been a standard teeth-pulling session has just been transformed into a bona fide conversation.
2. Be complimentary.
Whether you’re 7 or 77, a compliment is always a great way to break the conversational ice. To get started, teach your kids to comment on something interesting the other person is wearing. For example, “I love that necklace you’re wearing. It’s so pretty!” Or, “Wow, your shirt is my very favorite color.”
3. Talk about the weather.
Sure, commenting on the weather has a rather “blah” reputation, but the fact is, it works, and it’s a great way to ease into a conversation with someone you don’t know very well. Teach kids to pay attention to their surroundings so they can comment on them during small talk. For example, “Have you been enjoying the nice weather?” Or, “I hope it doesn’t rain next week, because my Girl Scout troop is supposed to march in the parade.”
4. Find things in common.
If you can find a common interest with the person to whom you’re speaking, small talk can turn from mediocre to meaningful in an instant. Teach your kids to be aware of conversational and external cues. If your daughter notices that someone is wearing a Yankees jersey and she’s also a fan, she can strike up a conversation about the latest game. Or if your son hears someone say that she’s from Columbus, Ohio, he might say, “My grandparents live near Columbus. Don’t you love the zoo there?” (Hint: If you are going into a situation and think of some common interests ahead of time, go ahead and arm your kids with them!)
5. Wrap it up well.
One of the trickiest parts of small talk is the conclusion. Give kids a few lines they can use to wrap up a conversation before it veers into awkward silence. “It was great to meet you. I hope to see you again soon! Have a nice vacation!”
Maribeth Kuzmeski, MBA, CSP, is the author of six books including The Engaging Child: Raising Children to Speak, Write, and Have Relationship Skills Beyond Technology (Red Zone Publishing, 2012), and she is a frequent national media contributor and international speaker. Maribeth lives with her husband and two teenagers.
Have you found other conversation starters that work well? Let us know!