How To Handle Small Talk For The Socially Incompetent

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It isn’t news to us that every fall, the beginning of a school year comes with endless possibilities. Whether you spent your summer tasting whatever comes out of the tap in foreign countries (I recommend doing this at least once before you G-word), sat in a stuffy cubicle to add three and a half lines to your résumé, or watched children wipe boogers on each other for the last three months, you are probably ready to go back to the more exciting half of the double life you now live. There are new parties to see and be seen at, a fresh batch of freshmen to recruit, and possibly a move to a new address. Along with the changes of moving up in the ranks is the chance to meet people you have never seen before. If you haven’t already jumped aboard the “no new friends” train, these tips are for you.

Compliment others and wear things worth complimenting:

Found a trendy necklace this summer in Paris? Finally managed to pack your sister’s favorite dress without her knowing? Have something to put on that says a lot about you? Wear it! Take five minutes out of your day to think about putting something on that will make you stand out. If you know you are going to be in a place where there are a lot of people you don’t know, this is one of the easiest ways to break the ice. I have a Pandora bracelet flooded with charms that could just about sum up my life. Alex and Ani jewelry is great for this, too. I love when people ask about them, because they are easy, effortless conversation starters. Be on the lookout for a hook this obvious.

Ask open-ended questions:

There are so many easy ways to take a good question and turn it into a terrible roadblock. Instead of asking, “How many siblings do you have?” say, “Tell me about your family.” This will give the person you’re talking to a chance to open up about people who just might mean a lot to him or her. Responding with, “Me, too!” when a stranger says he or she has a brother is a lot less exciting than chiming in that you also have a brother who is younger than you, plays football, and hits on all your friends.

Have go-to conversation topics ready to use:

Talking about the weather should have stopped being your default icebreaker in the fourth grade, especially if you live in a place like California, where the weather never changes, or Ohio, where it’s always a sore subject. Instead, think about the setting of the event and what would be appropriate to inquire about. Have a few stuck in your mind that you can dish out when necessary. On the commute to where you need to be, this should be something going over in your mind.

Unfortunately, some people lack the social skills necessary to realize how important these things are. Maybe we spend too much time on our phones to actually remember how to politely react with people face-to-face. Nod your head to prove that you are listening and add your own comments in when appropriate. If you get bored, politely excuse yourself to chat with someone else or move around the room. No one is expecting you to feel comfortable pretending to listen when you would rather be talking to a wall. However, you do not have to make this feeling noticeable.

You can never make a second first impression on anyone you meet. When you leave a room, you want people to remember how friendly you are, and you want them to tell others the same. You never know when you might need something that person can offer, or when you’ll cross paths again. Putting in that extra effort to genuinely care about new people you meet can lead to great things, such as a job, an internship, a campus connection, or the best thing of all: a reliable friend in your contacts.

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GirlMeetsTheRealWorld is a young twenty-something working in the entertainment industry. Appropriately, her life could also pass as its own sitcom. She believes in knowing the drink specials better than the waiter, the importance of vertical running, never settling for less than Chuck Bass standards, and remembering that no matter where life takes you, you can always bring your friends. Life's tough - but she always has her helmet. If that doesn't work? Whatever, she's getting cheese fries.

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