Small Talk Etiquette 8 Rules: How To Small Talk Best

The crucial small talk etiquette rules. The appropriate ways to make small talk and build rapport on a social occasion.

What small talk etiquette is

A small talk is a light form of conversation. It is particularly appropriate:

  • On social occasions where you need to interact with several people, and thus you do not have the time to engage in lengthy discussions.
  • When you meet someone for the first time and you need to build rapport.

Small talk etiquette is the set of rules to properly make small talk on social occasions. Such rules include:

  • How to start and end the small talk.
  • How to deal with others and group conversation.
  • The mistakes to avoid.

Everyone should learn small talk etiquette to properly build rapport and socialize with others.

If you are hosting an event, you must master small talk etiquette to entertain your guests, facilitate social interactions, and host a successful event.

General small talk etiquette principles

Small talk etiquette is based on two main principles:

  • Getting to know the other person and building rapport.
  • Avoid being direct or inquisitive.
how to make small talk

Small talk etiquette rules

1) How to start the small talk

After greeting someone or being introduced to someone new, you need to start a conversation. Start promptly, without leaving a long silence that may be embarrassing.

A good ice-breaker is neutral, not inquisitive, and not direct. You can comment on the weather, the scene, or some recent sports event. It is best to avoid questions such as “Where do you come from?”, “Where do you live?”, or “What do you do?” as they might be too direct.

2) Keep the small talk going

It is perfectly acceptable to make small talk even when it is boring or dull. The purpose of small talk is to get to know someone, get comfortable with each other, and build rapport.

To make effective small talk, it is important to take turns talking. Say a few sentences and then let the other person reply and talk. The crucial factor is closing your sentence by prompting the other person to answer a question or talk. “This venue looks fantastic. Have you been here already?”

3) Show positive body language during small talk

Show positive body language while you talk or listen to the other person. Make and keep eye contact. Do not look around or over the person’s shoulder, as it signals a lack of interest.

4) Manage group conversations

During a small group conversation, it is important to participate and to make sure that everyone in the group has the chance to talk. If you notice that someone is not talking, it is polite to engage them and invite them to talk. “I saw that movie too. John, have you seen it?”

5) Welcome anyone to the conversation

Welcome anyone that joins your conversation. Invite the person to jump in and participate.

If you are having a deep or personal conversation and someone new joins, do not look upset. Instead, change the topic and welcome the person to the conversation. After all, deep or personal conversations are not most appropriate on social occasions.

6) Choose light conversation topics

Small talk etiquette recommends choosing light and non-threatening topics. Such as sports, food, entertainment, or the weather.

7) Avoid controversial or too personal topics

Avoid topics that may be controversial, embarrassing, or annoying for some guests. Such as religion or politics. Do not make direct, personal, or nosy questions. Instead, prefer neutral and indirect questions.

8) How to end the small talk

It is best to keep the small talk short. After a few exchanges, it is perfectly appropriate to leave the conversation. To leave, find an excuse and add a compliment. “I am going to get another drink. It was nice meeting you!” or “I need to go and say hello to Susan, I haven’t seen her in months! I will see you later”.

Small talk etiquette on specific occasions

Small talk etiquette at work

Mastering small talk is a crucial skill for the modern workplace. One of the main principles of business etiquette is to keep professional and personal lives separate. Small talk helps build rapport with coworkers, managers, vendors, and customers while respecting boundaries. It is perfectly appropriate to start a meeting by making small talk to ease into the professional discussion.

Small talk etiquette with someone you just met

Making small talk is ideal in any situation where you have to spend some time with someone you never met before and who is outside of your social circles. Such as on a plane, train, or guided tour. In such situations, keep the talk light and allow the other person to disengage after a few exchanges. For example, on a plane or train, you can politely disengage from the conversation by pulling out a book.

small talk etiquette worst mistakes

Small talk etiquette: the worst mistakes

The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors. 

A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.  

Avoid the worst small talk etiquette mistakes. 

  • 8/10. Talking about controversial or too personal topics.
  • 7/10. Not paying attention to the other person.
  • 6/10. Talking too much.
  • 6/10. Ending the small talk in an impolite way.