Five Easy Tips to Move from Small Talk to Building Relationships

July 6, 2020

When you meet someone for the first time, what do you say? Beyond the initial introduction and a discussion about the weather, what comes next?

That initial part of a conversation with someone you don’t yet know can feel incredibly uncomfortable. But if you handle it smoothly, it will enable you to leave a positive impression and launch a professional relationship

The important question that we want to focus on here is: How do you move from small talk into a conversation that builds relationships?

When you know the answer to this question, you can more easily:

  • Grow more comfortable with small talk, knowing it is only the beginning
  • Engage in smoother conversations with people you don’t yet know
  • Relax into a relationship-building conversation with confidence

The tips that I share below are specifically intended to help you feel comfortable moving from small talk into a conversation. If that goes well and you feel a connection, you can work on building a relationship.

Tip #1: Create a great first impression

To start off on the right foot, look the person in the eye and say, “It is nice to meet you,” and then SAY THEIR NAME.

Acknowledging the person’s name is especially important as it helps you remember it and makes the other person feel special.

If you do not catch the person’s name, you can say “I’m happy to meet you, but I did not catch your name…?”

If they have a name that is difficult to pronounce, it’s a great opportunity to focus on them and show respect. Say “Can you pronounce your name again? I want to make sure I say it correctly.”

Congratulations, you have made a great first impression and you have only just begun!  

Tip #2: Initiate the conversation 

When you are introduced to someone or if you introduce yourself, I recommend that you step into the role of the initiator.  

As the initiator, you can take the lead and ask the other person questions before you begin to talk about yourself. In other words, you should focus on them before you focus on yourself.

Here are some useful questions to get you started:

  • “What brought you to this event today?”
  • “Where did you travel in from?”
  • “What to you do?” or “Can you tell me more about what you do?”

These questions are a step up from small talk because they create the opportunity for longer turn-taking, telling stories, and interactive engagement.

Tip #3: Keep it going

When your conversation partner answers your initial question, continue to focus on them by asking more questions about the topic at hand. Listen carefully to what they say and draw from it to ask your next question to keep the conversation going.

Keep the focus on the other person longer than you usually would. This will help you learn about the other person before you start talking about yourself. This makes them feel important and special, which will warm them up to you.

Tip #4: Choose to be interested

One of the secrets to relationship building is to be genuinely interested in what others say. Share your excitement about what they are saying by using great eye contact and actively responding.

If they’ve only just begun to talk and try to turn the focus on to you, you can say something like:

  • “Before I tell you about my plans, I would love to hear more about yours.”
  • “Before I answer your question, I’d like to hear more about what you were just saying…”

This is a fantastic way to express your interest!

Tip #5: Take Your Turn

When it does come time to talk about yourself, you are now in a position of strength! You know enough about the other person that you can draw on it as you talk about you.

Whether you are answering the same question or a totally different one, do your best to relate it back to what your conversational partner has said.

Use one of these quick statements to make that connection:

  • “Just like you…”
  • “When you said X it reminded me of…”
  • “I completely understood when you said X because…”

Don’t hold your turn too long. Ask them additional questions to show your interest in their thoughts and ideas. Your active interest will make them feel good about themselves, and they will remember that about you.

I hope these tips help you feel more comfortable about easing into a conversation and even developing a relationship beyond your initial meeting.

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