Debrett’s reveals the secrets of small talk as the rule of six returns
After a year of living rooms and leisurewear, it’s unsurprising that many people feel anxious about socialising again as the rule of six returns on Monday. With little to chat about after months of inertia, the prospect can feel even more daunting.
If you’re looking forward to mingling but haven’t ventured out of your bubble for months, these tried and tested pointers will get conversation off to a flying start.
If using these tips, please credit the Debrett’s Handbook. To speak to a Debrett’s expert, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t worry about being predictable
Predictable? Definitely. But there’s nothing wrong with kick-starting a conversation with a comment about the weather; it’s uncontroversial, a shared experience and has been helping awkward Brits make conversation for centuries.
Use closed and open questions
Get a conversation going with easy-to-answer ‘closed’ questions such as, “Have you lived around here long?” You can then move on to ‘open’ questions like, “How do you find it?” to encourage a more reflective answer, helping you understand what makes someone tick.
Stop, look and listen
Good eye contact and a ready smile will enliven any conversation, even one about the weather, so don’t be afraid of sounding a little dull. Small talk is meant to be unchallenging, a way to establish a rapport and understanding before moving on to livelier topics. It’s tempting to fill an awkward silence but more important to give the other person the opportunity to respond.
Lead the way
Don’t be afraid to lead the conversation if the person you are chatting to is shy or lacks self confidence. They will be appreciative of you introducing a subject they can ask questions about.
Master a diplomatic departure
If you’re longing to escape a conversation, don’t look over the person’s shoulder for more amusing company. Instead, politely make your excuses when you can.
Practise group bonding
When chatting in a group, take turns. If a known raconteur has the floor and you know somebody in the group is shy, bring them into the conversation when it’s your opportunity to respond. “Charlotte, didn’t you do the Joe Wicks workout every day for three months?”
Break it off
If someone joins when you are deep in conversation with another person, include the newcomer and change the subject if necessary.
Don’t go there
Avoid religion, politics and work (unless you’re talking to colleagues). Don’t grill people about their lives – most people will volunteer as much as they are comfortable with without much prompting – or rush to reveal too much about yourself to a comparative stranger. Never name-drop and stay away from gossip.