Small talk is kind of a big deal. Studies show it makes up about one-third of all adult human speech. Whether you’re chatting about the weather or last night’s game, these light conversations matter more than you think.

Dan Rockwell, the author of the Leadership Freak blog, says that healthy relationships are never all business. Before you can establish deep trust with anyone — colleagues, clients, friends — you first need to get to know them. And, according to Rockwell, the lighthearted conversation involved in small talk is a great way to get to know people. The more people get to know each other, the more comfortable they feel and the more likely they are to want to collaborate.

Rockwell adds that engaging in small talk can also help boost your mood. He says that social relationships are not sufficient in themselves to make you happier, but they are an essential ingredient in being happy.

So, how can you improve the important social skill of small talk? We share some guidance from Rockwell in this issue of Promotional Consultant Today.

Have a plan. If you know you are attending an industry event or after-work gathering, prepare for it. Think about what you could discuss when meeting someone new. How could you help put the other person at ease? Would you share any potential commonalities with them? Rockwell says it’s important to determine the goal of casual conversations. This can help take some of the stress out of small-talk situations.

Turn your discomfort outward. Maybe your palms get sweaty or your heart starts to race when talking with people you don’t know. You might worry about talking too much or not enough. Or maybe the other person brings up a topic you don’t know much about. Instead of dwelling on these feelings of anxiety, Rockwell suggests turning your discomfort outward. Small talk can potentially expand your world, while dwelling on yourself shrinks your world, he says.

Arrive with a set of questions. You don’t necessarily need to pull up a list on your phone, but run through some questions in your head. For example, you might ask the other person what they do and how they got interested in that line of work. Or, Rockwell says you could ask the other person where they live and what their hometown was like. People love to talk about vacation destinations, so you could also ask them about a favorite place they have visited or somewhere they’d like to travel.

Share about yourself. Small talk should involve all parties. If you’re only asking questions but never revealing anything about yourself, you may come off as nosy or intrusive. A good rule of thumb is to share about as much as the other person. You can also give yourself an exit strategy, Rockwell says, by saying something like, “Great to meet you! Please excuse me. I’d like to greet some other people while I’m here.”

What might seem like polite chitchat before a meeting or at an event can be incredibly useful at building rapport and establishing meaningful relationships. If you tend to feel uncomfortable with small talk or want to get better at chatting with others in small amounts of time, consider applying some of the tips above.

Compiled by Audrey Sellers

Source: Dan Rockwell is the author of the Leadership Freak blog. He has more than 35 years of experience as a public speaker and teacher and more than 15 years of experience as a consultant.