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The Guide to Avoiding Small Talk

How many times have you been to a party and someone asks:

“What do you do?”
“Where are you from?”
“Oh, how do you know them?”

So I give you the 10 tips to avoid small talk with people and get an interesting conversation:

1- Read. How to Win Friends and Influence People, Never Eat Alone & What Should I do with My Life.

2- Check these sites daily: Digg, Google news, and Techmeme.

3- Details. While the other person is asking questions always ask for details on questions. Use the phrase, “tell me more.” When people tell me they had dinner at a restaurant, I usually ask what kind, how was it, recommendations and all other details about the place. You may end up eating there one day. This is the power of questions and if you do it well you will avoid small talk topics everyone hates.

4- The game. Spend the conversation trying to learn one new thing. Even though most people seem really boring I am sure they know or do one cool thing. Try to figure it out.

5- Compliments. Someone emailed last week and said my writing is amazing. I was completely flattered and realized complimenting people really makes a difference.

6- STFU. For those who don’t know the acronym, it means listen more than you speak. You already know your own stories, tales and adventures. These other people have been alive 20-60 years or more I am sure they have some good ones to hear. Listening (not talking) can also help with depression.

7- Tennis Super-star. Try to talk with new people at places you already go to. I met a guy at the tennis courts where I was practicing and we chatted about guess what? Give up? Okay fine, it was tennis. That situation just makes it so much easier.

8- Find a commonality. Yea this is generic and you all know that but it works so well.

9- Friend Bash. Meeting them through another person you have the great line of how do you know them. Basically spend the next 10-15 minutes making fun of that person. It works really well and leads to some other great conversations.

10- Follow up. This is more focused for business conversations but try to find something to follow-up with. This is a great way to show you are responsible, keep the new relationship going and possibly get #s for dates ;P

Bonus: Hehe. If you have no skills like myself go research jokes online. They are conversation starters, make you look quite suave and laughing is healthy.

Remember your goal is to meet some great people and find the interesting in them. Now that you have read this you are ready to go from small talk to Big Talk. Make it meaningful.

Welcome Seth Godin readers. Subscribe to my emails if you want more tastefully amusing articles.

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19 responses to “The Guide to Avoiding Small Talk”

January 27, 2008 at 11:13 am

How is that wit working for you Noah – is it getting you where you want to go in life?
Your article is full of glibness and superficial charm. It also seems to be manipulative and conning – you never recognize the rights of others and see your self-serving behaviour as permissible. Although the conversation appears to be charming, yet it is covertly hostile and domineering, seeing people as merely an instrument to be used. Your comment about “Friends of Friendsâ€? demonstrates your need dominate and humiliate people. It appears you have a grandiose sense of self & you feel entitled to certain things as “your right.” Your comments on “Conversation Startersâ€? belies your pretence for pathological lying. You certainly have no problem lying coolly and easily and I’m sure it is almost impossible for you to be truthful on a consistent basis. I guess the reason you created this website was that you’re caught up in a complex belief about your own powers and abilities. You’re very convincing and even able to pass lie detector tests, although they don’t really work – do they? You demonstrate a lack of remorse, shame or guilt when you have these “conversationsâ€? with “boringâ€? people instead showing a deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, at your core. You do not see others around you as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, you have victims and accomplices who end up as victims.
~The end always justifies the means as they let nothing stand in their way~
Your guides teach nothing more than shallow emotions. When you show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. I’m sure you are outraged by insignificant matters, yet your articles show you remain unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since you are not genuine, neither are your promises as you have an incapacity for love. The fact that you need to go out and have these conversations shows your need for stimulation and
living on the edge. Can I ask you a question – do you consider verbal outbursts physical punishments as normal. Noah, do you find you have tendencies for promiscuity and gambling. Your callousness and lack of empathy shows you are unable to empathize with the pain of other people, instead having only contempt for others’ feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them. Your articles illustrate your poor behavioural controls, impulsive nature, rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval to produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim. Noah – you are all-powerful, all-knowing & entitled to every wish and your talent? – no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for your impact on others.
Were you prone to early behaviour problems & juvenile delinquency with a history of behavioural and academic difficulties, yet “gets by” by conning others. Did you have problems in making and keeping friends; aberrant behaviours such as cruelty to people or animals, stealing, etc. which is what prompted you to writing these “guidesâ€??
Frankly I find these articles irresponsibility & unreliable and demonstrate no concern about wrecking others’ lives and dreams. These conversation “guidesâ€? |are oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. I‘m sure you do not accept blame yourself, but blame others, for acts they’ve obviously committed – like not being able to hold an interesting conversation. All in all your conversations tend to move around a lot, makes all encompassing promises for the future, while the articles themselves show poor work ethic and demonstrate your ability to exploit others effectively. Have any other stories for us Noah?

January 20, 2008 at 5:00 am

Good article, though i particularly don’t like #9

Jeff Larche
July 13, 2006 at 10:46 am

This is an excellent list, discussing an important issue. Something that struck me as particularly interesting is that you recommended “How To Win Friends and Influence People.” I was lucky enough to have read this book when I was 13 and painfully shy. This book (along with a passion for doing magic tricks of all things!) changed my life. How encouraging to see that it’s still helping people, so many years later.

I’m enjoying your blog. Thanks for sharing.

July 11, 2006 at 1:04 am


thank you very much for your honest comment. sometimes i really think i missed the essential days in class when they discussed their vs. there and than vs. then. i have always had grammar issues which are highlighted more as more people read my material. i was even talked about in the berkeley newspaper for having poor grammar skills. for every post on this site i try to spell check, re-read a few times and have another friend go over them. i read a lot of books and my writing is a work in progress. if you are interested in a editing position on i will hire you:)

i am glad you are sharing my thoughts with your daughter. my main goal with this site is to pose interesting information/questions and get people thinking/talking. i don’t want my always improving writing skills to hinder you from reading the posts. i will try to pay more attention.


July 10, 2006 at 9:40 pm

I thought so much of what you wrote was right on the money. I plan to share your thoughts with my 15 year old daughter. People need to know how to have a conversation and not just talk about themselves. I do have a bone to pick though.

Here you are, a writer – with a recent compliment even – and, I assume, a college degree, yet you have grammar issues. Like so many other writers of a certain age (although I have no earthly idea how old you are) you use the word myself when you should use the word I or me. For example, you wrote “I know you may not be funny or try to deliver hilarious lines like myself.” Like MYSELF do???? Also you wrote, “Regardless, being funny helps and if you have no skills like myself go research jokes online.” There’s that word myself again. Weren’t you taught correct grammar in your school or by your parents?

I am sure I sound like some bitchy old hag, but truth is I am only 43…not that old. I am raising three children. I want them to have the ability to express themselves intelligently. How hard is it to use I instead of myself? How hard is it to put yourself last when listing a group of people which includes yourself? I could go on and on. I wish those of you out there with a voice would really start to think about how you speak and write. Everyone is listening and reading, hanging on your every word. You are setting an example, whether you want to or not.

My husband has attended blogging conferences and told me this very subject has been brought up and discussed…all about capturing the genuine voice, etc. I am all for that! Perhaps I am just too old fashioned, but why be lazy? Why does the voice have to be grammatically incorrect to be genuine? What is happening to our language? It is like nails on a chalk board when I hear or read poor grammar. I have been warned that I will get skewered for writing this. Oh well!

Other than your grammar issues, you have great insight and it is easy to understand why you have a loyal following.

Maria Palma
July 8, 2006 at 11:56 pm

It’s funny how I “stumble” across this after wondering how I could become a better conversationalist. This would be great tips for people who work in sales or customer service as well.

Oh, and thanks for clarifying what you meant by #9…I’m not really into “bashing” people.

Noah Kagan
July 8, 2006 at 4:28 pm

Jennifer and Lashon,

Regarding Friend Bashing. I don’t mean an all out assault on your friend. I was suggesting just to share funny/embarassing stories about your mutual friend.

Jennifer Warwick
July 8, 2006 at 4:22 pm

Great post – except #9. Making fun of others behind their backs is the epitome of “small talk.” Like Lashon, I would end that conversation ASAP and not look back.

The other stuff is great, though, especially for introverts.

July 7, 2006 at 2:11 pm

With regards to STFU, this is a good recommendation if you have social anxiety because then you won’t have to do much talking, especially if the other person is an extrovert. It’s also a good foundational conversation skill to learn how to listen if you plan on mastering the art of conversation.

But later in your development of “conversational mastery,” it’s good to learn to tell interesting stories, learn to tell jokes with good timing, assert your political views tactfully, and perhaps even learn voices and accents for entertaining (my favorite).

Eventually one can learn many different types of conversations and how to move skillfully and appropriately from one to another (e.g. debating, inquiring, inspiring, flirting, negotiating, philosophizing, coaching, teaching, learning, persuading, etc). Of course, your partner(s) in conversation must be open to playing these conversation games!

Lashon Hara
July 7, 2006 at 12:40 pm

No 9 is a sure way to end a conversation with me.

July 7, 2006 at 7:20 am

Spend 10-15 mins bashing your friend? Seriously? That sounds like a long tim to me…

Robin Daniels
July 7, 2006 at 1:24 am

I think you make some pretty good points, my only problem is with #6. STFU. Because there are always 2 people or more to a conversation, who knows how to STFU?

I’ve heard this argument loads of times from books and experts, but all conversations should be an equal amount of give/take. That’s not to say you don’t become an annoying know-it-all by constantly chipping in with your own stories, but I just don’t think the 80-20 rule applies to talk. 50-50 is normally the best scenario… (that’s not to say, of course, that there aren’t times when you do just need to STFU and listen).

Adam Rifkin
July 6, 2006 at 9:26 pm

I must say, you have the BEST sense of humor about not having a sense of humor that I’ve ever seen.

Kudos to you, Noah.

edward mc caughan
July 6, 2006 at 4:29 pm

no, the best way to avoid smalltalk is to start talking about the alien conspiracy that the government is covering up…

however if you do want to actually talk to people, my addition is….

12ish-learn how to create a new topic of conversation from the current on

bob:I bought new shoes today
jim:arrrrr… (jim is a pirate by the way) they don’t make ’em like they used to though
bob:aye, and back in they day they’d cost sixpence and come with a free monkey
jim:arrrrrrr, those monkies were great with pepper sauce

13ish-would be that mirroring thing where you match the other persons posture and suchlike. frankly I’ve never been able to pay that much attention, but its supposed to be good.

thats all I can remember right now…

Ben Yoskovitz
July 6, 2006 at 2:19 pm

I was going to add “Listen” to the list, but then I read #6 more carefully. I’d say that’s sound advice right there. Listening wins out versus blabbing a-way.

Steven Ametjan
July 6, 2006 at 1:35 pm

Great list, and even better to see it linked to by Seth Godin. Good job Noah.

Hiten Shah
July 6, 2006 at 1:22 pm

Well said.

July 6, 2006 at 1:18 pm

Regarding your friend’s compliment on #5, check your use of their (should be ‘there’) on #3. A nice post and excellent recommendations, although #9 is a bit dicey. So, what do you do?

July 6, 2006 at 11:47 am

Ah ha. Now I know all your tricks.

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