While engaging in small talk, it is important to listen to what the other person is saying but it is more important to closely observe him. Physical gestures, facial expressions and other movements tell you a lot about what the person thinks and feels. Sometimes this nonverbal communication will mean much more than words that are spoken.
The truth is that some people go out of their way to make small talk just to be friendly. Many people don't even care about the words that are said. So pay attention to the nonverbal communication mentioned below to get a gauge of what the other person is all about.
Nonverbal communication comes in many different forms. When engaging in small talk, be sure to watch the other person's face while he is speaking and also while he is listening. The human face reveals a lot of information that is not actually verbalized. While language is unique to location, facial expressions are universal. All cultures have similar facial expressions for emotions like surprise, anger, happiness, sadness and fear. Watch the shape that the person's mouth makes, whether his eyebrows arch and if his pupils dilate. These are all indicators of emotions. The more that someone's pupil's dilate and the more that his eyes blink, the more interest he has in you.
Be aware of the person's posture and body movements, especially in reaction to words that are said. Pay close attention to how others stand, how they hold their head and where they put their hands. You should also be conscious of your own body movements while you engage in small talk. Everyone provides hints to others during the course of a conversation, even if they don't realize that they are doing it. Pay attention to whether the other person touches her hair, if she stand completely upright and if she holds her head up high. These are all signs that she is interested in you. If the person lowers his head, keeps his hands low and still and slouches, there is a good chance that he isn't enjoying the interaction and is merely engaging in small talk to live up to social expectations.
Be aware of the space that the other person puts between himself and you. The typical amount of space between two people having a small talk conversation is about 2-4 feet. If the other person gets up close, right in front of you, this usually means that he is interested in you and what you have to say. Or, he is trying to intimidate. People who are less interested in forging a meaningful relationship with the other person will keep their distance during the course of small talk and they might even move away from the other person throughout the dialogue.
If you pay close attention to all of these indicators, you'll be able to better grasp the other person's true intentions, thoughts and feelings. Nonverbal communications are very difficult to fake. Only the most skilled manipulators will go out of their way to stay hyper aware of their own nonverbal cues and adjust them to shape your perception. You can identify these manipulators by closely observing their body language and looking for unnatural motions. Yet most people aren't able to control the signals that their bodies send, so look closely and you'll get a good idea of the other person's true thoughts and feelings.
Remember to stay mentally invested in the words coming out of the other person's mouth. Otherwise they won't continue to engage you in small talk. If you haven't yet you might want to take a look at this tips to improve your conversation skills.