If captivating, pleasant topics for kicking off small talk open doors and lead to success, then poor topics can slam those very same doors and leave people feeling confused and a bit uneasy. Their first reaction to one of these awkward conversation topics may be to pull back, check for the nearest exit and smile as they ease toward it.
The art of small talk naturally takes practice, but learning to steer clear of certain uncomfortable conversation starters should be implemented from the very beginning of your journey toward becoming a small-talk aficionado.
The Big Three
It would be remiss not to mention the top three worst conversation topics ever: politics, sex and religion. Almost everyone knows to avoid these pesky topics. Save those conversations to have with your intimate friends, immediate family members and relatives you don't mind losing touch with. These topics may seem innocuous at first, but small talk revolving around any of the three can turn ugly -- fast. Before you know it, you've lost your audience, your temper and your edge. Give these three topics a definite pass.
Weight, Age and Pregnancy
Resist the temptation to wander into these three topic territories; you'll be grateful you did. First, you may have the best intentions when you say to a woman, "Oh! When's the happy day?" Most often, the woman will be pregnant, but it's a risky topic to use to ease into a conversation, because:
- The pregnancy may have been unplanned, or the mother-to-be may not share your obvious enthusiasm about her pregnancy.
- The woman may not be pregnant, but, rather, she could be suffering from obesity, a medical condition or poor fashion sense.
Discussions involving age are generally taboo, simply because many people are terrible at guessing ages or attempting to pigeonhole someone into a distinct generation. Assuming someone is a senior citizen, for instance, when she has another 10 years to go until she attains that "happy" phase of her life just might lose your small-talk companion and end the conversation before it has a chance to start.
Commenting, no matter how pleasantly, on a relative stranger's weight is never a good idea. If you've seen this individual before, but have never spoken to him and try to break the ice with something like, "You've lost weight! You look so much better," you could be stepping on that individual's toes without even realizing it. Ill health, stress, the loss of a loved one or a broken relationship may be at the heart of the weight loss. The weight comment, therefore, acts as an instant reminder of that situation or event. Additionally, you have also unwittingly implied that the person was unattractive before losing weight.
Your Childhood Stamp Collection, Pet Tarantula or Personal Phobias
The above conversation starters may sound facetious, but they represent topics that, while possibly of utmost interest to you, may cause people around you to feel ill-at-ease, or, at the very least, bored. Small talk should create a sense of rapport with your audience. They need to feel safe in order to allow small talk to continue and blossom into a full-blown conversation. Topics that unintentionally stir up feelings of disquiet in the person you're addressing need to be eliminated.
No one wants to share small talk with someone who immediately launches into a list of grievances about his job, marriage, ill-fitting shoes, teen children or the police officer who pulled him over for speeding earlier that morning.
Keep the topics light to immediately engage your audience and avoid talking about anything that could make your listener restless or uneasy.