When it comes to small talk, the word "small" is extremely misleading. This word makes it sound as if this type of talk was unimportant, and nothing could be further from the truth. Instead of calling it "small talk" you might call it "front talk" instead, because it refers to the conversations that you have when you first meet someone.
Until you have something to base a conversation on, like a shared interest, you have to use front talk or "small" talk to get to know the person. Asking questions about their life, their family and job doesn't need to be fake, although many people believe that small talk is fake. If you are genuinely interested in the answers and in building a possible friendship, then your front talk won't be fake at all, it will be completely genuine.
Why Use Front Talk?
Front talk is also a great way to learn what the personality is like in someone that you have recently met. Until you engage them in conversation, you don't know how they react and what they are like. In addition, you don't know what interests they have that you may share. These are two very good reasons for using front talk.
Small talk also has other benefits for you, such as enabling you to pay more attention to people around you, and making a good impression on the person you are talking to and to others. This can lead to relationships, friendships and possibly even career opportunities down the road.
How to Use Front Talk Without Being Disingenuous
Using front talk without faking it requires that you ask questions where you are actually interested in the answers. For example, asking about the weather or about the drudgery of work with a co-workers might be boring to both you and the co-workers, but if you engage them in conversation about something you are more interested in, they will be able to tell that you aren't faking small talk.
A good example is finding something that they do as a hobby and discuss it. For instance, you might say "I notice you have plants on your desk. Do you enjoy gardening?" If they enjoy gardening and you do as well, you will have quite a bit talk about. You can use this technique with just about anything.
If they do not have plants on their desk, or leave some other clue as to what they are interested in, then it is perfectly acceptable (after introducing yourself) to ask them what sort of hobbies they enjoy. This is a refreshing change from the sort of small talk they normally get and they will appreciate you asking about something that they actually want to talk about.
When Front Talk is Fake
People can tell when front talk is fake. It most often happens when one person is trying to get something out of the other - like a salesperson and prospective client. That client will be able to tell that the salesperson isn't actually interested in them if they ask boring questions with meaningless answers and appear to be trying to move to another question as quickly as they can after the previous one. Just remember to be genuinely interested in the other person's answers and your front talk or "small" talk will never be fake.