We find them even more tedious if they appear to have nothing to talk about and nothing to say on any matter. When we are forced into a conversational situation with such individuals, we can’t wait to get away.
Don’t assume that different means boring
It is all a matter of perception. What you find boring someone else will find riveting. To make successful small talk, we need to accept what people are and where they are coming from, and work with the information they offer, no matter how uninteresting we find it.
We are used to making snap judgements about people. We take in their appearance, the way they speak, a few words of what they say and instantly place them in a category. For the brief time during which you are required to make small talk, suspend your judgement and concentrate on creating a successful and satisfying little encounter. Then you will feel good and so will the other person.
Decide to make it work
Decide that it is your social obligation to take on the task of managing the encounter or encounters. In these situations, everyone present is linked, no matter how tenuously, and everyone is there for a similar purpose.
We get together socially for a variety of reasons, such as to celebrate, or to help with a cause, or to support, or to enjoy a holiday or an excursion, etc. Everyone benefits if such occasions run smoothly and enjoyably. The way you engage with people can influence the overall feel of the event. Don’t expect to be entertained or amused or to find new best friends, just think about ways of making the people you talk to feel at ease.
Focus on learning three things
If an individual is talking at length about something that doesn’t interest you in the slightest, rather than let your eyes glaze over and your mind wander, try to absorb three things to take away from the conversation. You never know when an item of information will come in handy – for the pub quiz, perhaps, or impressing someone with your range of knowledge.
Focusing on a learning outcome will help you to listen, and will prompt you to ask questions. In this way you take a little control of the conversation, halt the flow, and show interest. Result!
Ask for advice
This is a good strategy to stop a flow of talk and to change its direction slightly. Defer to the expertise of your companion and ask, for example, what criteria you should apply when looking for a good accountant, or what model of car they would recommend for a particular purpose, or what they would suggest for dealing with a baby who constantly cries, and so on. Be careful not to stray into professional consultation territory.
Ask a good question
Try to ask something which gives your ‘boring’ companion an opportunity to show a different side of themselves. This probably means taking a lateral slant on what they have been saying, so that the response isn’t just more of the same. Questions which can work well in this respect are ones which encourage a bit of speculation, or which focus on a personal angle, or which ask for an opinion.
For example, if someone is talking about a sport or similar activity, you could ask them what they think draws people to particular sporting sectors, or about ways of encouraging more participation in certain sports. If you feel that you are about to drop off as someone gives a detailed account of their holiday down to the last missing bottle of sun cream lotion, try asking them what they remember about childhood holidays, or what would be their ideal vacation.
Encourage others to speak
Your companion might find this kind of situation even more difficult than you do. It is difficult to make conversation with someone who is very shy or reserved, but you can make it easier for you both by making them feel relaxed.
Reduce the feeling of pressure by talking about general rather than personal subjects. Have ready a few comments about recent local or global events, being careful to choose topics which are lighthearted and not too controversial.
There is more about this in my post on Top Tips for Making Small Talk.