Getting Over My Hatred For Small Talk Means I Need Better Questions

As an introvert, small talk is my kryptonite. I can literally feel the life draining out of me as I’m hit with, “What do you do for a living?” or “Did you see that Mariner’s game last night?” or “How you doing, Bro?” What usually follows are some quick answers, awkward pauses, and a drummed-up reason why I gotta leave now.

I should probably take a class on social graces.

Even among my own tribe—pastors—I fail miserably with small talk. After every conference, I think about how annoying and predictable the conversations were (How you doing, Bro? How’s the church? You guys growing?)… and then I tell myself I need to come prepared with 2 or 3 interesting things to say.

The truth is, I would love to circumvent small talk altogether and move right into some real, true, deep stuff (How has your theology changed in the past few years? What’s one thing you’re too scared to change at your church but you really wish you could? What hurts in your life right now?).

Of course, I have a weird and goofy side too. Sometimes I want to ask out of left field questions or maybe even some wildly inappropriate ones (I won’t include any examples here, but if you would like some, I’m happy to ask you a few of my doozies). 

The other day I happened to read this headline: 15 Questions That Are Way Better Than “What Do You Do?” Yup, I clicked. And it didn’t disappoint. It was an article by Jessica Stillman for – and in it she says…

Research proves that small talk—as painful and pointless as it can sometimes feel—is actually an essential kind of communication that helps us identify common bonds, reassure others, and sort out social roles. But just because you really need to get over your hatred of small talk, it doesn’t mean you need to continually torture yourself with bland, content-free conversations (This is where I started yelling HALLELUJAH and had a little praise break). It’s possible to accomplish the many, important social functions of introductory conversations while at the same time not boring yourself silly.

All you need is better questions.

Dang. Boom. I feel this in my bones. Lord, help me!

Stillman then shares 15 questions which she pulled from another article, 49 Questions to Ask—Instead of “What Do You Do?” by Chelsea Rustrum. Below, are a few of my favorites from Rustrum’s big list:

What’s been on your mind lately?

What are your two biggest insecurities?

What makes you feel appreciated and loved? Do you know your love languages?

Tell me an embarrassing childhood story…

What are you most afraid of?

What do you think makes a good friend?

Do you like to cook? What’s the last thing you cooked?

If you didn’t live here, where else would you choose?

What’s your favorite emoji? When do you use it?

What would you be most likely to volunteer for?

What are you looking forward to in the next few weeks?

What does money represent to you? Power, freedom, possession, possibility, guilt, success?

Who do you turn to for sage advice on your personal life? How about your professional life?

What’s your plan for the zombie apocalypse? Apocalyptic skills?

How do you center yourself when you’re stressed out?

What’s your fav guilty pleasure junk food?

What moment from recently keeps playing in your head… why?

What kind of music do you listen to when you need to amp yourself up to get things done? How about when you want to mellow out?

Is your preference one-on-one time or do you love and feed off social groups and diverse types of people?

How do you handle feedback? Love or hate people giving you their unsolicited advice?

What’s one thing you don’t know for sure?

What excites you these days?

If you got to keep 50 objects including clothes and disposed of everything else, what non-clothing items would you keep?

When was the last time you laughed really hard? What were you laughing at—or who were you laughing with?

If you were to give a TED talk this year, what would the title be?

When was the last time you amazed yourself?

How do you experience empathy? Where do you feel it in your body?

What are three words your friends would use to describe you?

MAN-O-MAN, I feel ready for that next pastor conference! Got these questions saved in my phone. Bring on the conversation, Bro!


I am a husband, father, pastor, leader & reader. I love God, love people & love life.

3 Comments to Getting Over My Hatred For Small Talk Means I Need Better Questions

  1. So, we’ve got to be up on our answers on Sundays? It’ll be like cramming to be sure I’m prepared for these prying questions (kidding–sort of).
    I don’t mind small-talk, because I don’t want to be that self-revealing. I’ve joked that I’m good at retail-type business, because I’m good at superficial relationships–and my conscience always stabs me. So, more for God to work on.

  2. A friend of mine read this post and e-mailed me a link to another article on the art of conversation. Here’s my reply to his e-mail:

    Thanks again for the article you shared… I’ve read it and highlighted a few spots that were particularly helpful to me. I most enjoyed:

    “Conversation is a ladder, with small talk serving as the first few rungs. You can’t leap-frog up the ladder.”

    And, “The first step… is to start seeing yourself as the host, as opposed to the guest, in any situation. The host acts as a leader. He’s active, not passive, and takes the initiative in talking with people, guiding the conversation, filling in awkward pauses, introducing people, and making others feel comfortable and welcome.”

    This is great – makes good sense and I can see myself being more assertive this way from a heart of hospitality (I care about people, so hosting them – even in conversation… even in small talk, is a blessing).

    One of my favorite devices to use in conversation is to say, “Tell me about…”

    I know when I’m at my best, I have a genuine interest in people and a curiosity about their lives. I love to learn. And I know everyone has something of value to share with me.

    Anyway, thank you for the resource and encouragement!

  3. good stuff here Bry! Let’s do those questions together soon. :) (More ways I can get you to talk to me!!)

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