We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.
Dear Carolyn: I hate large parties and gatherings in which I have to mingle with people I either don’t know or don’t know well. I am terrible at small talk. Mostly uninterested in, I dunno, the weather or spectator sports or neighborhood gossip. How do I get better at small talk, and how do I exit a conversation that is on life support? — Wallflower
Wallflower: I was that person. Then work necessitated a change as I was thrown into gatherings like this on a regular basis and needed to “perform” well for the organization I represented. How I got around it? By realizing how nice it is, actually, to have the opportunity to speak to people and get to know them a bit. I started asking questions. First try a simple, “What’s going on for you today?” or, “What’s been the most exciting part of your week?” This often opens the conversation up to something more. It has astounded me how eager people are to share, how well they respond to a listening ear, and how often they share. Even if, from time to time, I think their stories are too good to be true, they are usually much more interesting than a report on the previous rainy day or “Monday Night Football.” And if a conversation is not going well, I leave it with an easy excuse (“see someone I should say hi to,” “need a quick bio break,” “should check in with the home front”) and move on to someone else. The best luck I usually have? With people who are standing alone, rather uncomfortably, just like I used to. — Mommiedude