You've probably heard the quote from Dale Carnegie by now, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” And I'm not sure how much thought you've given it, but an interaction I had with a guy a few hours ago just reminded me of how important being curious is to making small talk.
I was at a work event and I was making small talk with a colleague, Nick. He mentioned that one of his passions is running. Not being much of a runner myself, I didn't really know how to make a connection or what to say next. But I needed to contribute something because he was doing most of the talking and I wanted to keep the conversation balanced. It's also important to keep the conversation focused on what someone enjoys talking about, so I wasn't about to switch topics...
So what did I do? I switched into Curious Mode. I mentally went through everything I knew about running and asked about something I wasn't sure about. In this case, it was about those weird toe socks that a lot of runners wear. I had heard about them, but didn't know much about them.
So I asked, "Do you wear those toe socks that I hear about?"
Nick said, "Yeah, I own like five pairs. I love them."
Still in curious mode, I asked, "What are they for? They don't look very comfortable."
Nick answered, "Oh, they're designed so you don't rub your toes together and get blisters going long distances."
I responded, "Oh I had no idea! That makes total sense. I guess I won't be needing those socks anytime soon."
And he proceeded to tell me more about all the different equipment runners wear, etc. Regardless of how interested I truly was, the conversation was smooth and engaging. That's always my #1 goal - make sure the conversation is enjoyable for them first, me second. Sometimes you just need to pretend to be interested. And for those purists who think you shouldn't ever pretend - guess what? Other people pretend to be interested in what you say too. It's part of being polite, and part of being a good conversationalists, so get over it.
Anyway, point being: next time you're stuck without anything to say, switch gears into Curious Mode!
Stay social, friends.