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Small talk is one of those things that nearly everyone dreads because, let’s face it, it’s just wasting time, right? You and someone else are sitting there, uncomfortably chatting about topics that otherwise don’t seem all that important, all because it’s the polite and/or politically correct thing to do.

As much as we all hate small talk, though, it’s a necessary evil in lots of things we do on a regular basis. From chatting with coworkers around the water cooler, to talking to strangers at the coffee shop to, of course, slowly introducing yourself to a girl at the bar, understanding how to use small talk to your advantage is a definite skill.

For those looking to make all your small talk conversations a little bit less painful, here are some ways to master it — because, c’mon, we want you to be your best.

Be present

If there’s one thing that you must do when engaging in small talk, it’s actually be present. Yep, that means putting down your phone, squaring your shoulders up with the person you’re talking with and giving them solid eye contact. Essentially, make them feel as if they’re the only thing important to you in the room, putting aside any distractions.

Show your knowledge

People want to hear your stories, too, so don’t just sit back and smile and nod, tell them about what you’ve got going on! This means dropping some knowledge about sports, or movies or a book or, well, anything that you’re passionate about that might get their attention. For instance, if there’s something trending in the world of sports, assuming you’re comfortable talking about the topic, let the small talk become fun by chatting about that issue.

Don’t bring up touchy topics

Avoid politics, money and, in general, complaints. Nobody wants to talk with a negative person who seems flustered or overwhelmed, so making sure your small talk doesn’t include these topics will be a smart move. Sure, we all have our opinions, but save those for people who are more comfortable with you and vice versa.

Ask questions

You want to show a genuine interest in this person you’re talking with, so don’t be afraid to ask questions for them to answer and keep the conversation going. Again, don’t bring up touchy topics that might make them uncomfortable or offend them, but do get to know them better during this small talk session. Who knows, this initial conversation could lead to a friendship and, if it’s a girl you’re flirting with, a date down the road.

Find a common interest

Most of us don’t remember meaningless conversations with strangers too often. However, the ones that do stand out are the ones where we both walk away fulfilled, finding that we had a common interest or shared opinion. This could be as simple as complimenting someone on their shoes and talking about where he/she got them, to bringing up a sporting event that you both watched and had an emotional connection to.

Listen to them and engage with eye contact

Again, be present, guys. As we’ve talked about before, nonverbal communication is some of the most important you’re going to use throughout your day, and you don’t want to make someone think they’re any less important by having them talk to the side of your face and not directly in your eyes. Have good posture, avoid interruption and use expressions to show them that you’re both engaged with one another during small talk.

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