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Small talk is an unavoidable reality of what Harvard Business Review calls "social-professional situations" like networking events, industry conferences, charity events, dinner parties, and the like. But by asking the right questions, the publication argues, you can make a good first impression, get to know people on a deeper level, and sidestep small talk altogether.
"Research findings from the world of network science and psychology suggests that we tend to prefer and seek out relationships where there is more than one context for connecting with the other person," HBR writes. "Sociologists refer to these as multiplex ties, connections where there is an overlap of roles or affiliations from a different social context."
In other words, don't talk exclusively about work. Here's what HBR suggests you ask instead:
1. What are you looking forward to?
2. Where did you grow up?
3. What do you do for fun?
4. Is there a charitable cause you support?
5. What excites you right now?
All of these questions invite a wide range of possible answers, giving others the opportunity to talk about their families, hobbies, interests, or—if they choose—work. "Doing so will increase the chances that you didn't just turn a stranger into a new contact on your phone, but that you actually made a new friend," HBR concludes.