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Small talk is difficult to master, and that’s why most of us resort to the same three words whenever we want to have a conversation: how are you?

We take these three words for granted. We don’t want to know the answer, and the person answering our loaded question may not want to let us know how they actually are.

Things can get awkward if we get a real answer too. In our struggle for connection with others, we may still resort to asking how are you? 

Thankfully, Harvard Business School researchers have discovered a few tricks that can help us navigate the world of small talk

1. Don’t Ask “What Do You Do?”

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Another question that makes things awkward is also the very common “what do you do?”

It’s easy to fall back to this when you’re at work or in another professional function, but you can still to other work-appropriate questions that build rapport and let you get to know people in a non-work-related way. Instead, try:

Who’s your favorite superhero?

Where did you grow up?

What do you like to do for fun?

2. Use the A.C.T. Criteria

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Not to be confused with the college test, this is a trick that ensures there’s authenticity, connection, and a taste of your personality. Try questions such as:

What are you looking forward to this week/month?

What’s one thing that inspires you lately?

3. Be Mindful

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That means you’re actively listening and picking up on social cues so you can ask follow-up questions.

Is someone talking about a restaurant they like?

Ask about their favorite dish there, or why they like it. You get the picture!

Do you have any other suggestions for how to navigate small talk? Let us know in the comments!