8 Ways to Respond to the Worst Small Talk Questions

Talking about the weather while stuck in the elevator with a total stranger. Getting peppered with questions about your love life from the person you met literally two seconds ago at a party. Answering the age-old, “So, what do you do?” question with a reluctant dive into your resume, all while in line for your damn coffee.

Even though small talk can feel boring, soul-sucking, and awkward, it actually serves as valuable social lubricant to make conversation easier. Knowing how to gracefully talk to someone new remains a crucial skill for anyone, and, considering small talk also functions as a way to establish common ground, it allows us to get to know people and form quick connections.

 

But for many of us, small talk frequently veers into offensive territory — but you can rest easy, because we’ve collected the eight ways to respond to the worst small talk questions. Learn how to act and what to say, and gain some advice for changing the subject so you can breathe a sigh of relief during any tricky small-talk situation.

 

1. “This weather/traffic/party is ____.”

 

 

Mundane? Yes. Obnoxious? Rarely. Roll with the observation about the rain or highway or buffet table — seriously, it’s fine — and know this topic is likely either the gateway into better conversation or the only thing you’ll talk about with this person until parting ways. You will survive.

 

How to respond

 

 “Oh I know, it’s the worst/best.”

 

2. “When are you having kids?”

 

 

When asking friends to share their least favorite small talk questions, this held the #1 spot by far. Most women really, really, really don’t like being asked about their reproductive plans… which makes sense. Procreation choices are personal, and discussing whether or not you’ll have kids in general or more in the future should not be considered small talk — it is a private matter, and more than that, a huge life decision.

Also, keep this in mind: what if the person had a miscarriage, or is infertile, or had an abortion? You don’t know a person’s health history or family plans, so if they don’t offer up information about choosing to have kids (or more kids, or no kids), take a page out of Elsa’s book and let it gooooo.

 

How to respond

 

“Wow, that’s a really personal question.” (Make eye contact during uncomfortable silence, then change the subject to whatever you want.)

 

3. “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend/partner?”

 

 

Like many small talk questions, this one is supposed to be “nice.” And at first glance, it seems harmless, because lots of people probably have some form of a love life. But it is actually fairly divisive: either you won’t mind answering because you’re happily in love OR you’ll want to cry due to a recently broken heart OR you’ll grit your teeth with a fake smile because you’ve gone on 4378294 bad dates and have been asked this question about as many times.

Moreover, society is bound and determined to tell women that their relationship status matters most, which is old-fashioned and false.

 

How to respond

 

“I know all the Disney movies make it seem like finding a (wo)man is key to happiness, but luckily, I’m feeling really good about my life as it is. Thanks for asking!”

 

4. “When is he/she going to pop the question?”

 

 

Can we agree to stop asking women when they think their significant other is going to propose? It’s just weird. Some of us are in long-term relationships not looking to put a ring on it anytime soon (so this question feels like major pressure), and others are dyingggg for some bling with a surprise flash mob (so this question feels stressful).

Situations where you can totally talk about commitment: your friend went ring shopping with her boyfriend, your sister’s girlfriend mentioned marriage at lunch, your brother has been dating the same person for ten years and isn’t really feeling it anymore, etc. Marriage is not the be-all, end-all, and talking about it can be super fun, but asking someone when their partner is going to be propose feels icky. (One more thing: what if you’re the one who wants to propose instead?! Let’s not assume we all prefer old-school tradition, ya know?)

 

How to respond

 

“We’re enjoying dating right now” or “We’ve definitely talked about marriage, so eventually!” or “I’m not sure how I feel about marriage yet, is it in the cards for you?”

 

5. “So, what do you do?”

 

 

First, this question is boring as hell. Second, it usually seems like the person asking is trying to determine A) how much money you make, B) if you’re worth talking to, C) whether or not you can do them a favor or D) what “kind” of person you are. Of course, this is not always the case (genuine curiosity is one thing!) but above all, asking someone what they do for a living can easily kill a conversation before it even starts. It feels like a job interview (ew) and implies what they do equals who they are.

Work can certainly be a reflection of who you are, but in a culture focused heavily on ambition and success, it’s easy to assume that your identity is the same thing as your career. Newsflash: it isn’t, and your value as a person matters more than your title. Besides, lots of people are working jobs as a means to an end, rather than hustling for that dream gig. If you love talking about your work, go for it! But know many people are much more complex than what’s listed on their business card.

 

How to respond

 

“You know what? Lately I’ve been asking people what they like to do, because for me, I’m so much more than a communications manager. It’s led to some great conversations.”

 

6. “Who did you vote for?”

 

 

LOL, jk. Don’t ask this unless you’re prepared to have a mature, open-minded conversation with someone who may have a different perspective.

 

How to respond

 

“Voting is really important, and now that the election is over, I’m focused on X, Y, and Z issues. What about you?”

 

7. “Where are you from? No, really, where are you from?”

 

 

Turns out there are two ways of asking this question. One involves basic interest in someone’s hometown, upbringing, and life path to current location. That’s legit, and can be great fodder for interesting small talk. The other involves repeatedly asking someone where they’re from, with emphasis on the from. Two acquaintances told me they hate this question, because it leads to exchanges like:

“Where are you from?”

“[Insert City]”

“No, I mean like where, what country?”

“. . . America?”

Ugh. One said she doesn’t mind being asked, “What nationality are you?” or “Where does your name come from?” because those feel more straightforward than the “I’m trying to be polite about figuring out how foreign you are” questions. Another said she was born overseas, lived in one country for a few years, moved to the U.S., and then shifted through many states before adulthood — which means she’s not really “from” anywhere specific, which makes it hard to answer this question.

 

How to respond

 

“Are you asking where I was born, or where I grew up?”

 

8. “How are you? Any big plans this weekend?”

 

 

Like many small talk questions, what offends one person strikes another as completely innocent. But this one makes the cut because most people don’t really want the answer. Heck, sometimes I’m halfway down the hallway saying, “Good! You?” before I realize the person who asked is… not listening anymore.

“How are you?” is a funny little verbal exchange that means nothing, but is used as a way to be cordial. If you answer honestly with a heartfelt, personal response, you risk the other person looking at you wide-eyed like, “Um, TMI.” If you give a one-word reply, then you’re kind of contributing to the problem.

Sure, sometimes it’s better to just do the little “How are you?” dance and move along. But try to be the person who actually gives a decent answer and sticks around to offer the same opportunity to the person who asked you in the first place. In other words, be nice to the cashier who is always trying to chit-chat about your Saturday to-do list. (Or like my friend Cassie, tell him/her you’re planning to Netflix and chill with your cats, because that’ll certainly close the convo.)

 

How to respond

 

Give one specific anecdote, like, “I’ve been tying up a huge project at work, so looking forward to relaxing!” Or “Running errands and going for a long walk if the weather is nice, you?”

 

Remember: most people use small talk as a means to an end; they are just seeking a polite, friendly entry point into a conversation with the hopes of being able to quickly relate to you — which is a good thing. If you are feeling frustrated by a small talk question, answer briefly and move on, or change the subject entirely. You can also be the change you wish to see in the world of small talk by asking better questions. For example, my friend, Emily, ended a coffee date with, “Tell me something that’s bringing you joy lately.” It felt fresh and specific and fun to answer. Let’s all be like Em.

 

Do you like small talk? What’s your go-to topic with someone new? How do you handle challenging small talk questions?

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