So many people dread it: Small Talk.

They believe it to be difficult and that they are not good at it. We all engage in small talk more often than we realize. When we interact with the checkout clerk at the grocery store, with the mail carrier, the pizza delivery person, or a neighbor. All of these interactions are short, polite, and social. These short interactions are vitally important in the social dance of society. It’s usually the first step in meeting someone and possibly making a lifelong friend.

We associate small talk with dinner parties, company events, professional seminars, or speaking with the other parents at the baseball game. These situations can feel daunting, overwhelming, and unpredictable. In fact, this is not true. People, especially in social situations are very predictable and we all follow unspoken rules. For example, when we get onto an elevator, we all know that we get in, turn around, watch the numbers at the top and keep quiet. No one taught us that, it is just known as social creatures. Small talk is also not taught, but it always seems that some are more comfortable with it than others.

What is the secret?

Here are five steps to help you become more proficient in the art of small talk.

1. Make eye contact and smile

These are both non verbal ways to communicate with our fellow man, even babies respond to a smile. Eye contact lets the other person realize that they are acknowledged and a smile shows kindness. Even with our masks on, people can see through our eyes that we are smiling at them. In turn they will smile, back and you receive a benefit as well.

2. Find a possible commonality in the moment and make a statement about it.

These common elements are all around us when we are with other people. Most common thing people engage is about the weather. If someone has a book in their hands, you can ask them about it. We also all endure traffic and road construction. You can also give someone a compliment.

3. Ask them a question about themselves.

People appreciate when someone else takes interest in them. Ask others questions about their job, children, hobbies, pets, movies they have seen, and shows they are binging. This also takes the focus off of you and you just need to use listening skills.

4. If you know their name use it, as people like to hear their name.

The quickest way to get someone’s attention, even when they are daydreaming, is to use their name. It is a very personal word that is linked to them. When having a conversation with someone, use their name. This helps you remember their name and makes them feel important. Use this technique on cashier at the grocery store, the wait staff at a restaurant, and people you just met.

5. Make a joke about yourself or about something innocuous.

Using humor is a great way to break the ice and make everyone around you, including yourself feel calmer and more comfortable. Laughter can calm nerves, improve endorphins, and experience raw joy. Make a non deprecating joke about yourself or the situation you are in. Stay away from controversial topics, including politics, money, and religion.

Lapses in conversation or pauses are normal and more than likely, the other person will fill in the gaps. Most people share the same experiences in social situation.