Small talk is not something everyone is going to be good at. That’s fine, just making an effort in most social situations is good enough. However, I have one rule that I try to stick to as often as possible: do not engage in a conversation unless you both have an opportunity to leave at any moment.
This doesn’t really apply with close friends and family, because presumably you want to be talking to these people and hanging out in their houses. If you run into your best friend on line at the pharmacy, chances are they’ll want to talk to you. But with acquaintances/co-workers this is a different story. For instance, last week I got in the elevator at my office as I was first coming in, and another woman (someone I don’t work with) got in with me. It was just after 9 so I was still considering this ride part of my commute, and was mentally preparing myself for the day, when she begins talking to me about how my shoes match her shirt, and weather, and whatnot. There was nowhere to run, and it is a very slow, old elevator. It was my personal hell.
I’m not a jerk (I hope) so I made the required gestures and responses, but inside I was dying. It seemed to me accepted behavior to just nod at everyone in an elevator as you get on, unless you were already talking with someone you knew as you were both waiting. And if this isn’t accepted behavior, then dammit, it should be.
In a larger sense, why would you even want to conduct a conversation when you are literally trapped with the person? You have to know they are only conversing with you out of a lack of other options, not out of any sort of enthusiasm or interest. That’s just no way to treat someone.