I can’t stand small talk. Like many very technical people, I’m relationship challenged, but I’ve developed skills to help me engage others. I’m very popular at work because I’m a nut (funny and rant-y) and because I solve people’s problems. This post offers great advice on engaging others in conversation.
All but the most challenged communicators will be approachable and able to hold a conversation with you if you ask them about the challenges they’re facing. It’s as close to a sure thing (outside small talk) as exists.