How to turn off people's autopilot and skip the small-talk.

When someone's small-talk autopilot is on, we lose any chance of creating a real connection with them. Luckily, there's a simple way to turn it off!

Transcript below, if you prefer text over video.

Do you dislike it as much as I do when people talk to you on autopilot?

You know what I mean, right?

The standard questions and answers that everyone asks everyone.

Where both the questions and answers are so familiar to us that we don’t even have to think about them, they just pop out of our head without any real meaning or point to them, maybe other than to fill the silence.

I mean, it’s fine when it’s someone I’m just interacting with in passing. Like someone working at the store I’m in or whatever.

But when I’m talking to someone that I’d like more of a connection with – for whatever reason – autopilot conversations are the worst.

Luckily, there’s a fairly easy way we can turn off other people’s autopilot. All it requires is a little bit of creativity – or pre-planning – on our part.

You see, people’s autopilot tends to switch on for one of three reasons.

Either because the interaction isn’t important to them, because they’re distracted, or because they’re feeling a little stressed or nervous.

In these situations, the autopilot can free up mental resources for them that they can use to let their minds wander, focus on the distraction, or feel a little more safe and secure by creating a very familiar (and boring) conversation.

Stop the small-talk and create connection.

So, how do we break them out of their autopilot?

Well, you might’ve guessed it, we simply have to make them think again - because original thought is the autopilot’s off-switch.

When we pull them into the moment by forcing them to think, they tend to become more present and engaged in the interaction, and distracted from whatever thoughts they were having that were making them feel nervous or stressed.

And there’s no easier way to make someone really think, than to ask them questions that their autopilot doesn’t have the answers to.

These can be completely original questions that stand out as completely different than the topics people generally talk about when they’re on autopilot, or they can simply be creative variations of the standard questions.

The best questions will be the ones you think of for yourself.

Questions that are more likely to create the kinds of conversations that you will enjoy. And this might take a bit of work to master, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

But, let me give you a couple of examples of how to do it, to get you started.

Creating non-small-talk questions.

Original questions, are questions that are unexpected not because of how they’re phrased, but because of what they’re about.

To come up with original questions, consider which topics are typical for the situation you’re in – and then try to think of something that is different than those, but still appropriate enough.

For example, if you’re in a business setting it might be different to ask about their intimate life – but not particularly appropriate.

But you could ask questions related to their professional life that’s not very common.

Questions like: "What’s been your favorite part about your job in the last couple of years?" Or, "so, what made you choose to go into this profession?"

These are simple examples of questions that are rarely asked when making professional connections, but that should still be well within what’s appropriate. And that will encourage the other person to genuinely stop and put some thought into their answer, and thereby turning their autopilot off.

Then there are the questions that are still about familiar topics, but that are phrased in a way that makes them sound new. Or that focus them in a way that forces people to actually think about what to answer.

Generally speaking, we’ll create these questions by thinking about what the standard questions in that situation tend to be, and simply changing them a little.

So for example, the question “so what’s going on with you these days?” – which is a very standard question in social settings – could be changed into something like “so what are you excited about these days?”

The unusual phrasing is likely to get their attention and to force them to focus their answer on things that are positive and likely to increase their energy a bit, rather than their standard autopilot answers.

I hope this helps you skip the small talk and create more solid connections. Have fun!


Hi, I'm TJ Guttormsen.

Since 2009 I’ve coached clients ranging from Olympic gold medalists and billionaires, to people who simply want more out life.

I’ve done over 100 national media appearances, published books, and created online courses that have earned several “Highest Rated” titles from their 11 000+ members.

Today I coach clients from all over the world, and teach seminars for business and events from my home in Las Vegas.

Come join me in my Facebook group, follow my Instagram, or subscribe to my YouTube channel for fresh content on a regular basis.