You're either at work near the water cooler, waiting on line for the bathroom, or at a party when suddenly small talk turns to awkward silence. You do the half-grin smile, twiddle your thumbs, and take out your phone to buffer the sound of silence. Despite your lack of conversation skills, science suggests the secret to being a good communicator is as simple as talking with people, not to them, or at them.

The key to being a better conversationalist is to be an attention-giver rather than an attention-getter. This means you begin to concentrate more on the person you're speaking with, and on gratifying their needs instead of your own, according to author Charles Derber in his book, The Pursuit of Attention.

Jot down these five conversational hacks to help you break the awkward silences, and avoid the small talk.

Use People's Names More

We are more likely to be in tune with others when they say our name. Dale Carnegie, an author of public speaking and interpersonal skills books, previously said our names are “the sweetest and most important sound” to us. In conversation, you can use this to your advantage by asking for their name, and then dropping their name occasionally throughout the conversation later on.

The ability to remember someone's name has been linked to people being more likely to help you, more likely to buy from you, and is seen as a compliment. A study in the Journal of Consumer Research found using people's names is a complementary means of persuasion. When we hear our name, we automatically shift our attention to the speaker, which creates an illusion that we are important.

For example, the first time we meet someone and ask their name stands as a test. The person is now considered an individual and not a stranger, which makes them wonder if they're special enough for you to remember their name later.

Encourage People To Talk About Themselves

Talking about ourselves triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food or money. A study in PNAS found individuals place high subjective value on opportunities to communicate their thoughts and feelings to others. This engages neural and cognitive mechanisms linked with reward.

Self-disclosure is so extreme people were willing to forgo money in order to talk about themselves, according to the researchers. This ties back to the attention-giver and attention-getter. An attention-giver will give their undivided attention to the individual, and allow them to focus the conversation on themselves to feel important.

Repeat The Last Three Words

Repetition is ideal when it comes to good communication skills, especially repeating the last three words of a conversation; this is known as "The Echo Effect." Simply repeating the last two or three words an individual said in a sympathetic, questioning tone will allow the conversation to go back to the person, and make them feel more important. A study in Journal of Language and Social Psychology found mirroring people's words can be a very important skill in building likability, rapport, and social cohesion. Here, verbal mimicry becomes more of a powerful tool than dialogue.

Emphasize Similarities

Naturally, we tend to bond with people who are like us. However, we seem to be unaware of this fact. A study in Evolutionary Psychology found when individuals were asked what they wanted in a partner, the majority said they would prefer a complementary partner rather than a similar one. However, the individuals were more likely to choose a partner who they thought was very similar to them.

In reality, this shows we're not influenced by our friends after we meet them, we organically gravitate towards them because they're just like us. With total strangers, we can use this to our advantage, and shift the conversation to topics you're both interested in. This gets them to talk about things they like, as you’re being receptive about this similarity.

Gossip Positively

Not all gossip is bad gossip, especially when it comes to compliments. A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found what you say about others colors how people see you. If you compliment people, you're likely to be seen positively; if you complain, you're likely to be associated with those negative traits you hate. When you gossip about others, listeners unconsciously associate you with those characteristics you're describing, eventually having those traits 'transferred' on to you.

Rule of thumb: if you're going to gossip about people, do it in a positive way.

Simply using a person's name, getting to know more about them, repeating their words, emphasizing your similarities, and being positively well-rounded will make you a great conversationalist who will be invited to several dinner parties.