7 Ways to Make Small Talk More MeaningfulBy Samantha Boardman, M.D.
Does the thought of small talk fill you with dread? While trying to appear interested, engaged and enthusiastic, are you really itching for the, so often, awkward conversation to end so you can crawl back into your comfort zone? Small talk makes so many of us feel like a fraud – it’s one of my least favorite things to do—and yet it’s extremely important in life. Job interviews, first dates and cocktail parties, even waiting in line; small talk is essential and unavoidable. It comes as no surprise that science has discovered some truth to just how important small talk can be. A study from 2010 shows a distinct correlation between feelings of wellbeing and conversing in a casual way (small talk). In other words, happy people talk more.
The study’s conclusions don’t stop there. Substantive small talk, conversing about personally relevant things, meaningful things to us as individuals, bigger things than the average topics of small talk, increases feelings of well being even more. A casual chitchat about the weather or any sort of small talk lends to the general happiness of a socially engaged life. A conversation about the weather with a personal spin, how it makes you and the other person feel, perhaps a memory, anything that digs deeper than the surface and has meaning will increase feelings of wellbeing even more.
Here are some tips, mostly common sense, to make your small talk more meaningful:
Repeat Their Name When You Meet Them
Undoubtedly you’ve heard this one before and undoubtedly it’s worth repeating. Any feelings of well being you’ve created with substantive small talk will be annihilated when you’re utterly embarrassed that you’ve forgotten the other person’s name. Furthermore, meaningful conversation is without a doubt contingent on some understanding of the other person – like their name.
Ask Questions That Matter
What they think of the weather, or how it makes them feel. Their thoughts on the latest Batman movie, its themes and bigger relevance. Remember, the key to substantive small talk (and the feelings of wellbeing it engenders) is talking about things with meaning. Be curious, people are interesting and you may learn something.
This includes body language cues like eye contact (and not looking over their shoulder) sincere nodding, leaning in and of course actually listening. Nothing kills a pleasant conversation like feeling the other person doesn’t care about what you’re saying.
And Vice Versa
When they ask you a question, respond with more than just the bare bones. You don’t just live in New York or are just getting your masters in psychology or just work in education. You live on the Upper East Side because you love the park, you’re getting your masters in psychology because you’re fascinated by human nature, you work in education because you had a great teacher once and you hope you can make a difference in some young person’s life. In other words, give the other person some bit of your personal (and substantive) information to work with. But be careful because…
There’s a Reason TMI is an Acronym
No complaining and no over sharing. They don’t need to know about your money problems or that rash in an embarrassing spot.
And on the topic of what not to do:
Don’t Avoid a Healthy Debate
A healthy debate can be incredibly rewarding and you can learn something from listening. However, know thyself and pay attention to the other person. If you have a tendency of offending people, you may want to avoid controversial conversations, no matter how interesting or potentially productive it could be.
Don’t Fill the Space
Sometimes people don’t want to talk and it’s important to know when not to (an elevator, confined spaces as a rule, the next stall over in the bathroom…). Watch for those visual clues that someone isn’t in the mood for small talk and respect them.
“Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and small people talk about wine.” ― Fran Lebowitz
Samantha Boardman MD, a clinical Instructor in Psychiatry, Public Health and Assistant Attending Psychiatrist at Weill-Cornell Medical College, is the founder of PositivePrescription.com, a website that shares insights and explores the way that psychiatry, psychology, culture and science intersect. She cares more about what is right with people then what is wrong, and is always looking for the tweaks and changes that make a difference.
This post originally appeared on The Positive Prescription.
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