Does small talk make you feel stressed out? Do you feel anxious when making small talk with new people? If you are wondering how to make small talk meaningful, then this is for you.
Do you dread small talk?
Unless you are a social butterfly, it is likely that you hate and abhor small talk at parties where you are surrounded by mostly strangers. This is especially true if you are an introvert. “Introverts tend to dread small talk. They worry that it will be boring, awkward, or that they’ll run out of things to say,” states a Forbes article.
However, the fear of small talk is not just limited to introverts. Most of us tend to dislike small talk and uninteresting conversations, whether we are the ones talking or listening to someone babble about meaningless and mundane things.
No, we don’t care about the weather, unless there’s a hurricane out there. Am I right? So what can you do to make idle chit-chat more interesting? How can you make small talk meaningful?
Here’s what science says
According to a study published by Psychological Science, stimulating and meaningful conversations can lift your mood and make you happy. The research revealed that subjects who spent more than 70% of their time talking were the happiest.
Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona said that the study shows “the more time a person spends in the presence of others is a good predictor of the person’s level of happiness.” The subjects who were the happiest also engaged in a lot of in-depth conversations as well as small talk.
Another study found that just 10 minutes of regular conversation with others can improve your cognitive abilities. The research revealed that “The boost from ten minutes getting to know someone was equivalent to that from solving crossword puzzles,” says Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, Ph.D. Researchers found that having a casual and friendly conversation with someone is an excellent tool for improving our abilities to complete a mentally challenging task.
The author of the study, Professor Oscar Ybarra said, “This study shows that simply talking to other people, the way you do when you’re making friends, can provide mental benefits.” Having a friendly chat can also make us more compassionate and improve empathy. Professor Ybarra added, “We believe that performance boosts come about because some social interactions induce people to try to read others’ minds and take their perspectives on things.”
How to make small talk meaningful
Looking for ways to engage in stimulating conversations and make small talk meaningful? Here are 9 ways to do just that.
1. Ask questions.
According to research conducted by Harvard Business School, the best way to make small talk meaningful is to ask follow-up questions to the other person, instead of asking “What do you do?” or “How are you?. The study found that when you ask meaningful follow-up questions, people find you more likable. The study states “People who ask more questions are better liked by their conversation partners.”
When people are instructed to ask more questions, they are perceived as higher in responsiveness, an interpersonal construct that captures listening, understanding, validation, and care.”
Ask why and how questions instead of what questions, suggests psychiatrist Samantha Boardman. She says “When you ask a “What” question, chances are you will get a simple answer, but when you ask a “Why” question, you explore a person’s underlying motivation. Every question you ask has the potential to narrow or expand the dialogue.”
However, avoid asking too many questions, warns author Melissa Wadsworth. She explains “You don’t want to go into reporter mode. Be sure to reflect back your own feelings in response to what they share, so that a real connection can develop.”