From witty banter to deep philosophical conversations, few forms of communication are as dreaded as small talk. Got any fun plans this weekend?
Why making small talk is a big deal
Or at its most basic -- a straightforward how are you? Small talk or chit-chat, known to psychologists as short, superficial, or trivial communication not core to task completion, fills a third of daily speech. We do it every day, yet many people go out of their way to avoid it. Often, people think small talk is pointless, awkward, inauthentic, or takes a lot of work.
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But research shows people who engage in regular chit-chat have better well-being and stronger relationships. This week, Strategy explores how to master small talk and turn the polarizing communication tactic into a tool to build better relationships.
The rise of chit-chat — It turns out, everyone engages in small talk across all cultures and communities, from English tea rooms to rural Papua New Guinea, Methot explains. Research shows people bounce back and forth with brief normative scripted language across all societies and across time.
Our research shows the other person walked away feeling really great.
Why small talk matters — Methot never set out to study small talk but instead kept hearing from subjects about the surprising value of their spontaneous interactions. So Methot and her team deed an experiment to determine the outcomes of those conversations. They published their findings in June in the Academy of Management.
In the study, on days when people engaged in more small talk, they also exhibited more positive emotions and were better able to recover from a stressful workday. People did acknowledge they felt more distracted on days with lots of chatting, but the researchers said the positive, pro-social outcomes buffered this negative side effect.
So we wouldn't really dive into negotiations or performance evaluations or an interview without having small talk first, she adds. It helps us disengage from one activity and engage in a new one.
Luckily, it's a skill that can be built through these three steps: sticking to the script, practicing, and keeping it simple. Ali Pattillo.
Three rules for small talk Stick to the script: Methot splits conversation content into three tiers. Tier one: safe, small talk topics like the weather, sports, food. Tier two: More controversial things like religion and politics, which you would generally want to skip if you're just kind of greeting someone, checking in, and asking how they're doing.
Tier three: topics like family issues, finances, and personal health concerns are reserved for close and more intimate conversations. Generally, small talk skates on the surface, so stick to tier one topics. Methot notes we get the same benefits from just saying hi, waving, and smiling to someone as we do engaging in a deeper conversation.
Methot suggests deating one time during the day when you normally would walk into the building with your head down, but instead, look up and greet someone. For those working remotely, try to make space for casual conversations in meetings.
Related Tags Psychology Work. Mind and Body.