Blah Blah Blah: The Lack of Small Talk Is Breaking Our Brains | The Walrus - Deepstash
COVID-19 and Small Talk

In our pandemic world, casual conversation has been all but eliminated. The closest thing we get these days is saying “thank you” to a delivery person or greeting a grocery store clerk. Even then, ...

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Blah Blah Blah: The Lack of Small Talk Is Breaking Our Brains | The Walrus

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Jessica Methot

"Small talk functions as a crucial social ritual, it’s a way to grease the wheels."

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Small Talk At Work

In one study, Methot and her team found that, on days employees had more small talk with coworkers or supervisors, their mood improved, they had more energy, and there was a decrease in burnout.

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What is small talk?

Methot says small talk is “lighthearted, superficial, polite, scripted conversation.” It’s “scripted” in the sense that it’s predictable: everyone knows the appropriate default phrases, so particip...

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Absence of small talk

More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, so many of us feel detached and disoriented. Due to remote working we’ve been robbed of opportunities to gather publicly, most conversation has been rep...

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Body language

Gillian Sandstrom, a psychologist at the University of Essex, conducted one study that found that, when people engaged more with a barista - smiling, making eye contact, conversing - they felt a gr...

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Monotonous but unique

The monotony of automated dialogue is a common reason people claim to dislike small talk. But Methot says this superficiality is what makes it unique. “It doesn’t require a lot of thought, it doesn...

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Jessica Methot

“That brief acknowledgement is really meaningful, not because it’s deep . . . but it makes you feel seen.”

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Small talk as an equalizer

Andrew Guydish, a PhD student of psychology at the University of California, found that, without space for off-task communication, people in “directing” roles at work spoke much more than those in ...

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Every dialogue feels transactional because, now, our conversations are based on our work roles, says Methot. And, without chit-chat, there’s no relief. Small talk, it seems, is reenergizing: a pala...

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Off-task communication

Small talk should be spontaneous and nonpurposeful, Guydish says, and it’s that spontaneity that is so difficult to replicate virtually. When we schedule time for chit-chat, he says, we turn it int...

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Serendipitous conversation

If you can’t duplicate spontaneous encounters, like standing around a water cooler or bumping into an acquaintance on the street, Methot says the next best thing is creating an intentional one. Thi...

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Isolation

In addition to the number of connections lost, Sandstrom says it’s also important to consider the diversity of those missing connections. In a pandemic, of course you’ll make more of an effort to s...

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Homogenised opinions

Small talk with acquaintances and strangers is an “important source of novelty” that adds unpredictability and variety to the everyday and gives all parties an opportunity to find commonality on ne...

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Parasocial communication

Some people are turning to social media to get their fix of interactions with strangers. A November paper published in the journal

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Calibration

Small talk with strangers online can also offer a low-stakes opportunity to be vulnerable. One study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests that people prefer to d...

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Lack of small talk increases loneliness

“There is a lot out there that suggests that people aren’t only lonelier but they also feel less respected by their colleagues and they feel kind of forgotten,” says Beth Schinoff, an organizationa...

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Small talk is prosocial

To Sandstrom, initiating small talk is a prosocial act - something done for the good of all involved. People enjoy it more than they predict: they feel more anchored, trusting, and even more optimi...

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Regaining lost connections

Is small talk a skill that can be lost, a muscle that atrophies into nothingness when left idle for too long? Sandstrom is unconvinced. Chit-chat will never disappear, she says, because we’ll never...

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