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The value of small talk

The value of small talk

Small talk can be defined by how much information is exchanged. If you know nothing more about the other person than you knew before the conversation, then it is small talk.

Research shows that small talk with people, even with strangers, can boost our mood. While small talk often feels boring and awkward, one can turn it into enjoyable small talk by commenting on a shared experience or asking open-ended questions.

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We crave meaningful conversation

While we know the value of small talk, it still falls short of what many people are craving: meaningful conversation, where we can dive deeper.

A key feature of deeper conversations is that you get absorbed in the conversation and learn something important about yourself, the other person, or the world.

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Three components that make conversations valuable

  • Self-expression - the sharing of key aspects of who you are as a person. Most of us are hungry for an opportunity to share what we're thinking and explore things that matter to us. Sharing them with an interested listener who validates those thoughts make us feel understood.
  • It enables us to understand ourselves better.
  • A sense of connection. Meaningful conversations make us feel connected to other people.

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Small talk as a necessary first step

While small talk doesn't produce intellectual reflection or arouse reflection, the initial conversational exchanges fulfil a social function.

Small talk can be seen as the inactive ingredient in a medicine that holds the pill together. In other words, small talk lays the foundations for something richer.

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Ask better questions

We like to talk about topics that interest us. But to have better conversations, step out of yourself for a moment and think more about the other person.

Ask open-ended questions, starting with who, what, when, where, why or how. "What was that like?" "How did that feel?" Research shows that people who as questions tend to be better liked by their conversation partners.

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Listen to the answers

A good conversation is only possible if you are really listening. Stephen Covey writes that most of us don't listen with the intent to understand; we listen to reply.

Part of the pleasure of better-quality conversations comes from being curious. If you struggle listening to others, consider how much the other person will appreciate it. Asking follow-up questions will make people feel like they're being heard and listened to.

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Be willing to share about yourself

There is a critical moment of transition in the development of any relationship - it is the moment when you decide to share something more personal about yourself.

Exposing a part of your inner self will encourage your partner to open up too. If it feels daunting, remember that you don't have to reveal everything at once. Start with sharing a small part of yourself - a goal, or a value or belief or a life experience.

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Come ready to learn

Suppose you know that you're going to meet a particular person or group of people. In that case, the chances are that meaningful conversation will not so much be derived from an exchange of personal information but from having a satisfying conversation about an interesting topic or issue.

You may have to prepare by reading up a little on someone else's interests or reading up on the topic of the planned conversation. Come prepared to admit what you don't know and be ready to learn.

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Be prepared to give and take

A good conversation is more likely to happen if you follow this simple rule: I will give you the space to speak and will listen to what you say. You show interest in the other person, and the person shows interest in what you have to say.

This is not easy and perhaps the reason why meaningful conversations are so rare. But if you remember the give and take principle and come prepared, you're more likely to find meaningful conversations.

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How to connect with people

To break the ice with a stranger or an acquaintance, comment on your shared situation. For example, commenting on the conference talk you've both just listened to, or the traffic or weather. You can also try giving a compliment, or ask the other person something about themselves.

Then take things further by drawing on your shared experiences. Not every conversation will be a hit, and that's fine.

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micee

I like jazz music and bacon. Learning new things is one of my obsessions.

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