According this publication in Psychological Science, researchers found that the happiest participants in their study—involving more than 20,000 recorded conversations—had twice as many genuine and deep talks as the unhappiest participants. This confirms what we already know: Surface-level small talk does not build relationships.
And as an introvert, someone who prefers not to engage with people much of the time and who finds small talk and ‘networking’ absolutely exhausting—I have to agree with this.
There’s nothing more disappointing for me than having to deal with boring chatter with people I just met. And trust me, here in the U.K. I meet this several times a day. Everyone asks how are you, the weather comes up with everyone or what we had for lunch. The most interesting small-talk question I received so far is where my accent was from… It seems like people forgot that they can actually avoid small talk and have meaningful conversations instead, even with a stranger. Wouldn’t it be amazing to skip out on the tired questions of “what do you do?” and “what have you been up to this week?” and cut ahead to the deep good stuff? That is what I prefer. I’m not a big chatterer and it gets worse and worse with time as I get more tired with every small talk I have to deal with. Give me all the deep, honest, raw, meaningful, controversial or even, taboo topics and I come alive!
So guess how excited I got when I connected with someone during our stay at a remote bunkhouse—where I had the déjà vu of having the same conversation at least 20 times each day but with different people—who jumped head first into a deep conversation with deep questions that even my best friends don’t dare to ask. I was wondering, what’s different? She seemed so brave and interested, we could go on and talk about everything and anything for hours and really see each other. It’s a very special and electrifying feeling when you connect with someone on such a deep level despite never having met this person before. The feeling of being seen and understood… Later I figured she was working as a social worker, so it was her job to ask deep questions. But it turned out that she started as a social worker because she loves to connect with people in a different way than what we consider “normal,” aka forcing small talk.
I learned from this experience that the thing with avoiding small talk is that you can’t always just dodge it and cut right to the depth of someone else’s psyche because it freaks out most people. Imagine getting into the elevator with your boss for 15 seconds and he/she starts to ask you about your darkest secrets…
Instead, you just have to change the small talk and make it your own.
The most important thing to do in order to cut down on small talk is to be interested—view every person you engage with as a chance to discover something exciting. Don’t see the person as an obligation you have to run through in order to not look like the awkward wallflower at the party, but an individual that has an awesome story to share. Because we all have.
Don’t expect substantive topics to instantly spring to your mind. You should approach every interaction with a few deep conversation starters in your pocket, ready to go. Or another great trick I successfully use when someone approaches me with small talk questions, I like to follow the answers up with a personal story and then get curious about their story and how we connect in the topic.
Below are 10 of my favorite conversation starter questions:
- What’s your story?
- What was your favorite part of the day/weekend/holiday?
- What excites your soul?
- What makes you badass?
- What’s the most important thing I should know about you?
- If you could do anything you wanted now (anywhere, money is no problem), what would you do and why? What is holding you back form doing it?
- If you could know the absolute and total truth to one question, what question would you ask?
- What is the greatest lesson you have learned?
- If you had to pick the character from any book, movie, or TV show who is most similar to you, whom would you choose? Why?
- Tell me something interesting about the place where you grew up.
Of course, this only works well if the other person is also open and interested in being part of the conversation. You can have the deepest questions if the other doesn’t want to talk or just gives few-word-answers to your questions. Definitely , deep talk is something that we need to normalize. But when the other person speaks about themselves and shares their world view and opinions it’s a beautiful thing—it connects us deeply, opens us up to the other person and the world and provides us with great growing and learning opportunities—about the other person, us and the world.
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