Why We Should Skip Small Talks and Prefer Meaningful Conversation

Why We Should Skip Small Talks and Prefer Meaningful Conversation

A few days ago, I met that chatty neighbor at the checkout lane after avoiding making eye contact with her the whole time in the supermarket. Suddenly, there it is – the small talk I desperately try to avoid.

But, it’s not my neighbor the reason I don’t want to talk, but the small talk in general. I hate small talk and think my brain is not “programmed” for it.

Well, I’m sure I’m not alone in this. A lot of introverts think the same way. They prefer deep conversations, talking about what’s really going on in your head. They like talking about some meaningful topics, like something interesting they’ve heard, read, or watched.

They want to share useful information and to listen to unusual and meaningful stories. Something they haven’t heard before.

However, researchers show that deep conversations are good for everyone, whether you’re an introvert or extrovert.

Here’s why they recommend people should have more meaningful conversations.

The Importance of Meaningful Conversations

The team of psychologists led by Matthias Mehl analyzed the topic of deep conversations and happiness in research published in the Psychological Science journal.

They put an electronically activated recorder with a mic on college students’ shirt collars which captured half a minute-snippets of talk every 12.5 minutes for 4 days. In this way, they created conversational “dairy” of the college students’ day.

The next step was dividing the conversations into two categories: small talk and substantive conversation which included current affairs, philosophy, etc. Researchers didn’t automatically label a specific topic in a particular category.

They carefully analyzed the conversation, so if the student talked about the motivations of a particular TV show’s character, for example, they put it into the category of substantive conversation.

The results showed that 1/5 of the students’ conversations were considered small talk, while 1/3 belonged to the category of substantive conversations.

The students’ happiness was also studied as researchers took feedback from those around them, as well as from their own reports on life satisfaction.

The Results

In the end, the happiest students had more substantive conversations and fewer small talks. If you compare them to the unhappiest students, they had around 1/3 the amount of small talk or chitchat, and twice as many substantive conversations.

Only 10 percent of their conversations consisted of small talks, and when it comes to the unhappiest students, only 22 percent was considered as substantive conversation.

It turns out small talks are associated with unhappiness – something you probably expected.

The Reason Why Happiness Is Related to Deep Conversations

The research doesn’t show if deep conversations make people happy, or if happy people choose these topics. Still, one thing’s for certain – happiness and deep, meaningful conversations go hand-in-hand.

As Mehl explains in a New York Times interview, it’s natural for people to create meaning in their lives, and deep conversations help us achieve that.

Whether introverts or extroverts, people need to connect with others, and meaningful conversations help us do that, unlike small talks.

How to Have More Deep Conversation

Small talk can never disappear as it has its own purpose – to bring people closer and warm up to each other conversationally. Imagine if that neighbor suddenly started asking you about your deepest, darkest secrets while standing in the checkout lane.

It would be too much, isn’t it? Also, small talk can lead to more interesting and meaningful topics. In fact, it’s up to you how the small talk will develop.

All in all, try to maximize meaningful conversation and minimize small talk. To do that, try asking the following questions instead of the regular ones.

Instead of the common questions:

  • “How was your weekend?”
  • “How are you?”
  • “What do you do for a living?”
  • “Where do you come from?”

Try asking the following:

  • “What was your favorite part of your weekend?”
  • “What’s your story?”
  • “Tell me something interesting about the place you grew up.”
  • “What was the reason you started working this job?”

With these questions, you will avoid the typical small talk and make it into a more meaningful one.