How Do I Get Better at Small Talk?

It's awkward. We know. Our resident psychiatrist is here to help.

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Q: How can I be a better conversationalist?

While it’s fine to talk about the weather, quality conversations that deepen your understanding of another person or topic are more gratifying and meaningful. People who engage frequently in such conversations are happier than those who don’t, according to research at the University of Arizona. As one researcher commented, “I would like to experimentally ‘prescribe’ people a few more substantive conversations.” Good conversations take effort but are more rewarding. Try these few tips to elevate your conversations:

  1. MAKE MEANING: Character Lab Education founder Angela Duckworth recommends asking self-revealing “Would you rather” questions along the lines of “Would you rather be extremely lucky or extremely smart?” or “Would you rather have people take you seriously or always have people think you are fun?” to kick-start an engaging conversation.
  2. GO DEEP: You can also find a gold mine of conversation ideas at thefamilydinnerproject.org, such as “If you were stranded on a desert island, what three books would you bring?” “If you could choose any school to graduate from, which would you choose and why?” and “What is the one thing you couldn’t live without?”
  3. IMPRESS LESS: While it might be tempting to wow others with a story of an extraordinary experience, it’s more important to find common ground. Conversations based on everyday experiences are more fruitful because everyone can relate.
  4. LOSE THE PHONE: Just the sight of a phone—yours or someone else’s—is enough to undermine the quality of a conversation. Putting your phone away when you are in the company of others is not anti-technology. Think of it as being pro-conversation instead.
    Dr. Samantha Boardman is a clinical instructor in psychiatry and an assistant attending psychiatrist at Weil Cornell Medical College in New York and the the founder of positivepercription.com.

    This story originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Marie Claire.

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