Think of the last conversation you had with someone you didn’t know. If the thought of it made you cringe, take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. We’ve all been there, we’ve all had awkward conversations with strangers. Why is that? According to Dr. Gillian Sandstorm, a senior psychology lecturer at University of Essex, talking to someone new can be challenging and intimidating because it is uncharted territory. That’s when most of us resort to small talk with stock questions like - what do you do, where do you live, etc. - instead of making an effort to have more meaningful conversations.
So, why is it important to have meaningful conversations? Studies show, as social beings, even minimal social interactions could boost one’s mood. Additionally, psychologist Matthias Mehl explains to Psyche Newsletter, besides being mood boosters, meaningful conversations help fulfill an initiate human need for self-expression. Because deeper conversations are‘substantive’, one not only learns information but discovers oneself better through these conversations.But that doesn’t mean one should dismiss small talk altogether. So if small talk is just a stepping stone to having meaningful conversations, how does one get beyond the small talk?
1. Be curious
Ask questions. Questions help kick-off conversations or keep them going, especially questions of who, what, when, where, why and how. The American journalist and author Celeste Headlee, recommends asking open-ended questions to get the conversation flowing. Research also suggests that people who ask more questions are more liked by their conversation partners.
2. Talk about something you both have in common
“We tend to overestimate how different people are from one another and how different they are from us, “ Sandstrom says. “In reality, you probably have lots in common, but you just don’t know what that is yet.” Chances are you both have more in common than you think. Maybe start off with the simple things, after all you are at the same place and experiencing the same weather.
3. Be prepared to reciprocate
The key to holding good conversations is reciprocity. Mehl tells Psyche Newsletter, ‘You show interest in the other person, therefore the other person shows interest in you. And then you produce a sense of belonging through reciprocal interactions.’
The next time you’re in the lift or in line, muster up the courage to talk to a stranger, because you never know what you might get out of it.