For those of us who avoid small talk like the plague, new research offers good cause to at least try opening our minds and mouths. Recent studies highlighted in “Science of Us,” the online compiler of such things, suggests that having trivial conversations – banter, blather, chitchat, etc. — with acquaintances or strangers actually is good for our health. Humans are naturally social animals, but are not always social enough for our own well-being. Engaging in small talk, researchers say, is kind of like working out; it may be uncomfortable at first, but good for our physical, mental and emotional health in the long run.
The best advice for chitchat-challenged individuals, according to the authors of “When Strangers Meet: How People You Don’t Know Can Transform You,” is to “triangulate.” That is, build a three-sided conversation between you and another person by establishing a third thing that you’re both experiencing. For example, if you’re out in public, you could comment to the prospective conservation partner about a piece of public art, an interesting shop or a street preacher. Who knows, your social pleasantries might just lead to an authentic conversation and make a “beautiful interruption,” the report’s lead author Kio Stark explained.
Sociolinguists note that with small talk, the communication of anything of consequence is secondary, almost incidental, to the healthy benefits of social bonding. The purpose of the exercise is to acknowledge some familiarity and share comity … rather than sources of disagreement. Which is why experts warn that by lecturing someone you hardly know – as self-serving extroverts are wont to do — you’re not only being condescending, you’re completely missing the opportunity to discover common interests that bond people together.
In other words, “small dialogue” is good; “small talk” still not so much.