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Why Improving Small Talk Can Improve Your Mood

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I was inspired by this article recently, and wanted to share it. How many of us go to work dreading the evening, but find that it goes pretty well once the momentum hits? I often fake that first smile of the dinner rush, but find that the following ones become genuine... am I tricking myself into enjoying my job more? Is it my guests who make my job better? Here is a snippet from an experiment and article by Epley and Schroeder that sheds some light on the subject. Enjoy!

My 21 Day Experiment With Talking To Strangers

1. Put Down Your iPhone and Other Devices

As I mentioned, phones, tablets, and e-readers were a major barrier to making conversation. So the best thing you can do is put down your own digital device to make sure you aren’t preventing others from talking to you.

Of course, I’m as guilty as anyone of whipping out my phone whenever I have to wait in line at a store, or if I’m waiting to meet a friend. But I wonder now if always being connected to our digital devices means we’re all sacrificing those chance conversations and fortuitous encounters that can make life a little more interesting. At a minimum, it’s a strong argument for taking a tech Sabbath every once in awhile.

My wife’s parents, for example, met while waiting in line to apply for a job. They are both rather introverted and I wonder if they would have even met if smartphones were in existence back then.

2. Wear a Conversation Starter

A great way to start conversations almost anywhere is to wear a piece of jewelry, pin, or article of clothing which invites conversation. This might include a particularly attractive tie, a large necklace, or an eye-grabbing bracelet or watch.

When I was younger, my dad would frequently wear colorful ties designed by Jerry Garcia on which were reproductions of famous paintings. While I thought at the time that these ties were intended solely to embarrass me, inevitably people would comment on his ties and soon he’d be in the midst of a conversation with them. I now appreciate their value.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was famous for wearing brooches on her lapel that served as a way to break the ice. This was particularly important for Albright, who, as the first-ever female Secretary of State, often had to negotiate with male counterparts in a very masculine culture of international diplomacy.

The brooches were “an icebreaker, an opener,” says Albright. “It helps to have a little bit of humor.”

After my experiment, I appreciate the importance of wearing an icebreaker (or toting along a baby!) to help start conversations.

3. Offer a Compliment

One of the easiest openings to begin a conversation is by making a compliment. You can compliment someone on something they’re wearing, on a piece of jewelry, or on their handbag or briefcase.

After you’ve done this, you can then transition into a deeper conversation. Dr. Carol Fleming’s “Anchor, Reveal, Encourage” framework is a great way to turn a light pleasantry into a deeper conversation, as explained in AoM’s “How to Make Small Talk.”

A number of my conversations with strangers during the 21-day experiment began because I complimented someone on their dog or an article of clothing, and in each case, it served as a nice opening to a casual conversation, without making me feel awkward.

4. Seize Your Conversation Opportunities Immediately

One final takeway I learned is if you see an opportunity to start a conversation, you need to jump on it immediately. If you don’t, you may not get another opportunity.

During my ferry commutes, I noticed that there was a short window of opportunity to start a conversation with other commuters as they were getting settled in to their seats, before they had taken out an e-reader or put in headphones to listen to music. You have to jump on these opportunities immediately, because they’ll be gone before you know it.

Go Out and Talk with Strangers

The last piece of advice I’ll share is to just go out and try talking with strangers. What’s the worst that can happen? If you try to start up a conversation and the other person is not interested, you will likely never see them again.

The more likely result is you won’t only improve your own day, but you’ll make the person you talk to happier as well.