The Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘small talk’ as “conversation about things that are not important, often between people who do not know each other well.” Whether you love or loathe small talk, it’s not as “small” as you might think.
Our brains process loads of information during a conversation, but most of those informational inputs are non-verbal. It’s actually not the content of small talk that makes it significant. It’s everything else: tone, body language, rate of speech, emotional mood and more.
Here are 4 benefits of small talk:
- It enables us to find common ground and shared interests
- It improves active listening skills
- It helps us build muscles to overcome social discomfort and improve spontaneity
- It lays the groundwork for transitioning into more serious, deeper topics which require a greater degree of psychological safety
A Harvard Business Review article found that chance encounters and spontaneous conversations with our coworkers can spark collaboration, improve our creativity, innovation and performance. Many people say that small talk energizes them and makes them feel “seen.”
Small talk isn’t only productive within an office space. A study by psychologist Elizabeth Dunn discovered that quick social interactions at a coffee shop with a barista and its customers resulted in feelings of belonging and increased happiness. These positive feelings were achieved solely through reaping the benefits of smiling, making eye contact and holding a brief conversation with a stranger, all while ordering a simple cup of coffee.
In the post-pandemic world, we may hold more appreciation for these quick, casual conversations than ever before. But even as we readjust to in-person work, think twice before discounting small talk as small.