Chatting with Strangers

Source: Fast Company, Jun 2016

people report higher levels of happiness after connecting with others—even strangers—through a few minutes of small talk, than if they had stayed to themselves. Remarkably, this finding is equally consistent among introverts and extroverts alike.

… three steps to take to strike up a casual conversation and carry it through.


It can often be intimidating when you first approach someone. But one science-backed method for putting both you and the other person at ease isn’t surprising or difficult: smile. One study found that when you smile, it naturally puts you in a more optimistic, energetic, and upbeat emotional state. The research also identified that these positive emotions linger after you’ve finished smiling.


Starting a conversation is often the most daunting part of small talk. But it doesn’t have to be. Simply begin right off the bat by looking for similarities between you and calling attention to them—you don’t need to grasp for other topics.

Many studies have found that rapport and rates of compliance increase when people realize they have something in common. More than that, identifying points of similarity can also make your interaction feel more authentic.


So you’ve started up a conversation—great. Now how do you keep it going? There’s a straightforward yet effective formula: “insight-and-question.” Offer a statement or observation that applies to the situation, then follow it up with a question. It may sound really basic, but you can actually continue repeating it throughout the interaction without your small talk becoming strained or forced.

Sharing your ideas will guide you in contributing to the conversation. It’s a give-and-take. If you throw in your own contributions, you can steer the dialogue in a direction you can actually participate in. This will also keep you engaged; enjoyable small talk always involves both sharing and listening.

… questions that prompt people to state their opinions increased neural activity in the areas of the brain associated with reward and pleasure.

In other words, strictly factual questions aren’t as valuable. Don’t ask, “What time did you get here?” or “How was the traffic?” Questions that ask people to share information about themselves can cause a change in the brain that naturally enhances their mood. In fact, the researchers found that participants were even willing to forego money in order to disclose information about themselves.


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