So what have you been up to? ~ The Benefits of Small Talk


Mar 21 2016

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So what have you been up to? ~ The Benefits of Small Talk

Let’s talk about small talk. Pleasantries, if you will. In The Sims 3, most Sims will receive a positive mood boost from “being small-talked”. This surprised me – don’t we all hate small talk? But after further thought, I concluded that if you treat typical small talk questions as personal check-ins, those pleasantries can be quite pleasant – and insightful – indeed.

“How are you?”

A meeting with a friend tends to start with some form of “How are you?”. I do a mental scan before answering – how am I doing? 

Okay so maybe the person doesn’t actually care. They are asking because it’s easy, it’s an expectation. Doesn’t stop me from doing that mental check in anyway. How am I?

Because it’s a friend I’m meeting, I won’t revert to the “fine thanks how are you?” In fact, even in small talk, I find it best to reply in a way that gently gets the conversation going. Even a revert to positive weather talk (“I’m really enjoying this patch of sunshine we’re getting!”) is progress. 

“What have you been up to?”

The other question that trips me up when I haven’t been hanging out with people regularly is “What have you been up to?”. My friend Kat and I have a ritual of describing our days precisely to each other: “I got up and had x for breakfast, went for a walk, did this, did that, worked on this, then I met you here! What about you?!” We love it, yet most people aren’t actually asking for this to-the-half-hour recap.

So when I am asked about “what I have been up to”, I rack my brains in panic. What did I even do yesterday, let alone during the weekend?! The thing is, the goal is not to give an accurate account of what I have done, but to reply with one interesting anecdote that will lead to more conversation. The question is actually “what do you want to talk about?”. In these small talk, initial stages of conversation, the question is ALWAYS really “what should we talk about?”.

Great go-to topics:

  • Books, Movies, tv, articles you’ve read [“I’m reading a book about…”, “I just saw that movie about…”]
  • Recent travels or mini adventures [“I just got back from…”, “I finally tried that restaurant that…”]
  • Upcoming travels [“I’m getting ready to go to…”]
  • Recent cultural events attended [“I went to that concert with…”]

When I’m on top of my game, as I spend the few minutes before meeting someone doing a mental check-in.. What have I been up to? What would be a positive topic to talk about? This is a great  not only for having a pleasant meeting with your friend, but also for interrupting the busy-ness of life to pause and reflect. 

So. What have you been up to lately?


P.S. For more on the power of reflection, see the biggest lesson I learned this year.

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