www.positivepsychologyprogram.com | Positive Psychology Practitioner‘s Toolkit
Small Talk to Build Connection
Exercise 3 min. Client
Human beings are social animals. Yet, many of us tend to avoid rather than seek out social connections with strangers. It is as though we refrain from connecting with those we do not know and “save it” for those we do. This seems a shame since we spend much of our lives in the company of strangers (e.g., commuting, shopping, traveling, waiting rooms), and since feeling socially connected increases happiness and health, whereas feeling disconnected is depressing and unhealthy (Holt-Lunstad, Smith, & Layton, 2010; House, Landis, & Umberson, 1988). Moreover, according to self-determination theory, relatedness is one of three basic psychological needs (Ryan, & Deci, 2017). Fulfillment of the need for relatedness is regarded as an essential psychological nutrient for optimal functioning and well-being.
Researchers have examined the experience of connecting to strangers by making small talk. In a study that instructed commuters on trains and buses to connect with a stranger near them, to remain disconnected, or to commute as normal, participants reported a more positive (and no less productive) experience when they connected than when they did not (Epley & Schroeder, 2014). This occurred despite participants expecting the opposite outcome, where they predicted a more positive experience in solitude. This tool is designed to help people feel socially connected by making small talk with a stranger.
The goal of this tool is to help clients feel socially connected by making small talk with a stranger
- Encourage clients to speak to their chosen person for a good amount of time, as the longer the conversation, the better the Remind them that their goal is to try to get to know the person.
- Advise clients that they should ask questions related to their immediate At the supermarket, for example, one might ask, “What are you going to make with that?” or in a clothing store one might ask, “Do you have an event coming up to wear that too?”
- Recommend to clients that they come up with some go-to questions, like “Where are you from?” and “How has your day been so far?”. Having these in the back of their mind will be valuable in case clients get stumped for conversation in the
- Remind clients to ask follow-up questions—rather than flitting from topic to topic—to go deeper into the conversation and develop a more genuine
- This tool may be particularly valuable for clients who are socially anxious in the way of a behavioral
- This tool may also be adapted for use with For this, replace step 2 (as the context is pre-determined by the particular group you are working with) with the instruction to divide the group into pairs.
In everyday life, many of us would opt to keep to ourselves rather than strike up a conversation with a stranger. Because of this, we miss out on opportunities to connect to other people, which, research tells us, is something that makes us happier and healthier. This exercise invites you to make a connection rather than remain secluded.
First, let’s look at why you might not want to strike up a conversation with a stranger. In the space below, write down as many reasons as you can think of as to why you might hesitate to make small talk with someone you do not know. Common reasons include being rejected, making a fool of myself, and not sure what to say.
Now with more of an understanding of some of the beliefs that keep you disconnected from rather than connected to the people around you, we’re going to set up an opportunity for you to strike up a conversation with someone. We’re doing this because we know from research that making small talk improves our health and happiness, and remaining in isolation does the opposite. From the list below, select one context in which you are willing to strike up a conversation with a stranger this week:
- Public transport (e.g., on the train during morning commute)
- At a store (e.g., a supermarket clerk, retail assistant)
- At a restaurant (e.g., waiter, barista)
- At an event (e.g., upcoming party; conference)
- Local community (e.g., neighbor; a fellow parent at school pick-up)
- Sports (e.g., fellow yoga participant)
Now consider what you might say to this person in order to get to know them and make a connection. To find out something interesting about him or her and share something about you, what might you talk about? Based on the particular context, what could you bring up in conversation? In the space below, list some potential topics of conversation:
Now that you are aware of the thoughts that might get in the way of making small talk (step 1), have selected a context for potential small talk (step 2), and have come up with some ideas for topics of small talk (step 3), let’s set a time and place for you to actually give small talk a go! In the space below, consider when and where in the next week you could strike up a conversation with a stranger and potentially build a meaningful connection:
- How was it to talk to a stranger?
- How did you feel immediately afterward?
- Would you do it again?
- What would be some benefits of people doing this more often generally?