Master The Art of Small Talk

While it’s fine to talk about the weather, quality conversations that deepen your understanding of another person or topic are more gratifying and meaningful. People who engage frequently in such conversations are happier than those who don’t, according to research at the University of Arizona. “I would like to experimentally ‘prescribe’ people a few more substantive conversations,” said one researcher. Good conversations take effort but are more rewarding.


Just the sight of a phone—yours or someone else’s—is enough to undermine the quality of a conversation. Putting your phone away when you are in the company of others is not anti-technology. Think of it as being pro-conversation instead.


While it might be tempting to wow others with a story of an extraordinary experience, it’s more important to find common ground. Conversations based on everyday experiences are more fruitful because everyone can relate.


Character Lab Education founder Angela Duckworth recommends asking self-revealing “Would you rather” questions along the lines of “Would you rather be extremely lucky or extremely smart?” or “Would you rather have people take you seriously or always have people think you are fun?” to kick-start an engaging conversation.


You can also find a gold mine of conversation ideas at The Family Dinner Project, such as “If you were stranded on a desert island, what three books would you bring?” “If you could choose any school to graduate from, which would you choose and why?” and “What is the one thing you couldn’t live without?”

“Ah, good conversation – there’s nothing like it, is there? The air of ideas is the only air worth breathing.”

This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Marie Claire.

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman