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The Joy of Replacing Small Talk With Deep Conversations

Picture of American Specialty Health
By American Specialty Health on August 30, 2022
The Joy of Replacing Small Talk With Deep Conversations

For many, talking with strangers rarely moves beyond small talk. But deeper, more meaningful conversations with strangers actually can provide some surprising health perks.


Small talk with strangers is the norm in American culture. A nod, a smile, and maybe a brief exchange about the weather is often the extent of the conversation.

This kind of superficial chit-chat is likely what feels most familiar and comfortable. Yet, recent research suggests that small talk tends to be unsatisfying. It can leave you feeling bored, disconnected, and empty.

Deeper conversations, on the other hand, are often more uplifting and fulfilling. And they may offer some health benefits as well.

Studies suggest that moving beyond idle chit-chat may help forge stronger connections. And connecting more deeply with others—even with strangers—may help support better health and well-being.

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Why connecting is so good for your health

Research suggests you can get an immediate boost in mood and feel-good brain chemicals from all of your positive, day-to-day connections with others, including your encounters with people you may never see again.

Deeper conversations and the sense of social connection they foster can support your health in broader ways, too. Research suggests they may help to:

  • Curb loneliness
  • Make you more trusting, kind, empathetic, and cooperative
  • Enhance your sense of belonging
  • Boost your self-esteem and confidence
  • Increase rewarding feelings of happiness and life satisfaction
  • Open the door to developing a greater number of close friends
  • Lower stress and levels of cortisol
  • Lessen the risk for depression and anxiety
  • Increase longevity
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve inflammation and immune response

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What keeps us from having deeper conversations?

Besides shyness and cultural norms, what keeps strangers from having more meaningful conversations with each other? One study found that we often underestimate how much the other person is truly interested in and cares about hearing our personal stories, thoughts, and insights—as well as sharing their own. These mistaken assumptions create mental roadblocks to having the deeper conversations many of us actually crave.


Finding ways to move past small talk

Whether it’s the person sitting next to you on the bus, or a new acquaintance you’ve just met at a party, you can find ways to move past the comfort zone of small talk. That’s not to say small talk is bad in itself. It’s not. It can be a helpful icebreaker and a gateway to more in-depth conversations. Taking more chances when talking with strangers can feel scary. But these tools may help:

  • Examine your own expectations. If you tend to freeze or revert to small talk with strangers, pay attention to your thoughts. If you notice yourself thinking, “I don’t have anything to say that this person would find interesting,” pause and question that thought. Since you don’t really know the person, how do you know what they are or are not interested in? How do you know, without asking, what topics they might really care about?

    You might have much more in common than you think with that stranger on the bus or that new acquaintance you just met at a party. Sometimes the only way to find out is to take a chance.
  • Notice whether you’re clicking with the other person. You can often get a gut feeling when a stranger is warm, friendly, open, and willing to engage. A person’s body language and facial expressions often let you know if they might be responsive to having a deeper conversation with you.

    On the other hand, don’t force it. If the person is frowning, looking or turning away, or is unresponsive when you offer a smile or say hello, you might want to cut that chat short. Other opportunities will come your way.
  • Express your curiosity Asking open-ended questions, including follow-up questions, can lead to more in-depth, interesting, and memorable conversations. Asking the other person questions also shows you’re curious about them. And that helps build rapport.

    Your genuine curiosity can help make the other person feel more at ease and willing to share. One study even found that asking another person questions increases how much they like you. Asking open-ended questions can also help the conversation evolve, grow, and build.

    Another study found that curiosity may help you cope better with the anxiety of uncertain situations. It may help you express more positive feelings and tune into your playful, humorous side. Curiosity helps you think outside the box a bit more. And it helps make you less critical and defensive. Discover how some of these traits can also help build better emotional intelligence.
  • Plan out some engaging questions ahead of time. Sometimes, you know in advance when you’ll be talking to someone new. In these situations, it may help to think of some questions to have in your mental back pocket to help move the conversation beyond small talk.

    Say you decide to introduce yourself to a new neighbor. After you do so and welcome them to the neighborhood, you might ask:

    • What part of town did you move from?
    • What do you miss most about your old neighborhood?
    • What drew you to this neighborhood?
    • What do you like most about it? Least?

    Depending on how your new neighbor answers, you might share what you love (and even what you don’t love) about the neighborhood. You might also mention some of the amenities they miss about their old ‘hood.

    Say, for example, they miss the array of ethnic restaurants in their old neighborhood. You might mention some of your favorite restaurants in the area and then ask what their favorite cuisine is. Maybe your new neighbor reveals they love Greek food because that’s the country where they grew up. You could then ask a follow-up question about what it was like growing up in Greece, which would take the conversation down an entirely new and interesting road.

    This may be a hypothetical situation. And each encounter you have with a stranger will be unique and should inform the type of questions to ask. But it shows how following the trail of conversational breadcrumbs can help you think of follow-up questions as you go. Before you know it, you may find you’re engaging more often and more easily in deeper, more richly rewarding conversations with strangers.

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  • Listen actively. Pay full attention when you listen to the other person. This means letting go of other thoughts while you listen. It means focusing your attention solely on the other person’s story. Put your phone away and eliminate other distractions. Try to listen closely, open your mind, and suspend judgment.

    Active listening also entails looking for nonverbal cues like facial expressions and body language. This can help you discern the feelings behind the person’s words. Plus, when you listen closely, you help the other person feel heard. You show them that you care about what they say and feel. This builds trust and rapport, and it may help foster deeper conversations.
  • Share a little of yourself. To take the conversation beyond small talk, open up a bit. Share a little of yourself personally or emotionally. You might mention one thing that happened in the past few days that you feel grateful for.

    You might describe an innovative solution you recently found to a knotty problem. Or you might share your feelings about a happy event like a milestone you just reached in your fitness goals. Learn why talking about positive experiences with others can enhance your mood .
  • Bring out your funny side. Shared humor helps you resonate with another person and vice versa. Finding the funny side to a situation when chatting with a stranger helps you both relax. It builds trust and helps you connect. Humor is a universal language that fosters good-natured bonding. And it may open the door to deeper conversations.
  • Seek common ground. Finding a topic you both care about can help get meaningful conversations rolling with strangers. Say that you’re a dog lover. Strike up a conversation with a stranger the next time you’re at the dog park.

    You can offer a heartfelt compliment about their pup and then ask pertinent follow-up questions. What’s the dog’s name and breed? Did they get the dog from a rescue group? What funny personality quirks does their dog have? Share some of your own stories and quirks about your dog as well.
  • Be your authentic self. Keep in mind that you have a lot of interesting stories to share. Your experiences, insights, thoughts, beliefs, and opinions are valuable. You also have personal traits that make you likable and engaging. Own your worth and try to be yourself when you talk to strangers. You have much to offer. Just try to be aware that you aren’t completely taking over the conversation.
  • Practice helps. Taking chances more often when talking with strangers gets easier with practice. Every time you do it, you flex a social muscle that gets stronger over time. This helps make it a bit easier to open up when you talk with strangers in the future.

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Take note of how deeper conversations with strangers feel

If you decide to try for more in-depth conversations with strangers, be mindful of how they feel.

  • Are you pleasantly surprised by how interested and curious the other person was?
  • Were they open and willing to share about themselves?
  • Did the exchange feel less awkward and more rewarding than you expected?
  • Did you feel engaged, relaxed, and happy while talking? How about afterwards?

Being mindful of the pleasant experiences you have during deeper conversations with strangers may build your motivation to seek them out more often. You may start to feel happier and less stressed. And who knows? As you start connecting more deeply with strangers, new friendships may blossom. When that happens, you can take next steps to build close ties with those new friends.



Not a Silver&Fit® member? Learn more about everything the program has to offer, including more helpful healthy living tips like this, here on our website.


This information is not intended to take the place of regular medical care or advice. Please check with your doctor before using this information or beginning any self-care program. Images used for this article do not depict any members of the Silver&Fit Program.


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This article was written by Gail Olson, edited by Jason Nielsen, and clinically reviewed by Elizabeth Thompson, MPH, RD.


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