"Nice day out today."
Why is it that when we find ourselves cramped in the small confines of an elevator with a co-worker or trying to fill the quiet pockets of conversation with someone we just met we default to the weather?
Research has some possible insight: We're directly affected by our environment. Studies have shown that our moods and overall well-being are influenced by the weather. So when the rising temperature or the bitter cold is the first thing on your mind, it might be hard to discuss anything else.works
Small talk may not be pleasant (and it can be an introvert's worst nightmare), but there are ways to transform the activity into a meaningful moment between two people without any mention of rain, sun or snow. Below are five ways to take control of your conversation starters and other small talk.
Search for commonalities.
Talking about shared interests is the easiest way to make a connection with someone -- and a method that's way more personal than discussing the rain that's been collecting on the sidewalk all day.
When you start a conversation with someone, try searching for nuggets of information that you can connect to -- according to Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, it's the easiest way to open the lines of communication. "The basic premise is that you find common ground with the people with whom you communicate by using the right amount of self-disclosure, empathy and tact," she wrote in a Psychology Today blog.
Don't ask someone what they do.
When speaking with someone for the first time, work tends to be one of our go-to topics (aside from the weather, of course). But this affinity for wanting to know what someone does for a living may be killing our conversations right off the bat. "What do you do?" is often a loaded question, sometimes sending the signal that the most significant part about us is our job (and as we all know, there's way more to us than what we do between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.). When it comes to small talk, try skipping careers and opting for discovering general interests instead.
Embrace the silence.
No one likes an awkward pause -- but most silent moments between topics aren't as long as you think they are. In fact, a little quiet can be a good thing. According Bernardo J. Carducci, Ph.D., director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast, sometimes pauses are needed in order to continue a conversation. "Remember that if you say something, the other person may need to process it," he told Real Simple. "Think of silence as a transition."
Keep it positive.
Research shows that stress is a contagious emotion, meaning your words carry a lot of power. As a result, it might be wise to keep your small talk focused on the bright side. Whether it's offering a meaningful compliment, asking someone about their day or even making someone laugh, you'll be starting a deeper conversation that won't leave you both feeling worse than when you started.
Look at your conversation as a learning experience.
There are more than seven billion people in the world, all with different thoughts, ideas and feelings. Ask someone about a topic they're familiar with that you know nothing about. Every time you meet someone new -- or even speak with someone you know -- it's an opportunity to learn something. And as Whitbourne states, approaching conversations with this mindset will benefit you more than you may realize. "People from other places, including countries other than your own, can give you new perspectives," she wrote. "They will only open up if you show that you're interested. You can expand your knowledge of other regions, cultures and nations, ultimately making you a more interesting conversationalist as well."
This GPS Guide is part of a series of posts designed to bring you back to balance when you're feeling off course.
GPS Guides are our way of showing you what has relieved others' stress in the hopes that you will be able to identify solutions that work for you. We all have de-stressing "secret weapons" that we pull out in times of tension or anxiety, whether they be photos that relax us or make us smile, songs that bring us back to our heart, quotes or poems that create a feeling of harmony or meditative exercises that help us find a sense of silence and calm. We encourage you to visit our other GPS Guides here, and share with us your own personal tips for finding peace, balance and tranquility.