- Awkward small talk is now being banned at parties around the world.
- Instead, hosts are providing guests with prompts for “meaningful” discussion topics.
- Some research suggests that people who have more substantive conversations are happier.
We’d just left a crowded birthday party when a friend told me he admired the way I made small talk.
It’s painful for him, he said, to do the idle chit-chat thing with every new and old acquaintance he meets.
Well, thanks, I wanted to respond. I’ve been watching the Weather Channel all week?
I should have been more sympathetic to his plight. The prospect of making small talk is paralyzing for many people – which is why parties outright banning it are sprouting up across the globe.
The inspiration in many cases appears to be a 2016 article in Wired, in which behavioural scientists Kristen Berman and Dan Ariely write about a dinner party they hosted in this vein. The hosts provided guests with index cards featuring examples of meaningful conversation starters, like suicide prevention and dominatrixes.
According to the authors, “everyone was happier” without the obligation of talking about such trivial topics as the weather or the latest sports game. (The party apparently led to two dates as well.)
A recent article in the Hong Kong Free Press profiles Carolina Gawroński, founder of No Small Talk dinners. No Small Talk launched in Hong Kong in March, and is spreading to cities around the world.
At No Small Talk dinners, the only rules are no phones and no small talk, which includes the questions, “What do you do?” “Where are you from?” and “How long have you been in Hong Kong?” Guests at this party also receive cards with meaningful-conversation prompts. (The website suggests: “Who is your favourite parent?”)
Meanwhile, other hosts are organising dinner parties modelled after Thomas Jefferson’s, in which one of the main rules is – you guessed it – no small talk. One such host asks guests to write down potential conversation topics, then puts them in a bowl and passes them around to get things started.
To avoid making small talk, assume the other person has deep thoughts too
Small-talk-free party organisers often cite a 2010 study as evidence that their method is preferable. The (small) study, published in the journal Psychological Science, found that college students who held more meaningful conversations were happier than those who engaged in more small talk.
To be sure, it would take considerable energy – and gumption – to eliminate small talk from daily life. (“How are you doing?” “Oh, I’m fine. Do you believe in heaven and hell?”)
But if you’re looking to cut through the chit-chat and get to the real stuff, we do have some tips. Namely, assume the other person has deep thoughts and that they too want to avoid discussing the weather.
And if you do wind up in a situation where small talk is unavoidable, the best thing you can do is stop worrying about yourself and focus on how the other person is feeling instead.
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