Study shows chit-chat boosts mental ability (& hints how to boost your small-talk)


Have you ever gone through a conversation on autopilot or avoided one while analyzing how best to start?

Well, a study from the University of Michigan shows small talk  can make it easier to solve common problems. But what’s really interesting is the findings suggest a solution to another common problem people have – how to be better at small-talk.

The study, which you can read about here,  showed having brief conversations helped participants perform better on “common cognitive tasks,” like tests for example.

“We believe that performance boosts come about because some social interactions induce people to try to read others’ minds and take their perspectives on things,” said Oscar Ybarra, a psychologist at the University of Michigan.

Well, besides doing better on tests by talking more (and our teachers always told us to be quiet during tests *frown*), I think this shows another important point.

Small talk and conversation take work. Stick with me…I have a point here.

We Suck at Small-Talk Because We Aren’t Engaged

Conversations are unpredictable and fluid, so you need to use what’s said and done in the moment to successfully move things forward. It’s no wonder this boosts brain power; it requires people to actively use their brain on the spot.

What I take from Ybarra’s statement above is you need to stay alert and be aware during conversations. You have to be present and observant then act on what you notice. This will allow you to use good conversation techniques like parroting AND stop you feeling like you’re missing out on life because you’re more present.

These things don’t just happen on their own. You have to choose to do them; that’s where the work comes in.

Now think:

  • How many social interactions do you go through stuck in your own head?
  • How well do you do at keeping eye contact with people you’re talking to?
  • When was the last time you adjusted an interaction based on the other person’s body language?

How to Get More Engaged for Better Small-Talk

This is important because so many of us who want to be better socially and in conversations think one day, we’ll magically get better. We hope this time the right words will come and we’ll get into that conversational flow.

We hope we’ll some day be able to start conversations, keep them going and know how to end a conversation positively.

In reality, you need to do something different than what you’ve always done to get different (and better) results.

This study hints at two great ways to engage your brain and start having better interactions.

  1. “Read other people’s minds” – So this obviously isn’t literal, but as social creatures we do have a pseudo sixth sense about each other. Look at the other person’s body language. Do they seem closed off or engaged. What’s their tone of voice like? What do you feel this tells you about them right now?
  2. “Take their perspective on things” – The more you’re perceptive of things like body language, the better feel you get for what it’s telling you. Use this and anything else you can observe to put yourself in their shoes. Then you can continue the conversation with this new deeper perspective.

Personally, the more I’ve used my brain to observe and actively get involved in conversations, the better I’ve done.

Take action

Next time you’re in a situation where you can be social, decide to be super-observant of what’s going on during the interaction. Oh, and be sure to talk to people before any tests you might have coming up ;0)

What do you think?

Have you noticed improvement in your conversations when you’ve actively focused on the other person? Comment below.

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