This weekend’s East Coast blizzard got everyone talking snow — and that makes sense, because I can probably count on my fingers the good snow storms we’ve had in NYC since we moved here almost seven years ago.
But John and I have noticed that if it’s colder than, say, 68 degrees, people complain about how cold it is, and if it’s warmer than 75, they complain about the heat. They complain if it’s rainy, or windy, or cloudy, or humid, pretty much anything but 72 degrees and sunny.
Some of that is no doubt because modern heating and cooling have gotten us used to having our environments temperature regulated to our comfort.
But I think some of it also comes from searching for an easy, universal conversation topic. There’s a good chance the person you’re talking to walked through the same snowstorm you did, so you know you’ll have common ground if you make small talk about it.
We can do better.
How about trying to connect in a more meaningful way? For example, maybe get people chatting about what they enjoy doing:
1. Did you do anything fun this weekend/ do you have any fun plans for the weekend?
2. Do you have any trips planned this winter?
3. I’m looking for a good restaurant/ movie/ book/ band. Do you have any recommendations on a favorite I should try?
4. I need to get some more exercise. Do you do anything around here that you enjoy?
5. Have you been to the new park (or any recreation nearby)?
Or maybe ask about family:
6. Where are you from? OR How long have you lived here/ Did you grow up here?
7. Do you have children? How old are they? (Note, I don’t have kids and often find people don’t know where to go with it when a woman in her 40s says no. Don’t assume the answer will always be yes.)
Or ask about work — and it doesn’t just have to be the generic “what do you do?”
8. Are you working on any interesting projects?
9. Are you working on anything especially challenging?
10. What’s changed the most about what you do since you got started in your line of work?
Obviously some of these are more appropriate at work, or with people you know a little bit, than with strangers in line at the Post Office. But you can read the situation and figure out whether asking a question about the neighborhood feels right or, if you’re at your kid’s school, maybe talking about children is the most logical shared experience.
And if you still feel compelled to talk about the weather, how about saying something positive? How sunny it is? How fun it was for the little ones to go sledding? How clean everything smells after the rain?
More thoughts on starting more meaningful conversations:
- Skip the Small Talk: Meaningful Conversations Linked to Happier People
- How Can I Turn Small Talk Into a Conversation?
- Get beyond small talk: 4 ways to have meaningful conversations
- Use the FORD Technique to Make Small Talk Easier
Keith Ferrazzi gives some pointers on making connections at holiday parties — but there are good tidbits for the rest of the year, too: