Small talk. It’s what gets you through the work lunches, the holiday parties, the family gatherings, or standing in line at the store. 

How is it going? Where are you working? How was the drive? What do you think of this weather we have been having? 

These are all questions that grace our lips in conversations we have with people year after year. How does small talk affect your mind and habits? Do you love having the same conversations time and time again? If you get lucky, maybe there will be a joke or two mingled among talk of weather and work. 

Many of the conversations we have are based on small talk, but Jay Shetty believes that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Small Talk Limits Relationships

“Small talk limits you from deep, meaningful relationships, not just with others, but with yourself as well,” explains Jay Shetty. “When we keep saying the same thing that we already know – maybe it's even rehearsed, maybe it's kind of part of the marketing of our company, whatever it is – when you keep saying the same thing, you don't learn anything new. When someone's asking a question you've heard before, your mind realizes you have heard the questions before, and it finds the answer and repeats it. You don't create, you don't explore. You don't experiment. You don't flow. It limits you from getting to know others, as well as yourself.”

The answers you give to small talk questions are limited as well. The typical responses tend to be “good” or “bad”, “okay” or “fine”, and “Hmmm.” When you restrict your emotional reactions, you also restrict emotional exploration and emotional intelligence. You stop learning and stop listening.

A study by Matthias Mehl1 that included over 20 thousand people recorded that the happiest people's conversations had twice as many genuine and deep talks than unhappy people. Small talk does not help build meaningful relationships. The more genuine, authentic, vulnerable, empathetic discussions we have, the deeper our relationships go. 

Your conversations can elevate you to deepen your knowledge about each other, increase your understanding, and allow you to have more fun.

Jay Shetty shares a 75-year-old Harvard study2 that shows human relationships are the key to happiness in life. The funny thing is, sometimes we spend so much time with people, yet still know very little about them. 

How much do you know about the people you spend the most time with?

In this article, Jay Shetty unpacks nine questions based on behavioral science that will help you create more vulnerable, meaningful conversations with others. This isn't just about asking cooler questions. It is about getting to know people better, getting to know yourself better, and being fascinated and learning more.

What was the last lie you told, and would you do it again?

Jay Shetty explains that we all tell lies. 

“I think the truth is people tell seven to 10 lies in every conversation,” he says. “It could be small lies or big lies. Most of us tell small white lies.”

Answering this question allows the other person to be vulnerable about something small. 

If your younger self met you today, what would make them happy and sad?

This is Jay Shetty’s favorite question, and it is one that you should ask yourself. 

For Shetty, the answer is that he always tries to pursue his dreams and serve others. He believes that his younger self would encourage him to go back and make the most of his spiritual opportunities. 

I've been given so much spiritual opportunity, and I don't think I made the most of it,” Jay Shetty explains. “I think I could have done more. I could be pure. I could be cleansed. I think I could be healed and be of more service. I think I could be doing so much more based on the love and kindness I've received spiritually.”

This question helps people reflect on their strengths and weaknesses and sparks beautiful conversations.

What situations make you feel awkward, and why?

The third question may seem awkward in itself. You may wonder why you would ask about awkward situations. It gets them thinking and can lead to interesting conversations. 

Jay Shetty admits he feels awkward when someone asks for something in a roundabout way. When they want something specific but are not telling you in a specific way what they want, this puts you in a situation where you have to try and guess what they want.

What did you recently buy that you now regret?

We have all made those impulsive purchases we later regret. For Jay Shetty, it was a watch. He fell into every sales trap that he preaches to avoid. The sales price, the beauty, and the limited-edition hype sucked him into buying it. Upon trying to return it, he discovered the deadline to return it was long gone. He was stuck with it. 

Buying stuff you regret later is not uncommon. This question is something that most people will have a story for. It is an excellent opportunity to laugh about a silly purchase or the account that goes with it. Personality shines through, allowing their playful side to emerge. This enables you to form a connection with them.

Have you ever been to jail?

This might feel like a personal question to ask, but it opens the door for some crazy stories. You may find the best story comes from the most unexpected person. Maybe they did something crazy as a young person or had a wild night in Vegas. This question is one to break the ice and get conversations started!

What do you feel makes a person the most attractive?

This question does not just pertain to physical attributes. It can be physical, spiritual, emotional, mental, or material. This question gives you insight into what the other person values.

“If they say the thing that makes the person most attractive is their smile, that is a physical attribute,” explains Jay Shetty. “If someone says it's how they take care of the kids, or how they take care of their family or partner, look at the value. Don't look at the thing. Don't get lost in the answer.”

What does Jay Shetty find most attractive? Humility. 

“I don't mean low self-esteem,” Jay Shetty explains. “I don't mean personal judgment. I don't mean lacking confidence. Humility is a sense of groundedness. Humility is a sense of not having to prove your worth to other people or to keep name dropping or whatever it may be. Someone who has that humility is most attractive.”

Complete the sentence. If you really knew me, you would know…

This question brings into focus what others think of you. Asking “If you knew me, you would know …” gives that person the green light to express something they think they know about you. This dialog opens the lines of communication leading to deeper conversation. You can compare what they say to your answer to this question and see how the answers line up. 

What do you fight about most in your romantic relationship?

Romantic spats are something every couple experiences. What is the thing you and your partner fight about the most? The answer from others may surprise you. 

For Jay Shetty, his wife tells him not to leave his shoes at the door when he comes in. He admits that he lives in a world of organized chaos and likes things in a specific place, so he knows where they are. His wife is a neat freak and likes things put away. 

How people answer this question shows what they are working on to improve.

What would you talk about the most in a one-hour therapy session?

This question allows you to get close to people. The answer may be complicated for some people. You should never force someone to answer any questions. When you force a reply, you are going to get a fake answer. The answer has to come naturally from that person. 

Jay Shetty would like to revisit his childhood in his one-hour session. 

“I think that's very important that we revisit and re-evaluate the patterns, beliefs, and systems we adopted in our childhood because they're affecting us so much in our adulthood.”

Before you use these questions in conversations with others, ask them of yourself first. Don’t try to think of the best answers. Give genuine, honest answers. When you do this, you know what it takes for others to answer in the same vulnerable space. The more you share, the more they learn. The more they share, the more you learn. 

More From Jay Shetty

Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode ON “Why Small Talk Should Be Banned” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at jayshetty.me.

1Stillman, J. (2017, June 30). Science says extremely happy people share this conversation style. Inc.com. https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/science-says-extremely-happy-people-all-share-this-conversation-style.html. 
2 Solan, M. (2017, October 5). The secret to happiness? Here's some advice from the longest-running study on happiness. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-secret-to-happiness-heres-some-advice-from-the-longest-running-study-on-happiness-2017100512543

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