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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

The Literal Brain-Boosting Reason to Let Yourself Get Distracted by Small Talk Today

I’m not one for small talk, especially when I’m working. Sure, I constantly Slack my co-workers for help and take coffee breaks, but when I’m in the zone, participating in office banter is distracting and seemingly pointless. So, I usually tune it out until I’m free of responsibilities to chat.

But after reading a recent article in PsyBlog about the scientific benefits of socializing, I started to question my methods. According to research, “10 minutes getting to know someone was equivalent to that from solving crossword puzzles.”

Surprised? So was I. I couldn’t believe that one casual interaction was that powerful. And the study isn’t talking about the kinds of conversations that challenge you—say, competing with a co-worker or arguing. It’s the friendly ones that provoke what they call executive functioning: “The ability we all use in everyday life to ignore distractions, remember important things, make decisions, and monitor ourselves.”

The reason this works is because when we carry out everyday conversation, “social interactions induce people to try to read others’ minds and take their perspectives on things.” And this sort of mental practice is pretty useful for other tasks—like solving a complicated problem or overcoming an obstacle in a project.

Let’s just say I’m a lot more convinced to take my eyes away from my computer for a few minutes to talk to my colleagues. But I also think we have to consider the other benefits of small talk that science doesn’t cover—developing stronger relationships with people you see regularly, encouraging collaboration, and ensuring you’re not just staring at a computer all day. And it takes us away from the stresses we face daily and gives us some breathing room to vent, laugh, or smile (maybe for the first time that day). And those things are just as important.

The next time someone approaches your desk to ask about your weekend, or you run into a chatty co-worker in the kitchen, consider going with it rather than excusing yourself and throwing on those headphones. That person might have just made your day (and your brain) more productive.

Photo of three people small talking courtesy of Robert Daly/Getty Images.

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