I’ve always had a pet peeve when it comes to talking about the weather. But I never put much thought into why. Countless times I’ve found myself in an elevator, or waiting for a conference call, or standing in line unsure about what to say. So, what best to discuss?
I hope this storm doesn’t bring too much snow!
Did you guys get as much rain there as we did here?
How about that ice?
Every time I start discussing the weather, I get a tightness in my chest. Something inside of me knows that there must be better things to talk about than snow squalls and fog.
And then it hit me. I think the reason we discuss the weather so often is because we think it’s the only thing we have in common.
It’s very rare for us to know anything about our co-workers or neighbors, so we can’t ask things like “How did your wife’s surgery go?” or “Did your son get into Yale?”
We’re so disconnected from each other that the only thing left to discuss is the lowest common denominator, which usually involves something about sleet, rain, or hail. Plus, we very rarely talk about the weather when it’s actually nice outside. Instead of focusing on the positive, we choose to commiserate over the negative.
To make matters worse, weather stations have become just as bad at fear mongering as their news reporter counterparts. They make every storm sound like an impending apocalypse, where only the strong will survive. In fact, I think our weather broadcasters are crying wolf so often that when a real storm comes, many of us aren’t adequately prepared.
What does talking about the weather have to do with your personal well-being (which is what I usually blog about)? One factor that scientists have consistently shown is crucial to human health is social connection. We are inherently social beings, mostly because our ancestors needed to work together in order to survive. When we lack a sense of connection, we suffer both mentally and physically.
Let me ask you a question.
When was the last time you had a really meaningful conversation with someone? @BethanyButzer
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I mean a true heart-to-heart that left you feeling connected to the other person. The topic doesn’t matter – you might have been discussing philosophy, work, or love. The conversation might have saddened you, angered you, or made you excited. What matters is that the conversation not only made you feel alive – it also gave you a sense of social cohesion and meaning.
Most of the time, talking about the weather does not make us feel connected to each other (unless you’re a meteorologist who is very passionate about your work!). Instead, we use the weather as a crutch because we are unable (or unwilling) to truly connect with others. And I’m just as much to blame for this as anyone else. I tend to go about my workdays with my head down, plowing through my tasks, to the point that I get irritated when someone tries to make conversation with me. I know very little about my neighbors – even though I live in a small apartment building where I share walls with at least two other people. In fact, I don’t even know the name of the man who lives directly across from me!
I’m not suggesting that we walk around pouring our hearts out to perfect strangers – in some workplaces this type of connection probably isn’t even appropriate. However, I think we can all make a bit more of an effort to connect with the people we see on a regular basis.
One of the interesting things about maintaining a website where I reveal many of my biggest flaws (and other dirty laundry) is that I often walk into professional situations where people have googled me and already know all about, not only my professional history and accomplishments, but also my struggles with things like anxiety, depression, and antidepressants. Sometimes I’ve thought about toning down my blog so that I don’t reveal so much – but then I wouldn’t be practicing what I preach. One of my goals is to serve as an example of a life in which I can be completely authentic – both at home and at work. And, for the most part, I’ve found that my co-workers find this authenticity refreshing. I’m not pretending to be a perfect employee. I am who I am and that’s that.
So here’s my challenge to you. The next time you feel an urge to start talking about the weather, see if you can find something (anything!) a little more meaningful to discuss instead. Bonus points if your chosen topic makes you a little vulnerable (thus helping you develop a closer connection to the other person).
I’d love to hear about your experience with this challenge – post your comments below!
Personally, I’m going to do my best not to say the word “snow” again until next winter. How about you?
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.
If you’d like tips on how to create a life you love, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.
*Photo courtesy of Corey Templeton.