What’s The Big Deal About Small Talk?

by Kevin Burton

   What is your stance on small talk? I’m not into it.

   “I’m just making conversation.” Ever hear that one? I say real conversation makes itself.

   Necessity causes words to come out of my mouth. Information must be shared, I share it, so that action will be taken.

   “We need a right turn here,” “Dinner is ready” and “We’re out of dryer sheets” are examples.

   Merriam-Webster defines small talk as “light or casual conversation: chitchat.”

   If I can avoid chitchat, I will. 

   Chitchat as a word is an example of reduplication, by which a word is repeated, often changing a vowel in the second word.  Some examples are “bric-a-brac, clippity-cloppity, criss-cross, dilly-dally, ding-dong fiddle-faddle, flim-flam, knick-knack mishmash, ping-pong, pitter-patter, riff-raff, seesaw, shilly-shally, sing-song, tick-tock wishy-washy.”

   Most of these words bring to mind something flighty or frivolous, something less than serious.

   Small talkers, is that the point, to avoid while one can, the deadly serious conversations?

   I just thought to look up “pleasantries.” A pleasantry according to Merriam-Webster is a humorous act or remarkJEST, an agreeable playfulness in conversationBANTER, a polite social remark.”

   That has a little different shading. If there is humor involved, it elevates small talk to at least some level of social commentary.

   Reader, you and I are friends. I don’t really want to have the small talk debate with you. So, I’ve arranged for some input from people who make a big deal about small talk.

   “When you really think about it, small talk is horrifying. Why do we ever engage in it?” asks Candice Jalili, writing for Elite Daily. “Small talk always happens in some sort of God-awful, unforeseen situation where you’re stuck with someone you don’t know very well and have to communicate for an indefinite period of time.”

   “Think about all of the social situations that involve small talk: on the subway with that co-worker you barely know; at a dinner party with your boyfriend’s parents’ friends; on the elevator with someone who’s about to interview you,” Jalili writes.  

   “And this is why any real person can’t enjoy it. A real person with deep and genuine interests can never enjoy a conversation that involves feigning an interest in how this virtual stranger’s morning is going.”

:Small talk helps people warm up to each other. Since you can’t go straight to ‘deep talk,’ all relationships start with small talk,” counters Natalie Watkins, writing for Social Self. “You’ll enjoy it more by learning how to transition to meaningful topics quicker.”

   “It makes sense to not like doing something we 1) can’t see the purpose of and 2) don’t feel good at,” Watkins concedes.  But she adds, “Making small talk can feel meaningless, but that doesn’t mean that it is. Small talk is a way of testing each other out and finding out whether you want to talk to this person more.”

   “Small talk isn’t actually about the topic you’re discussing. Instead, it’s about the subtext,” Watkins writes.

   “Feeling that you have to do something you don’t enjoy just to be polite can be uncomfortable,” Watkins writes. But she adds, “Not making small talk when it’s expected can come across as a personal snub. The alternative to being polite is, unfortunately, being rude. This makes other people feel uncomfortable and even upset.”

   “One of the reasons many of us hate small talk is that the topics themselves feel meaningless. Try to approach small talk conversations as an opportunity to learn more about the person you’re talking to, rather than trying to find something meaningful in the topic.”

   Some of Watkins’ suggestions about making small talk flow are close to interview techniques I have used. 

   “Having a few ‘go-to’ questions ready can help to take the edge off your worry that the conversation will falter,” Watkins writes, adding these should be open questions.

    “Open questions are ones that have an unlimited range of answers. A closed question might be ‘Are you a cat person or a dog person?’ An open version of the same question might be “What’s your favorite kind of pet?”

   “Unless you’re in sales, conversations aren’t supposed to feel like work,” Jalili writes. “No, we have conversations for pleasure. But these particular social exchanges really do feel like a job.”

   “Small talk is awkward. Anything as unnatural as small talk is always going to be awkward. And for people who can’t control what they say, small talk ends up being very awkward,” Jalili writes.

   Maybe this whole small talk debate is about which side of the bed you woke up on? 

   Also, is there a case to be made that a blog, such as this here blog, is nothing but small talk?

  Oops.

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