Is small talk just superficial and boring? Or is it a vital part of human interaction? You’re up first, @littlescribe!
SMALL TALK: polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions.
Operative words being “polite” “unimportant” “uncontroversial” and “social.” In other words: Yawn.
Because of the unimportant nature of small talk, by default it can seem like a complete waste of time. And if you’re an introvert, the meaninglessness is now compounded tenfold, since you are the type to choose your words carefully and share them only with people who really matter to you.
And now you’re being required to not only converse with someone who means little to nothing to you, but on a subject matter that also carries no intrinsic value?
WHAT. IS. THE. POINT?
And if the people engaging in said conversation are particularly dreary or hypocritical already, then the act of continuing in trivial conversation with them can easily and quickly become something akin to torture.
As my father puts it, “I’d rather have my teeth carved out with a spoon.”
Sometimes, small talk is often nothing more than a useless space filler at best. Like that awkward exchange that occurs between two strangers on an elevator as they wait for the next floor to arrive.
The question is, do you fill it with small talk, or do you just stand still, staring forward, until the elevator doors pull open.
“Ahem….you on 5?”
“Oh, 6 huh?...I’m on 5. So….”
(You nod slightly and stare forward while the elevator moves slowly upward then jolts lightly to a stop…)
“...Welp…This is it for me.”
(You give a slight twitch in the other person’s general direction)
“OK. Have a good one.”
I for one opt for the quiet elevator. Unless you’re on a skyscraper, I hardly see the point.
But small talk, we must. And like it or not, there is an express purpose for it.
With exception of the space filler that is simply a way to deflect nervous energy, small talk is one of the simplest and quickest ways humans use to assess another person’s intelligence, self-respect, education level, grasp of language, ability to understand abstract concepts, use of humor, appreciation for ways unlike their own, and overall similarities on which to build a common ground so that we can make some kind of connection.
Whether that connection is purely whimsical and fleeting, or whether it has a completely self-serving agenda behind it, connection is the key. We are social creatures. Small talk, by and large, is a way of finding common ground so we can connect. We need common ground. We need to network for jobs, get a date, persuade the bank teller to waive the overdraft fee on our checking account, and motivate others to join our crazy crusades.
Whatever the purpose, there is a great deal of use for small talk. And when it comes to dating, this useful little tool can be the key to unlocking the lips of a girl who might otherwise have no good use for them but to yawn in your general direction.
If you have not mastered the art of small talk, you may be assessed negatively by your peers and prospects. Not only this, but you will miss out on many easy opportunities to snatch a coffee with Claire, or a movie with Maude.
Point is, if you’re in line for the next Google phone and you decide to strike up a conversation with the girl next to you, we know you are not really that interested in how she feels about the weather. But it’s snowing out. And it’s cold. And she could use a jacket. Do you go up and say, “Here, wear my jacket.”
No. Nope. You don’t do it.
Instead, you start with, “How ‘bout that weather?”
If you can learn to master the art of small talk and the body language (and humor) that come with it, you can learn to use it to your advantage. And this, my friends, is the key to the city.
Small talk? No thanks. How about some straight talk from @supergoodliving?
Superficial? Yes. Boring? Yes. Unlocking girl lips? Yes.
One of those things is not like the others. Can you guess why? Don’t hurt yourself thinking about it. I know that this game probably doesn’t qualify as “small talk” and it may not be what you’re looking for. So let me save you some time here.
Unless you’re just that annoying guy or girl that feels so uncomfortable being alone in their own thoughts, you don’t care for small talk. So why engage in it? What do we really get out of it if we don’t even want to do it? Talking just for talking’s sake? Talking just to make another unadjusted adult feel comfortable in a normal, totally not scary setting? Talking to a potential mate about trivial matters like weather, traffic, and the latest Bachelor show?
Stop the insanity!
There’s nothing really achievable from small talk. You’re not very likely to have any revolutionary ideas come from your witty-less banter during the bus ride home. You probably won’t find much personal enrichment from that dull chat in the elevator during the ride from the 82nd floor to the lobby. Are you out on a date? Ask some pertinent questions rather than talking about the dew point or the waning crescent moon.
“Hey, Shirley, what do you think about that new bus route from the mall to the stadium?”
“Oh, Jim! What a delight! Can you believe that they added that route?”
“No! I totally can’t believe that!”
“I know, right?? It like, took them FOR-EV-ER!”
“Yeah! Geez! Like, take forever, why dontcha!”
“Where do you think the next new route might go?”
“I don’t know, Shirley! But I’m sure it’ll be just as awesome as the route from the mall to the stadium! It’s so exciting to think about it!”
“O-M-G! I think we’re soul mates!”
“Well I don’t believe in a soul or fate, so we’re probably not.”
What a surprise. Shirley doesn’t want to have that conversation. She just wants more meaningless gabbing.
“Oh. Sorry, Shirley. I meant to ask you what you think of that new show, This is Us. It’s good, huh?”
And Jim has now sold his soul to the Devil, even though he doesn’t believe in either of those things. Why? Because he wants to get in Shirley’s pants. What other reason could there be for small talk? Why do we engage in mindless chatter with people we don’t know or care about? Honestly, there are really only two likely reasons. We either want something from them or we feel pressured into engaging. That’s pretty much it.
If you’re one of those people who does it because you like it, please seek professional help. You’re not normal.
Does this mean that we should only have deeply intellectual conversations with everyone? Not at all! This is what we would call a false dichotomy. There is another way.
Just shut up.
Don’t force me into some stupid chat about a dog you just pet on the sidewalk or the double rainbow you saw last week. I don’t care. Zip your lips. Ride that elevator. Eat your spaghetti and meatballs. Wait quietly in that line until the teller calls for you. If you’re not going to tell me that you just discovered the cure for cancer, I don’t want to hear your gums flapping.
And you have no right to try to make me look like the bad guy just because I don’t want to engage in your throwaway dialogue. You’re the bad person for trying to force your inanities on others. Own those faults. They belong to you and to you alone.
Alright, so maybe I’m being a little harsh. Maybe we can compromise. I think I might have a solution. If you feel the need for small talk and aren’t sure if anyone else wants to engage with you, try this.
Talk to yourself.
Instead of a forced dialogue with a stranger that might not want to talk, just start your own monologue and see if anyone chooses to join in. You get to choose the topic. You can change the topic if nobody engages. You can try out your monologue in front of a lot of different people. And if someone does engage, you’ll at least know that they wanted to talk to you. Isn’t that more rewarding?
Anyway, that about wraps up my thoughts on this. I’ll leave you with one final bit of advice for the guys out there.
Do the small talk thing with women and only with women. For some ungodly reason, this mostly makes them happy. They probably know that you’re never really listening to them drone on about their drive to work or the music station that plays in their office. So just grin and bear it and hope that it’ll pay some sensual dividends later.
Never bother with small talk when it comes to other guys. To the guys that want small talk I say, grow up! Stop being so needy around other men. Go get a girlfriend or a wife. Leave the rest of us alone.
Good luck out there!