Small Talk: Love it or Hate it?Feb 01, 2022
Small Talk: a polite conversation about unimportant and inconsequential matters.
I have mixed feelings about Small Talk (“ST”). On one hand, I dislike it. I prefer to speak about deep or meaningful things and to ask questions that will help me get to know the other person better. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, at times I feel that I have a license to ask people these questions even during a casual conversation. Sometimes, I can’t help myself- I’m sincerely interested in people’s real lives! I enjoy hearing about couples first fights (again, even in casual conversations), about big surprises they learned about their spouses, about their emotional triggers, and about awkward dating experiences. I’ve never been a fan of Small Talk.
To me, it feels like a first date, and really – is anyone a fan of those?
Small talk can be challenging. Because of the pressure to come up with interesting information to share, Small Talk creates anxiety. How many of us have faked being on a cell phone to avoid the small talk?
People may feel judged by their Small Talk – is it exciting enough? Often Social Anxiety is more precisely the fear of ST.
The worst is when you feel trapped in a Small Talk conversation with no easy way out. Recently, I witnessed a ST conversation going on for way too long because neither party had an exit plan in place! LOL - It was actually really funny to watch them go on and on, round and around! (Note to all: Practice how to end a ST conversation).
On the other hand, as I consider the value of Small Talk, I’m rethinking my approach to it. I’m realizing that perhaps there’s what to like about it.
Once I was talking (not within a therapy context) to an engaged girl from a very large family who is engaged to a boy from a smaller family. I asked her – straight out - how many children they want to have (obviously understanding that no one can plan exactly!). Thinking of this question as totally normal, I was surprised when she looked at me like I had two heads.
I realized, maybe I should learn the skill of sticking to Small Talk.
I decided to take a closer look at the skill of ST. I thought I would find more reasons why Small Talk is a waste of time and that if only people would engage in “Big Talk” more often, the world would be a happier place.
So, I was really surprised to learn of the serious benefits to these seemingly meaningless conversations! Research has shown that people who engage in Small Talk tend to be happier people. (There was a study done with 2 groups, people who were told to engage in Small Talk on the bus on the way to work, and people who were directed not to. Small Talkers won for feeling happier throughout the day!)
Some more benefits to ST: (a) it helps to pass the time during awkward moments. Think about it, waiting on a long line next to someone you kinda know but haven’t seen in ages, ST is perfect! And, yup, asking them how many children they would like to have, is a bit socially inappropriate-ish. Of course – ignoring that old friend – would be rude and also socially inappropriate-ish. So, Small Talk makes certain social situations, like this one, smoother. (b) It gives us opportunities to brighten someone else’s day. (c) Small Talk can act as an icebreaker to allow us to determine who we share common interests or values with. And then we can decide whether to take it a step further to have more meaningful conversations which may grow into a deeper friendship.
And there’s more! (d) Small Talk itself can help create genuine connections. Because, realize, it’s not only about the content of a conversation. Rather, it’s about the connection we feel with the other person. It’s about the subtext. It’s about the time we invest in speaking to others. And when we connect to others, we feel good. Connection is a basic human need which we need to learn more about in future newsletters. (I know I say that a lot. Remind me if I forget!)
So, yes, Small Talk is not only there to get to the Big Talk. It has value in itself.
Here are some tips to help ourselves and our children develop - some Small Talk “chill” (as my kids would say -- I hope I got that phrasing right):
- Be curious! Having a curious and open mind and genuine interest about people in general.
- Divulge minimal personal information, just enough to keep the conversation authentic, but not too much.
- Ask open ended questions.
- Avoid answering questions with one-word answers like just yes or no.
- Get the non-verbal cues down pat. Show your interest. It’s super obvious when you don’t want to be there.
- Don’t overthink. This is my personal favorite! This technique is sometimes called “blurting” and is the opposite of overthinking. When you are trying to think of something to say, go for the first thing that comes to mind. Hence, the “how many kids” question.
- Don’t talk about vaccines! 🤣
And most importantly – when appropriate, learn how to deepen the conversations into Big Talk - to more real conversations about opinions, vulnerable parts of yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, your fears, your life goals, your relationships…whenever the moment is right and you are ready. Deepening the conversations, will further deepen the connection.
So, the next time you want to turn the corner to avoid bumping into an old friend-ly, or you pretend you're on the phone in the supermarket… remember!
Small Talk is not a waste of time.
Wishing you great week!,
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