We see small talk going on all the time. In cafes, by the bus stop, when getting to know new people, even during job interviews. Perhaps because of its basic nature, we tend to think negatively of small talk and view it as an annoying part of human speech. But the truth is, without small talk things would a lot more awkward. Our dealings with each other would be very stiff and it would generally seem as if no-one cared about the person next to them.
Let's consider situations where small talk is useful and can have very positive effects...
One of the greatest benefits of small talk is that it helps you connect with another person without seeming really weird. You wouldn't just go up to someone you don't know and start telling them your deepest, darkest secrets or life story. However, it is generally acceptable to start a conversation with a stranger and talk about the weather or something basic that you have in common at that present moment. Instead of just ignoring the person beside you because you technically do not know them, small talk gives us the ability to start talking to anyone.
The brilliant thing about small talk is that you do not need to worry about getting judged. What you are about to say has likely been said a million times before. The other person even expects it. You are probably not going to get strange glares from this total stranger, because they don't think you are being a creep, they just think you're friendly.
Small talk is particularly wonderful when you first introduce yourself to someone or someone introduces themselves to you. Generally, we don't say our name and walk away; we expect some kind of conversation to occur to lay the groundwork for future friendship or whatever. Small talk is a great way to put both yourself and the other person at ease because it basically provides a kind of template you can follow to be polite and show interest in the other person.
Sample Conversation based on small talk:
Person 1: "Hi, I'm ___."
Person 2: "Hey, I'm ___ , nice to meet you."
Person 1: "Nice to meet you too."
"So how are you finding ___ (insert something you both obviously have in common)?".
"So how do you know ___ (insert the name of a mutual friend)?".
* Person 2 then replies politely and positively, thanks the other person for asking, and asks the other person the same question. *
See? The template is pretty predictable. Many times when we meet someone for the first time, the conversation pattern is quite similar to the one shown above. Small talk helps to put both people at ease because they don't have to stand there for ages thinking of how to reach out to the other person, or at least not in the first 30 seconds ; ). Small talk sets you in the right direction, and if both people are open and conversational, everything continues smoothly.
Another reason why the world would be so awkward without small talk is that it provides a nice transitiion to get onto deeper subjects. When you have a business appointment or job interview, you probably engage in small talk with the other person before getting down to the nitty gritty. Without that, you would literally: walk in, talk about numbers, strategy, and your credentials, then walk out. How awkward. You would never get a chance to really connect with the person in front of you, learn how their vacation was, or that they have a pet dog called Barker.
Small talk gives our day to day activities that special human touch. Even though we might be busily moving from task to task, we don't neglect smiling or having a brief conversation with the person on the elevator, because we know how important it is. Small talk is a light form of conversation that helps you acknowledge the other person in general terms before you move onto meatier subjects. Without a 'Hi, how are you?' all of our conversations would seem sudden and dramatic.
Another great thing about small talk? Small talk can make things more interesting, brighten up the time you spend waiting in line, or even bring a smile on someone's face. For some people, the few minutes of small talk they engage in each day are their only form of communication with the outside world.
If you live alone or are in a boring environment most of the time, small talk might be just what you need to feel connected to the rest of the world again. Even talking to a stranger about what might seem trivial might bring something new to your day. This might be an elderly person on their weekly visit to the doctor's or a single person getting their groceries.
Do you know anyone who often and easily engages in small talk? People like that often come across as extroverted and friendly, but maybe they just love the opportunity to get out, see a new face, start a conversation, and find a listening ear.
Never underestimate small talk. It can be very powerful.
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