May 29, 2013

On Conversation: Small Talk

Small talk: Bane or Blessing of conversation
For a long time, I used to rail against any conversation about the weather. The weather? I would protest. Who cares if it is raining, snowing, lovely outside or anything else. It could be a blizzard of gold flakes, raining tulip petals and I would still prefer to discuss philosophy. In short, for a long time, I was bad at small talk and sough, much to many disagreements, to cut it out of all conversations.

Small talk is necessary. As an introvert, I don't find it particularly stimulating or engaging. A conversation that last for more than three minutes and never moves past general questions about the upcoming weekend or, yes, the dreaded weather, are marked off as a waste of time. However, small talk is necessary in any but the most important conversation.

First, it is familiar. Everyone has talked about their plans for the long weekend, usually at least once already that day. Everyone knows what is going on outside the window, hopefully. It is non threatening, non disruptive and mostly automatic. A good entry into a conversation.

Plus, it establishes both people as part of the conversation and makes them feel heard. I'm not an extrovert, but my more extroverted friends tell me that this is important in any exchange. They want to have easy, light conversation to establish trust and camaraderie before diving into the deeper subjects.

For that reason, small talk is a good way to gauge how the other person feels about a conversation. The basic interactions have so many possible variations to signal everything from "Leave me alone" to "Lets start a three hour conversations." Granted, it would be nice if some people were a little more observant of my social cues that I am busy.

Finally, small talk is endlessly adaptable. If you are tired of the same old response, all it takes is a touch of creativity to liven up the usual remarks about the weather, your weekend, and your life. When you gain control over a conversation like that, it is easy to segue into more interesting topics, by a pointed remark, or to end the conversation more effectively. Actually, it can be quite fun to think of such comments.

I'm still not a fan of small talk, but it is easier to put up with when you think about why people insist on it so.

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