We should appreciate ‘small talk’ more, it isn’t just nothing

A lot of people hate ‘small talk’.

I get it.

Meeting a new person and starting a conversation can be hard sometimes. You normally know very little about them, which means you can’t help but start with vague questions.

Once you’ve got past the ‘What’s your name?’, ‘What do you do?’, ‘Where did you come from?’, where do you do next?

You can ask about what roads people take. That’s one of my dad’s favourites.*

Or talk about the weather. That’s one of my favourites.

I used to be an expert in this years ago, when I did a milk round. I used to be the master of waffling about the weather in very short, 30 second snippets as I collected money from folks on their door steps.

And I enjoyed it.

It was basically the same conversation with most people – “Ooo, those clouds are looking grim, better not leave the washing out.”

“What do you think of those clouds? You gonna brave the garden today?”

But there was something more to it than just the words we were saying. (I’m gonna get a bit pretentious now). It was a way of connecting, in a we-live-in-an-English-village sort of way.

It was a way of acknowledging that we’re all humans and have to put up with things that are waaaay out of our control.

It’s like saying in a non-religious way:

“The gods are angry with us, we don’t know why. Hope you’re OK. How are you managing?”

Sort of.

Yeah, I am being a little silly.

But I do believe that there is more to small talk than the literal words you say. You’re spending more time talking to another human being. You’re making a bold attempt at trying to connect with them, whether it’s to become friends, partners, to sell something, or even to just pass the time.

And why is that a bad thing? In fact, it’s often the start of something.

For my job as a copywriter and compere, I have to be good at small talk. It lets you build a bond with someone. Small talk is that essential first step to taking the conversation to more interesting places.

For example, at a gig I’m the guy who’s there to ‘introduce the acts’ and ‘warm up the audience’. That basically involves chatting to a few folks in the crowd and building a bond with them.

Now, we could go bang straight in with the acts, but it would feel a little…flat.

Something would be missing.

Imagine it in a business context. It would be like walking up to someone and saying:

“BUY MY STUFF NOW, PROSPECT! I KNOW YOU WANT IT, SO LET’S JUST GET THIS OVER AND DONE WITH. HAND ME THE DOLLAR AND CARRY ON WITH YOUR DRAB LIFE.”

What I’m trying to say is that I feel like people are often a little obsessed with ‘big talk’.**

I feel like people are a little impatient with getting straight to the big questions. You don’t start a conversation – in person or online – by asking how they voted in the referendum. Or asking what they think of Cartesian dualism. Or what they think of your super ace product/service.

You can, but people won’t feel comfortable talking to you.

Just try and give yourself some time and space for a little small talk too.

It’s worthwhile.

It’s not a waste of your time.

Why would trying to connect another human being be a waste of time?

Anyway, there are just some half-baked thoughts for you there.

Let me know what you think.

Do you have a very strong opinions on small talk?

Do you do dive into bushes to avoid it? Do you skip the names and go straight for the pitch? Do you feel queasy whenever someone asks what your favourite football team is?

Or do you love small talk? Do you love nattering about f-all with people on the bus? Did you once have a bit of banter with the miserable security guys outside the stadium when going to see Madness with your husband and eldest son?***

If so, maybe you should talk about it.

Talk soon,

Lewis

*I only just started driving this year, so when I first drove home to my parents I was oddly looking forward to having ‘the roads’ conversation with my dad. (Y’know, because we’re men and we can’t discuss emotions or whatever).

Even though I looked at the route beforehand (about 2 hour drive), I used the sat nav because my brain doesn’t care enough to remember these things.

The sat nav stopped working as I came out of a services, so I guessed the route. It turned out it was the scenic route. Eventually the satnav started working again and I was definitely heading a direction that would take me to my parents house.

“Oh, boy!” I thought “Got so many roads to talk about now!”

When I finally got there I had completely forgotten the name of any roads. It appears I’m not good at every kind of small talk.

**I’m sorry, but can’t help being reminded of Mitchell & Webb’s ‘Big Talk’ sketches.

*** My mum, the master of small talk. She currently is unavailable for ‘small talk consulting and training’.

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