Some people view small talk as a necessary evil, but I am not one of those people. In fact, I love nothing more than a meaningless chat with a stranger.
If you are not a chatty Kathy then you may be asking yourself what the purpose of small talk is – and we can answer that.
The very important purpose of small talk is that it’s the glue that helps hold society together. It’s how we connect with others, make friends, and build relationships. I have small-talked my way into families and life-long friendships with strangers I’ve met on a train or in line at a store.
But there are very specific guidelines for small talk that I, and you, should always adhere to.
Keep it light: Small talk is just that — small. Keep it light, brief and never trauma dump on a stranger while in line at Trader Joe’s. I still shudder when I think of the woman who, in great detail, told me about having a shalasian cyst cut from her eyelid.
Be aware of body language: If the person doesn’t want to engage, stop talking! Reading social cues is important here. If they refuse to make eye contact or physically turn away from you, abort!
What exactly constitutes small talk? We’re going to tell you below.
What Is The Purpose Of Small Talk?
The textbook definition of small talk is: “Polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions.”
This can include topics such as the weather, traffic, and other informal topics. It’s basically pleasantries exchanged in social situations with people you’ve just met or don’t know very well.
The saying “shooting the breeze” is perfect for small talk, as it implies light conversation with not much importance.
The Benefits Of Small Talk
That’s not to say that schmoozing with a stranger can’t or won’t develop into a deeper conversation if you’re vibing with that person, and it does occur. After all, some of your friends were merely acquaintances before you got to know them. And you owe that to casual conversations, AKA the oft-dreaded small talk.
In addition to building relationships, it’s also an important part of networking and business.
“The most successful networkers are those that make a genuine connection with others when they speak. Although many hesitate to engage in small talk for fear of seeming unprofessional, it can help you to establish a more personal connection and can lead to deeper, more successful professional relationships,” according to Vunela.
They offer these helpful pointers on how to get the small talk network ball rolling.
Small Talk Tips
Prepare in advance, advises Vunela. “Coming up with small talk on the spot can be a challenge for many professionals. Before entering a networking event, be prepared with a few topics you’re comfortable chatting about that would be appropriate to the situation. For example, if at a conference, discussing experiences in the city the conference is held would be a natural choice.
“Use Group Dynamics: It’s often easier to join a group conversation than start talking with someone one-on-one. If you see a group you’d like to join, stand at the edge and try to make eye contact. In most cases, someone will back up slightly to allow you to join. Wait for an appropriate moment, and ask a question to enter the conversation. You can also use common acquaintances to start an interaction. If you see someone you know talking with someone you’ve never met, wait for an appropriate break in the conversation, then approach them.
“Smile: One of the most important factors in starting a conversation is to appear approachable and friendly. Make eye contact with people you’d like to speak to and smile. Keep your body language open: if you’d like to chat with someone, face them with your shoulders and avoid crossing your arms or legs.”
This can sound overwhelming to an introvert, but it is a useful skill to acquire for business networking and you don’t have to do it constantly, if that’s any consolation!
Small talk in the office has been shown to benefit coworkers, according to this study in an Academy of Management Journal article.
“Small talk with coworkers in the break room and pleasantries exchanged with office staff are more meaningful than you might think,” says Fast Company. “Contrary to the perception that small talk — brief, superficial, or trivial conversations unrelated to work — is inconsequential, researchers have found that chit-chat contributes to employees’ positive emotions, promotes well-being, and fosters good workplace citizenship.”
So the next time you see your colleagues gathered in the break room, try to join in the conversation – it’s mutually advantageous!
How Small Talk Can Improve Your Life
Small talk can be beneficial in many ways, including reducing stress, building rapport, and improving your mood.
It can also help you make a good first impression, according to linguist Viveka Adelswärd.
“Small talk provides us with lots of information and helps us to ‘read the atmosphere.’ With small talk, we probe the human terrain,” she says. “We’re able to test out all sorts of things — the other person’s humor or possible sensitivities, perhaps — to help us make a good impression…without making a faux pas.”
The social benefits of small talk are obviously far and wide. In addition to widening your social circle, you’re more than likely to connect with one or two people who will turn into forever friends. Who knows, you could even meet the love of your life.
There are cognitive benefits of small talk as well, according to a study done by researchers at the University of Michigan.
“Talking small can make some not-so-small changes in your brain,” says inspiyr. “The social interaction that small talk requires can boost our problem-solving ability because we try to step in the other person’s shoes and try to read the other person’s mind — something we wouldn’t do as much with people we’re comfortable with.”
It requires us to be in the present and pay attention to the person in front of us, which is cognitively beneficial as well. Instead of staring at our phones, we are interacting and using our brains to talk to another human. And that’s a win for social skills as well!
How To Make Small Talk
The Career Contessa has 8 suggestions for small talk topics:
Weather: This is a tried and true conversation starter. Whether it’s sunny or raining cats and dogs, it’s about the most neutral topic you can use to start a conversation.
Current Events: Think about what’s going on in your local community or in the world. If you read the news, bring up something interesting you saw that morning.
Food: Everybody gets hungry, and everybody eats. Talk about a new recipe you tried or your favorite restaurant in town. As the saying goes, the quickest way to a new friend is through their stomach or something like that, right?
Hobbies: Did you pick up a new hobby this past year? Maybe you started running or playing an instrument. Chatting about what you do in your free time is a quick way to identify mutual interests.
Object Appearance: Compliment a necklace or a new haircut. Whether intentional or not, people put effort into how they look. If you notice a cute top or new photo in the back of a Zoom background, say something nice about it.
Family: Family is a great topic, especially when you both have children or appear to be around the same age. Until you know the person a bit better, it’s best to keep it light. Talking about family feuds or estranged parents can be heavy and put a damper on things. If you see a photo of their kids or hear about their upcoming nuptials, start there.
Work: Especially at work, you can always fall back on what’s going on at your company, what you’re working on, or upcoming events. As long as you both work at the company, it’s the one common interest you can rely on.
Media: Have you ever bonded with someone over a television show, a favorite band, or a particularly riveting podcast? It might sound silly, but bonding over media is a huge entry point. Consider sharing some of your all-time favorite books, movies, television series, and podcasts.
The purpose of small talk is to broaden your world — even if you feel like it’s pointless, little interactions do add up! Tell us if you like or dislike small talk in the comments.
Keep Scrolling To Read More Wellness And Relationship Articles: