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Why Is Small Talk Important in Social Settings?

Whether one engages in small talk or prefers to keep to themselves can vary based on mood and personal preference. Some may relish casual conversations, while others may choose the peace of solitude.

The more I think about small talk, the more I recognize its value. It is an excellent invitation to speak. I will take it a step further and say it is akin to getting invited to the exclusive party of the year that everyone is chirping about. However, if you are anything like me, you probably dread small talk. Still, I realize that I may not shrink from small talk but the scripted topics that some people usually use to initiate it.

I think asking about the weather is too apparent. Then again, I'm prioritizing my preference versus the value of initiating a conversation, so I'm working on getting over myself and responding politely to questions about the weather.

Sometimes, I have zero interest in the topic or am preoccupied with other thoughts, so I cannot give it my undivided attention. This is especially true when the initial question is tricky to answer. For example, the ambiguous "Hi, how are you?" Then, I feel forced to conjure up an answer without appearing rude. So, I'm growing into recognizing how I perceive small talk and its purpose as two different things.

By the way, what is small talk? The Oxford Languages dictionary defines small talk as polite conversations about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, mainly when engaged on social occasions."

The very definition of small talk conveys its laid-back nature. Therefore, show enthusiasm for connecting with someone even if the attempt at generating small talk seems superficial.

We usually discuss social interactions as a dichotomy, categorizing people as introverted or extroverted. If you are gregarious and outgoing, you relish small talk opportunities. On the other hand, if you are a bit reserved and need time to adapt to social environments, then small talk could be anxiety-inducing for you. For people who need some time to warm up, small talk may not only be anxiety-inducing, but it can be uncomfortable or even feel unnatural. It may even feel like impending doom.

Some of us may dread small talk for not precisely apparent reasons. Still, it makes up a significant part of social interactions, from how we greet each other to how we end our interactions. For instance, we may initiate social interaction by asking, "Hi, how are things going?" and close the conversation with "See you later," thus leaving things open for the next time we see the person.

This easygoing chit-chat makes social interactions more leisurely. In the same way, it is anxiety-inducing; it is certainly a staple for bridging social distance to help people relax and connect. Think of how the social butterfly floats around the room effortlessly, almost as if there are no strangers. Isn't it a beautiful thing to observe?

While some people may not like small talk, we cannot avoid it. So, we should practice using it in our daily interactions. The more we practice, the more we will improve.

It is also crucial how and when we engage in small talk. Small talk is generally beneficial at the beginning of a conversation when we want to engage with another person before starting a serious discussion, for example, a negotiation or at a meet-and-greet.

So, focus less on what to say next and use open-ended questions to grow the conversation if the opportunity is available. For example, if summer is fast approaching, we could ask, "What do you have planned for your summer vacation?" Then, actively without interruption.

So when your next opportunity for small talk presents itself:

  • It can spark interest and curiosity in a person or thing you thought about but didn't know where or how to begin.

  • Skip questions about marriage, children, and work

  • Actively listen to the speaker

  • Do not interrupt the speaker

  • Ask what versus why questions.

  • Use open-ended questions to get more than a yes or no response.

  • It is an opportunity to find common ground and shared interests.

  • Your friends were once strangers.

  • Show some enthusiasm

  • Use it to assess if there's an opportunity for more profound conversations.

  • It is spontaneous, and your polite and positive participation determines the direction of the conversation.

Whatever your opinion on small talk, it is a skill worth developing. Subpar social skills can leave you feeling isolated and alone, so it's essential to work on being sociable at least occasionally.

Empowering Minds. Inspiring Lives.

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