Sep 132012
 

I often see in /r/foreveralone and hear comments from lonely guys who struggle with talking to people and being social say things like:

I hate small talk. What’s the point? I want to have deep, meaningful conversations with women.

…or heave some other variety of criticisms towards small talk. And then blame your lack of success with women on the fact you don’t like to/can’t have small talk.

Seriously? Get over yourself.

First of all, what is small talk? Small talk is that little, surface, shallow conversation you start having with someone when you first say hello. Wikipedia describes it as:

Small talk is an informal type of discourse that does not cover any functional topics of conversation or any transactions that need to be addressed.[1]

Small talk is conversation for its own sake, or “….comments on what is perfectly obvious.” The phenomenon of small talk was initially studied in 1923 by Bronisław Malinowski, who coined the term “phatic communication” to describe it.[2] The ability to conduct small talk is a social skill; hence, small talk is some type of social communication.

The key phrase I would like to point out there is “the ability to conduct small talk is a social skill.” As a matter of fact, it is an important social skill. It might seem meaningless, but small talk is vital in maintaining relationships and generating new ones. The Wikipedia article continues on:

In spite of seeming to have little useful purpose, small talk is a bonding ritual and a strategy for managing interpersonal distance.[5] It serves many functions in helping to define the relationships between friends, work colleagues, and new acquaintances. In particular, it helps new acquaintances to explore and categorize each other’s social position.[6] Small talk is closely related to the need for people to maintain positive face — to feel approved-of by those who are listening to them. It lubricates social interactions in a very flexible way, although the desired function is often dependent on the point in the conversation at which the small talk occurs:[7]

  1. Conversation opener; When the talkers do not know each other, it allows them to show that they have friendly intentions and desire some sort of positive interaction. In a business meeting, it enables people to establish each other’s reputation and level of expertise. Where there is already a relationship between the two talkers, their small talk serves as a gentle introduction before engaging in more functional topics of conversation. It allows them to signal their own mood and to sense the mood of the other person.
  2. At the end of a conversation; Suddenly ending an exchange may risk appearing to reject the other person. Small talk can be used to mitigate that rejection, affirm the relationship between the two people, and soften the parting.
  3. Space filler to avoid silence; in many cultures, silences between two people are usually considered uncomfortable. Tension can be reduced by starting phatic talk until a more substantial subject arises. Generally, humans find prolonged silence uncomfortable, and sometimes unbearable. This can be due to human evolutionary history as a social species, as in many other social animals silence is a communicative sign of potential danger.[8]

Getting good at small talk means that you’ll be more socially intuitive and can relate to more individuals and make more friends. This is reality. You are not above small talk. And if you aren’t good at small talk, you can practice and learn.

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