Small Talk Vs. Raw Talk


I’ve never been a fan or skilled practitioner of such “small talk”.

Now, I don’t define “small talk” by specific topics or interaction durations. I refer to small talk as conversations in which parties are not truly engaged (present, open, curious) but converse to fulfill a perceived social cordiality or avoid awkwardness. Small talk progression (as I define it) isn’t driven by we genuinely want to know but by mainstream models of what we should want to know. Small-talk interactions can occur not just w/ strangers or colleagues but also friends & family.

As I’ve grown to realize the power & criticality of vulnerability for meaningful connection, I’ve observed that the conversations I enjoy most, though diverse in topic/duration/relationship dynamic, share one thing in common: they are raw, stripped of judgments, free from impositions of social norms, emotionally risky.

In learning to live more consciously, I grow bolder in establishing these conversations in my life not as the exception but the norm.

Rather than surrender to the emotionally-deficit conversations I “should” have in general life, I make a conscious effort to engage in the conversations I actually want to have. I try to engage in raw talk over small talk.

“Raw talk” doesn’t mean getting equally personal within every interpersonal interaction – rather, it means creating spaces where the interaction is as intentional, bold & authentic as possible.

I’ve often been told that I tend to ask hard, provoking questions to the extent that a fair share have remarked, “I feel like I’m in an interview” or “I feel like you’re my therapist”. Part of raw talk is daring to ask questions about things I genuinely want to know the responses to, & I pursue depth.

  • I could ask about where you work, but I’d rather ask what is your calling
  • I could ask about the last time you were so drunk that you did something crazy, but I’d rather ask about the last time you were so moved that you did something gracious
  • I could ask about how he died, but I’d rather ask if his death, though heartbreaking, was also freeing
  • I could ask what do you want, but I’d rather ask why you want it

Now, let me be clear – raw talk is not about relentlessly encroaching on others’ mental territories. Most of it involves conscious & careful attuning to the other person & improvising on intuition. It is critical to allow the other person to steer how much & what they will share; it involves less probing of the detailed “what” of events & more of the roots of motivations/reactions. Lastly, raw talk requires all parties to participate – one shouldn’t expect others to take emotional risks unless one is willing to show by example.

I’ve been surprised & touched by how raw & vulnerable so many have been, even complete strangers – for example:

Just this past weekend, I recognized a performer from a trans & queer performance arts show I saw a while ago. I approached w/ the expected over-eager “so sorry to interrupt – such a fan”. I saw down w/ my friend at the cafe & debated whether to approach the performer for real conversation.

I did.

And we ended up having a heart to heart about the experience of living on a tightrope of gender identities, the demons & barriers to living authentically, & the blurred lines of “performing” on stage vs. “performing” in social settings.

Raw spaces don’t have to be exclusive to the best of friends or the most intimate of partners (these relationships don’t guarantee such spaces either). One can create moments of deep connection, of “love 2.0” w/ diverse people in diverse settings.

Not every interaction will be equally substantial or deep – but you’d be surprised at how many can be when we dare to pursue the conversations we actually want to have.

I find easy familiarity in small talk but impactful depth in raw talk.

I prefer depth.

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