Small Talk Sucks, So Here’s How We Can Change Our Conversations (For The Better)

Barry Pousman
Barry Pousman

Don’t get me wrong. I know that small talk is a normal part of social life. Actually, it is even a necessary part of that. It is the thing that allows you to meet people and start talking to strangers. Wikipedia even calls small talk the “social lubricant.”

It allows you to survive interactions with people you are forced to interact with, while avoiding the awkward silence.

It’s perfect for spending those two minutes in an elevator with someone you’ve already met a few times, but you actually don’t remember their name.

But the thing is, small talk is a necessity, not the goal of a conversation.

Have you ever noticed that when you’re with your best friend, the small talk is just not there? You don’t talk about buying your new shoes for thirty minutes, but you just share what you have in mind, you just go straight to the point and talk about the things that you really want to talk about. (Unless of course that thing you really want to talk about is buying your new shoes.)

The real problem with small talk is that it is surprisingly easy to get stuck with it.

Before you notice, it is not just the way of meeting new people, but it becomes the only essence of conversation even with people you already know – and you just can’t get out of it. You start with small talk but there is no going further – so you just keep going and end with it as well. And once you start this routine with someone or within a group of people, it just gets harder and harder to break it. Every time you see someone you keep talking about the same stuff – how’s school, what you’re doing next week and what about that party last Friday.

What it causes in the end, is that you might find yourself spending a lot of time with people without actually getting to really know them and finding out who they are.

When we talk just for the sake of talking, we keep floating on that surface level, never finding out what might be hidden underneath. And then you inevitably miss out on people, because you’ll never get to actually know who they really are. You don’t bond with someone while talking about the burger you had for dinner. This happens when you share more personal stuff, when you talk about your past, your future plans and your values. About what you believe in and where you want to or don’t want to go in life.

You don’t miss out just on people though, but also on all the interesting conversations you could otherwise be having. I want to talk about things that go just a bit deeper, about issues that might not be so easy to talk about but they actually give me something. I want to have conversations that make me see different perspectives, other people’s attitudes to life, conversations that will broaden my horizons and help me open up my mind.

But small talk just kills all of that.

It is well-known that one of the reasons why people get depressed, is that they often don’t have anyone they can actually talk to. And when I see how frustrating it gets when you consequently have conversations with people about things none of you cares about, I totally understand that.

A friend of mine once said, that real conversation starts with the second question about the same topic.

When you don’t just ask people “what” but you try to ask “why” as well. Not just “how are you doing?” but also “Why is that so?”

The thing is though, I don’t like just stating that something sucks and not doing anything about it. But what to do about something like that? Urging people to change, rarely works. And expecting others to suddenly start doing something differently just by themselves, never works. So the only thing I can do about that, is start with myself.

Try to break the social patterns and little rituals with a little more effort and come up with the personal topics and questions more often, maybe even push it to people’s faces a bit. Even though this might come across as rude, awkward, weird or paradoxically, not social.

This might not be the best solution, hell, it might not be a solution at all. But as long as I don’t have to talk again about how the exams went, or anything else I really don’t care about – it’s worth giving it a try. TC mark

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