Lots of people tell me, "I hate small talk."
And in truth, small talk can be tiresome sometimes. When you're discussing a topic you don't care about, it's natural to get bored.
Small talk can be doubly frustrating when you've craving deep interactions. After you've experienced true heart-to-heart conversation, how can you go back to discussing the weather?
It's understandable to feel like small talk is a waste of time -- the "busywork" of social interaction.
Understandable -- but wrong.
Small talk has huge potential to help you connect with others. Let's look at the three reasons why.
1) Small Talk Prepares You For Connection
Just like stretching helps prepare your muscles for exercise, small talk helps prepare people for intimacy.
When you make small talk with someone, you give them the opportunity to get used to you and to settle into the conversation.
Moreover, people expect deeper conversations to be preceded by small talk. Even if you are comfortable skipping straight to the "meat" of the conversation, it will throw others for a loop. It's kind of like shaking hands when you meet someone -- if you don't do it when they expect it, it comes across as weird.
2) Small Talk Communicates Interest.
With small talk, what you communicate is more important than what you say.
If you say something insignificant like "What do you think of the weather?" you are communicating that you want to hear my thoughts. When you crack a lame joke, you are communicating that you want to make me laugh. All of these things communicate that you like me and you want to get to know me better.
This is important because it paves the way for deeper interaction. Deeper interaction involves risk. If I share my personal beliefs with you, I risk you starting an argument with me. If I share a personal struggle, I risk you responding with cruel callousness. So I need to know it's safe before I go deeper.
When you communicate interest, you communicate safety. You communicate, "I care about what you have to say, and I'm open to you sharing it." Obviously, this isn't a perfect guarantee -- sometimes people will be very pleasant in small talk and still respond poorly when the conversation goes deeper. But in general, when you show interest during small talk, you help people feel comfortable going deeper with you.
3) Small Talk Establishes Common Ground
Small talk lets you discover what you have in common.
You can find the topics that get both of you excited, the parts of your stories that you're eager to share. This will naturally lead the conversation into paths that are more intimate and meaningful.
Not only does this give you fuel for more conversation, but it also helps you form bonds with the other person. When you discover common ground, you start to imagine life through the other person's eyes. As Donald Miller says, small talk lets us ask, "What do we have in common so I can understand you through the lens of my own experience?"
While deep heart-to-heart conversations are very intimate, small talk can be intimate too. Heartfelt friendships will begin to form even before the first deep conversation -- because small talk allowed the friends to discover how much they resonate with each other.
The Value Of Small Talk
If small talk feels like busywork, you're missing the big picture.
Instead of treating small talk like a chore you have to get through, make small talk an opportunity to make a connection. When you begin small talk, ask yourself:
- How can I help the other person feel comfortable?
- How can I communicate interest and friendliness?
- How can I discover common ground?
Let these questions guide you, and you'll find big value in small talk.