Small Talk, Big Value

Ever wondered why my blog posts so rarely touch on ‘ordinary’ things? Blame my introversion. Seriously.

One of the biggest character traits of introverts like myself is our natural distaste for small talk. Even if we don’t actually dislike it, it’s not always easy for us to see the point in it. The fact that we often spend a lot of time chewing over ‘important’ subjects alone in our minds, means we’re naturally less interested in discussing things like the weather. It’s not that I’m unwilling to take part in small talk; if someone asks me about some trivial aspect of my day, chances are I will answer them and continue the conversation. But it’s joining in with this type of discourse if it’s already been started, or indeed starting it myself, that I find hardest.

I’ve seen plenty of my fellow introverts arguing that small talk is inherently pointless, and moaning about how many people waste their breath talking about such unimportant matters. But if we step back and look at it, small talk can actually be quite useful in building bridges with others.

When we first meet someone, it’s unlikely that they will instantly want to start discussing deep, philosophical questions with us. There are some people I’ve known for years, yet have barely scratched the surface of such topics with them. Nope, we usually find that our immediate shared surroundings are the only things we have to talk about, hence why so many of us find ourselves discussing the weather. We then proceed to talk about such things as family and occupation, which might uncover that we have something in common. If this is the case, we talk more and more, gradually working our way onto ‘deeper’ subjects, and this can result in our becoming long-term friends. We do not get there overnight!

Another advantage of small talk is that it shows we are interested in all sides of life, not just the ones we consider meaningful. There are some subjects that I love to talk (or write!) about, yet if they were all I ever talked about, most people would write me off straight away. Admittedly, it’s good to prove that there are things you are passionate about, but it’s also good to prove that the other person has something in common with you, so the two of you can relate. If they don’t share your deep interest, things are unlikely to progress any further.

Of course, the longer we’ve known someone, the more easy it is to talk about different things with them. There sometimes comes a point in a relationship where you find that you can talk about practically anything with this person, which may be because you can both make educated guesses as to where each other stands on different topics (and then surprise each other by defying the expectations). But generally speaking, this isn’t how it is in the early stages of a relationship; we’re usually fairly limited in what there is to talk about.

And that, if nothing else, is what small talk is useful for. It’s good to talk. Conversation is key. It’s how we connect with others and how we stay in connection with them. And if that means talking about inconsequential things, at least to begin with, then I can deal with that.

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