Maybe it’s just me, but I hate small talk. It’s awkward and it’s all over the place. I am a very introverted person and when people try to talk to me I feel like I am buffering in real life. This is the hardest part of making new friends and getting to know people. It’s never simple and quick even though it’s called small talk. Instead, it can feel like you’re talking forever going back and forth asking each other questions that you probably don’t care to hear the answer to. We do this to be nice. Small talk is society’s way for people to socialize.

Why does our society put so much pressure on this form of socialization? Why does small talk suck so much? Well, I am asking myself the same question. So, in this article we will all analyze small talk and to get a better understanding of how it came to be and why most people hate it today. Continue below to read more.

How Small Talk Came To Exist In Our Society?

After doing some research that led me up and down some pretty crazy rabbit holes, until we got to where we wanted.

The study of the social value of small talk traces back to anthropologist Dr. Bronisław Malinowski. In 1923, he apparently wrote an essay called “The Problem of Meeting in Primitive languages” where he reflects on his experiences translating tribal languages to English. In this essay, he acknowledges that all language operates on two levels: Informational and social.

When you engage in conversation with others, you are usually trying to inform, coordinate, or express a unique thought in a relevant social context.

For example, you may be trying to plan a movie night with friends or tell your doctor the symptoms you’ve been experiencing lately. Informative and social contexts are intimately intertwined. The only outlier that does not apply to the two is phatic communication.

Factors Of Small Talk

Phatic language or small talk is defined as the case of language used in free, seamless, social intercourse. It is not informative because the information you receive is usually useless or obvious to you and the whole process of small talk commonly follows a social script. Small talk also serves a social purpose since the whole reason people engage in small talk is in order to socialize after all. According to Malinowski, small talk originated in opposition to silence. So, it is an intentional act to seek a connection and avoid conflict (awkward silence). Small talk depends on the social context too. How we perform in relation to that social setting allows us to control our role in the social circumstance. So, while small talk seems meaningless to almost everyone, it can be used as a powerful tool to define our social standing.

Why is Small Talk So Difficult?

There are three reasons why small talk can be so difficult. Here, I will discuss those three reasons and give you tips on how to become better at small talk along the way.

You Don’t Care

The first reason why small talk is so hard for some of us to engage in is because we simply don’t care. 

Small talk is more of a social activity we engage in for the sake of taking up our space and time. Most people don’t go into small talk actually believing that they are going to learn some valuable and interesting formation. That is why it is so hard for people to propel themselves to do it.

Not to mention, the things you do learn are pretty obvious. For instance, small talk usually starts with these questions before fully launching into the usual script: “How are you doing?”, “Is this your first time here?”, “Are you enjoying yourself?”. These are basic questions that I am sure anyone could figure out about an individual sometimes without even talking to them. If I was talking to a young guy at a party, I would probably assume he’s there because he was invited by a friend who’s hosting the party. I can assume this and I know I’ll probably be right, but I will still ask him “How did you hear about this party?”. All the while not really caring or being surprised to hear his response.

To solve this struggle of small talk you should practice empathetic listening.

Empathetic listening is a tool used in crisis intervention to better connect with people.

It is simply making an active effort to engage in the conversation so that your social partner feels heard. You can do this by physically engaging the conversation like giving a thumbs up or paraphrasing their words with your understanding to make it seem like you are interested in what they have to say.

Too Many Awkward Pauses In The Conversation

If you are an awkward butterfly like myself, then you might often experience long pauses in between small talk that you urgently search your mind to find something to fill it with. These are some of the cringiest and most frustrating moments when it comes to small talk.

Some people might deal with this problem by filling the conversation with endless rambling. I have a close friend I met at college who does this exact thing. When the conversation comes to an awkward halt, she jumps into a forever-long story about how she did something somewhere at some point in time that is somehow relevant to what they both are talking about. This may seem like a great solution, but it’s actually worse because, even though you are filling the awkward silence, you have now just branded yourself as a chatty Cathy and no likes a chatty Cathy.

Instead of rambling, ask the person you are talking to questions that are relevant to the conversation. This is the most efficient and easiest way to avoid gaps in silence. This will give your conversation direction and purpose to keep the person interested in what you have to say and make you feel like you are actually engaging in a good conversation. The best question you’ll ask will be open-ended and allow the other person to speak freely about what they have to say.

You Can’t Relax

Meeting new people anywhere is often the context in which small talk takes place. This, as you can assume, can be a little overwhelming especially for those who already have social anxiety. Not only are you in a new place, but you are surrounded by new people. Yikes! This might make you less inclined to interact with people as well. You also shouldn’t just quarantine yourself off in a corner sitting down, not only can sitting be bad for your health, but you aren’t giving yourself a chance to be social.

To fix this I have one line of advice for you: kindness can go a long way. You don’t need to go into small talk rushing to get it over with or eager to share solely information about yourself so that you seem less interested in them so they can leave you alone. These are some common tactics to avoid small talk that can come off as very rude. Instead, keep in mind that the person that you are talking to has their own individual experiences and interests. Relax and let them drive the conversation too. It might belong and feel endless and boring, but just enjoy the conversation. It doesn’t need to go somewhere important, it just needs to go.

Small Talk Can Be Big Fun

Don’t let the perils of small talk stop you from gaining new friends and valuable experiences. While the activity only exists to fill silence you can give it a greater purpose by using this social tool to increase your friend group or to climb the social ladder at work. Put some of the tips above to help you when engaging in conversation. You have so much valuable information now. So, don’t be afraid. Go out there and small talk!

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