Of Weather, Vacuums, and Other Irrelevant Stuff: Does Small Talk Matter?

1016162247-editedYou know that piece of advice regarding small talk: when you don’t know what to say, talk about the weather? It sounds cliche, but it can work pretty well. It’s shallow, non controversial, always existent. And it can be just enough to keep away that awkward silence when you are stuck in a position with someone you don’t really know (and sometimes really don’t care about). But what a lot of people don’t realize is that good friends talk about the weather too.

When I people watch, I get such a kick out of hearing the random things friends talk about as they walk past. Much of these conversations consist of stupid, shallow, insignificant topics. The other day I called my little brother and asked him what he was eating for lunch. That topic actually constituted the majority of our conversation. But you know what? I didn’t really care what he was eating, it certainly wasn’t important, and that was so shallow I could’ve discussed it with a stranger. Similarly, a few nights ago, I texted my friends to let them know the vacuum on the third floor of my dorm was missing. Real relevant, right?

But, to those of you who have an aversion to small talk, I have a claim to make. First of all, I want to admit that I understand your viewpoint. At one point, I, too, thought small talk was an irrelevant, painful mistake that society demanded. Why carry on a conversation if the topic isn’t worth conversing about? Why waste my energy talking about or listening to someone’s story about their grandma’s favorite color? What is the value in having to act interested in the mundane story of how someone couldn’t decide which clothes to wear that morning? I get your point.

And yet, the problem with this argument is that it’s only taking into consideration half of the equation–and the less important half at that. Small talk isn’t just about what’s being said; it’s about what is being communicated. It’s about the relationship behind the words. When I called my little brother, it wasn’t to talk about food. It was to hear his voice, to let him know I was thinking about him, to remind him that I love him even though I don’t really see him anymore. It didn’t matter what we were talking about–it just mattered that we were talking.

When I sit at the table long after dinner is done talking about how I detest clothes shopping, it’s not because that matters inherently, but because I am spending time with my friends and laughing together. When I text my friends to let them know the vacuum is missing, it’s not because this information does them any good, but because they know I am thinking about them and I know they will be thinking of me. And we think about each other because we care about each other.

So what do you think? What are some of the amusing small-talk conversations that you’ve heard (or been involved in) when people-watching? What do you talk about with your friends/family most of the time?

Additionally, I know I only addressed one angle of small-talk importance. If you are still averse to the idea of small talk, what are your reasons? I’d love to hear them!

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6 thoughts on “Of Weather, Vacuums, and Other Irrelevant Stuff: Does Small Talk Matter?

  1. This is a really neat post, BethAnn, and I certainly found it relevant and intriguing. I often struggle with initiating small talk simply because I am more of a naturally quiet person who struggles with initiating conversations in the first place.
    When you are in a situation with a person, or group of people, that you don’t really know at all, how do you come up with a “topic” for small talk? Where do you pull an conversation from if you struggle in that area and have no idea what to turn to?
    I enjoyed your comment that often it doesn’t matter what we are talking about and that is just matters that we are talking. That is so true! I look forward to your next post!

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    • Thank you, Tessa! I’m so glad to be hearing from readers and find your questions to be very good ones. When it comes to initiating small-talk topics, like everything else, I’m going to have to say that practice makes perfect. The more people you chat with, the more you’ll have an idea of which subjects work well, what is easy to talk about, and how to start a conversation with different people. That being said, there are some general pointers: ask questions. People like to talk about themselves, so look for something that you might be interested in learning about them (the questions don’t have to be boring!). Try to find areas of similarities; that will make it easier to connect with others. And be yourself. If you feel you can’t handle a very formal level of small talk, admit it and it will release some pressure from the awkward silences (and often lead the other person to admit something honest about him/herself as well).
      If you have any more questions or any specific areas you’d like me to blog about–let me know. I love hearing from readers!

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  2. Outstanding article. I really like the part about not wanting to listen to others conversations. Its never fun to always hear other students stories that aren’t interesting. Keep up the good work kiddo!

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  3. I enjoyed the article. I think about how I talk to my friends, and you really are quite right that it doesn’t matter what we talk about because we are simply spending time together. You have very good insight, I can’t wait to hear more from you.

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  4. Anonymous Pancake

    Would your reasoning for small talk still be true if it were put on a larger scale? For example, if I text my friend throughout the day, seven days a week with small talk, would he /she appreciate that I am thinking of them? Or would it become a waist of time?

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    • I like your question–thanks for responding 🙂 While I can’t claim to be an expert, I would think that, while small talk is appreciated and a perfect piece of staying connected, it has to be balanced by deeper, more meaningful conversations as well. If I only sent my sister frivolous texts, she would probably become disinterested after a while. Such a relationship would eventually seem to be more about me using her as a dump station for random thoughts than me actually sharing thoughts as a way to stay connected because I care about and am thinking about her. However, as long as these “useless” pieces on info are balanced by the occasional deep, connecting conversation, the small talk will remain extremely valuable. In your theoretical example, it would probably also depend on if your friend was responding with small talk. If he or she is, it will take a lot longer to grow old. If you are not getting any responses, it might be time to reconsider what your friend might want.
      Small talk can be seen as the desert or candy that we can enjoy and eat in little pieces at random times. But if it’s not balanced by a few good meals of wholesome food, it will lose it’s value.

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