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What is Small Talk?

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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 April 2014
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Small talk is meaninglesss conversation in terms of content, but is often seen as socially important in certain situations, or context. In many English-speaking countries, it can be viewed as rude or unfriendly not to participate in it. Non-personal comments about non-controversial subjects are usually considered as appropriate for this type of conversation.

Discussing the weather with people who you don't really know is an example of small talk that many of us are very familiar with on a daily basis. We may chat about the weather with the cashier at the supermarket or with the attendant at the gas station. Making conversation like this may also be related to the situation such as waiting in line. People in the line may comment to others about how slow it is in the post office or bank that day, for instance. People also chat with people we may see every day but don't really know, such as those they share the elevator with at work.

Small talk is common at parties when guests may know the host but not each other. It is considered rude not to mingle and speak with other guests at social functions, so talking about inconsequential subject can break the ice and get guests chatting. Compliments are often used to accomplish this, such as one woman at party complimenting another on her dress. Guests at the buffet table may talk about the types of food offered as they place items onto their plates.

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Some people like small talk because they find silence uncomfortable and/or they enjoy communicating verbally. Others enjoy meeting new people and use it to start conversations. Some people don't like these kinds of conversations at all, and often dread going to parties at least partly because of it.

When making small talk, especially with strangers or those you don't know very well, it's important to observe certain socially acceptable conventions. First, all subjects should be general and not personal or about controversial topics. Second, while compliments are acceptable, they shouldn't refer to the person's body or sound like a pick-up line.

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anon243601
Post 5

Another tip: don't ask meaningless, general, open-ended questions that can be expressed in only a few words, but that require long-winded answers if they're to be answered at all. "How is everything going on that project you're working on" is a classic example of such a meaningless, irritating question. "Everything" is quite a big topic, and even otherwise outgoing people are likely to become exasperated with you if you make a habit of this style of communication, especially since you will be likely to have asked them the exact same question the last time you spoke (which will probably only be a short while before).

Also, don't ask more than three simpler questions in a row without being prepared to contribute something of substance to the conversation yourself. People aren't there to entertain you with rhetoric, and will quickly become bored if you're just one of those people who searches for something, anything to ask them, merely so that you can let your eyes glaze over and pretend to listen, rather than playing any active part in the discourse.

surfNturf
Post 4

Comfyshoes-The receptionist may also make small talk about your hair in order to make you feel good about the cut and the salon in general.

Sometimes they offer a beverage when you arrive and try to discuss neutral topics such as the weather in order to make you feel more comfortable about having to wait.

comfyshoes
Post 3

Suntan12- Business small talk in an interview may include discussing the weather or recent events related to the industry of the company you have the interview with.

These are small talk examples that are conducted in order to break the ice and make the applicant feel more comfortable.

This also happens in a salon when you are getting your hair done. Usually the stylist will ask you a question in order to get you to talk more about yourself. The stylist will then share a bit and the exchange continues until you’re done.

This makes the time go faster and the stylist ends up making a connection with you which will make it more likely that you will return.

I used to go to this stylist that would talk to me like I was one of his friends and my appointments used to last about two hours. So I only go to him when I have that much time for a haircut. He really knows the art of how to small talk.

suntan12
Post 2

Seavenseas- I totally agree. How to make small talk is easy. You can easily strike up a conversation with someone when you compliment them on an article of clothing that they maybe wearing.

This will open up dialogue because it will allow the person to accept the compliment and open up about the item.

This can be a jumping off point into current events that might be relevant. Some tips for small talk include making eye contact and listening carefully to what the other person says. Leaning inward towards the person reflects interest and positive body language.

Allowing people the opportunity to speak about things that interest them and respecting their viewpoints will go a long way in developing small talk.

Often sales people are instructed to engage in small talk so that the customer will let their guard down a bit and be more relaxed and receptive later on in the sales presentation.

sevenseas
Post 1

I used to know a lady who was excellent in small talk. I learned from her that small talk has its place. Initially I was struck by all that empty conversation, after which there is absolutely nothing of substance that you can take with you.

However, small talk came in very handy in particular when meeting new people, or in general, talking casually with acquaintances.

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