Beyond Small Talk

Seen for what it is, small talk is imprisonment of false bonhomie and an utter failure of communication. But, seen for what it could be, small talk is an opportunity to step beyond the banal and into the deepest and most intimate realms of another’s mind.

But such an imperative can be overwhelmingly intimidating. As a result; we may withhold talking about anything beyond the weather, where we plan to travel next year, and how our job is faring because we fear delving into the topics we care about – the scourge of war, our apocalyptic visions of climate change, or our fraying relationship with our parents – would scare other people away. We try to stay safe, but by remaining so safe, we become boring. Our partner, doing the same thing, likely feels the same way.

But, small talk need not be verbal imprisonment (giving new meaning to the phrase ‘jail sentence’). It could, instead, become a stepping stone for deeper discussions. For example:

‘What do you do for work’ can lead to deeper questions such as:

  • Why did you choose that career? What makes it fulfilling?
  • We both work full-time, if money wasn’t an issue, what would you be doing instead?
  • If you could go back and pick another career, what would it be? What do you want to give to the world?

‘Did you see the news stories about the floods’ can lead to deeper questions such as:

  • Does climate change frighten you? Do you ever wish you could do more to stop it?
  • It’s very disempowering seeing footage of events we can do nothing to change. What do you think?
  • Have you noticed how hard it is for opposing groups such as climate change activists and deniers to find common ground and speak to each other?

There are ways of broaching any topic that can be banal or unique, trite or meaningful. We can have dull conversations about death and engaging conversations about rainbows; what matters is how deep we are willing to go and how far beyond safety we are willing to venture.

While we may loathe small talk, to a significant extent, the onus is on us to push the conversation further. While we may feel trapped, it is doubtful that our conversation partner really wishes to continue talking about the price of apples or why Savoys are superior to Jatz biscuits. They certainly want to talk about the titillations of their mind and the depths of their heart; they may just need a little push in that direction and an assurance that they are in safe company. Perhaps we could start…

The skilled conversationalist can see a goldmine of information hidden in the most ordinary of observations. If handled correctly, a comment about poor drivers on the road can lead to fruitful discussions about the expectations of others, and a statement about the beauty of thunderstorms may provide fertile ground for discussions about the perverse charm of destruction. The point is that an observation, basically any observation, if we are paying attention, can be a stepping stone to something more meaningful in another’s mind.

We all want to move towards intimacy and sincerity. Small talk is the keyhole through which we glimpse what lies within the room of another’s mind. Once we see the potential in small talk, it won’t feel so painful anymore.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: