We have all been there: that moment when you walk into a social gathering full of unfamiliar faces; the time when your trip to the grocery store brings you face to face with someone you’d rather not see. For all of the major social moments we may look back on as major or life-changing, much of our social time revolves around the quotidian conversations we refer to as “small talk.”
I recently sat down with a close friend who shares my desire for deep and probing conversations – real conversations – and mirrors my disdain for the procedural, everyday chitchat. Yet, what we have failed to discuss, much less acknowledge, is what brought us to this moment in the first place. After all, we had once met through similar circumstances where, not yet familiar with one another, we waded through mundane topics like his day job in industrial design and my work in intellectual property law before we got to more soul-baring topics.
Part of the misconception people like myself have around the concept of small talk is that the literal words “small talk” belie several of its beneficial aspects. By definition, the whole exercise suggests that we invest little of our deeper selves in order to be “polite” and conform to the social occasion before us. Yet, why would we truly seek to show our trivial “best self” for strangers if we had nothing of value, socially or otherwise, to gain?
The truth is that the beauty of small talk, what the definition misses, begins after we have engaged in that uncomfortable dance between meeting a stranger and developing a deeper connection with a kindred spirit. Think about the meaningful conversations you still enjoy with friends that you’ve made in your adult years. Now, if you think about these same relationships, can you recall the moments in which you first interacted?
Most likely, that initial spark for conversation was so trivial that it didn’t register as a long-term memory. And whether or not you do remember that fateful moment, the consequence of the interaction has undoubtedly been of great enough consequence that a relationship formed and flourished.
It is commonly thought that when faced with the prospect of tough and difficult conversation, men run a greater risk of retreating than tackling such talks head-on. Seen in the light of the modern epidemic of male loneliness, it is no wonder that, as men, we cannot get to the harder conversations when we tend to give mundane conversations much less of a passing thought.
The fact remains that, even if contemporary trends on social interaction sound the alarm on male loneliness, most of us cannot go a day without being required to engage in social interactions, whether as small chat or deeper conversation. Consequently, rather than view the exercise as a necessary evil, it can be helpful to remember that small talk is most likely responsible for the greater conversations we are privileged to have with our friends and partners.
Many digital resources are available that talk about the ways in which we can have engaging small talk in our various social settings. One of my favorite articles about it is found here at The Muse.
What’s your take? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.
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