There is nothing small about “small talk.”
Defined as polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially used on social occasions, small talk has often been seen in a pejorative or dismissive way.
Actually, small talk has a much broader meaning. Whether we love it or dread it, whether it serves us as a “ tool or trait,” we use “small talk” for meeting important psychological needs. We use it to make connections, to regulate anxiety and to facilitate the interplay between these two necessary functions.
When you met your partner or spouse for the first time, did you open with a question like: Will you marry me, sleep with me, and have my children?
More likely, you used what would be deemed small talk to show some interest and bridge an initial connection:
“So you are the new guy in the office.”
“What’s a female with a Yankee hat doing in Boston?”
It is also likely that whether shy or outgoing, you have found yourself in a hospital waiting room, a delayed airplane, or the crowd outside a funeral home engaging in small talk – and that it helped you.
Resonating with the importance of small talk is the recent book by Dr. Justine Copeland that examines the phenomena of small talk as inherent in human discourse across cultures, venues and relationships. There is a reason that in international relations, small talk is the necessary preface to big talk. There is a reason that in highly stressful situations as corporate negotiations, medical consults, and job interviews, “small talk” opens and closes the sessions.
Your Personal Use of “Small Talk”
Connection and the regulation of anxiety play major roles in our lives and the lives of those closest to us. There may be value in reconsidering and expanding the bigger role that “small talk” can play.
Barometer of Couple Connection
“We are not even civil to each other anymore.”
“The Deli guy asks me more about my day than you do!”
Listening to Small Talk Differently
Enhancement of Self-Esteem
The comfort of talking about or hearing about anything from sports to cooking, is increasingly seen as a vehicle of success in and outside of the home because it lowers social anxiety and makes interpersonal risk taking more likely.
The recognition that your question about someone else’s interests or your sharing of interests will be welcomed by family, friend or business partner because it also lowers their anxiety and implies interest – is a psychological asset.
Small Talk – Big Reason
Many times, much as in the outside world, family members preface a highly anxious issue with small talk. If you can listen without dismissal to what seems like small talk by a spouse, child, teen or parent, you may facilitate an opportunity for crucial disclosure.
“So you know the neighbors are thinking of retiring in the next few years.”
“So Mom, you remember that boy whose mother used to teach with you, someone said he was on drugs.”
“A lot of kids don’t want to drive anymore.”
Small Talk – Family Bonds
Sometimes the most important things we need are the small things we already have.
Women talking photo available from Shutterstock
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“Small Talk” with Suzanne Phillips for the BTS Members! | It's Cool To Be Blue (September 3, 2012)
Last reviewed: 1 Sep 2012