Small Talk We’ve all engaged in some sort of small talk either in the office, on campus, at a party, or other places where you find yourself in the company of others. For some of us, participating in small talk may come easily, while for others it may be quite difficult. Some individuals may find small talk to be irritating while others find it a necessity.
In this paper I am going to explore what exactly defines small talk as such; the reasons why people find the need to engage in small talk; the benefits, and disadvantages of small talk; is there an ethical approach to small talk; and provide tips on how to participate in small talk—without it creating an uncomfortable atmosphere. What exactly defines small talk as such, segregating it from the normal conversations exchanged between two individuals? Small talk is defined as a light conversation; it is typically polite and about matters of little importance, especially between people who do not know each other well.
In these conversations general-interest topics are commonly discussed such as movies, sports, food, travel, and music. Many find that those who engage in this form of conversation are approachable and friendly. By taking an active part in these conversations you send a message that you are ready, willing and able to communicate. This may not seem like a difficult task, considering all humans communicate at various levels daily, but to engage in small talk may actually be very difficult, so when done willingly and well it can say a lot about that person. Part of being successful at small talk is being an avid listener.
This is a very important part of conversation. Many get worried about being able to communicate their thoughts clearly that they neglect to listen. Listening carefully helps in understanding and encouraging those who are speaking to you. Franklin Roosevelt, the thirty-second president of the United States of America, believed that most people were poor listeners. He believed that this held true especially when engaging in small talk conversations. To prove his point and amuse himself, he would greet visiting guests with, “I murdered my grandmother this morning. He was usually responded with a puzzling look yet a polite nod in approval. However, one evening he was impressed when one guest responded with a surprising response, “I’m sure she had it coming. ” Even so, Roosevelt did prove the common neglect individuals give towards small talk. So, why do people engage in small talk? Talking is the primary form of communication between all beings. The mere act of talking is a way to “break the ice,” relieve any tensions, and it helps individuals find a common ground amongst them.
Small talk is most commonly found in an instance when there is an uncomfortable silence, or is used in a situation where a person is waiting for something—it passes the time. There are many instances when people feel they have to engage in small talk simply not to be rude. We have been cultured in our society to view small talk as a politically correct act when in one of these instances. Those who do not openly converse with others are looked upon as rude and unapproachable. This leads to the topic of the benefits small talk has and its importance.
An article from the Los Angeles Times entitled, “Researchers take a high view of idle chatter” showed that an increase of social contact aided mental function. This affect is similar to those of solitaire games such as Sudoku and crossword puzzles, which have the same benefit when engaged in for the same amount of time. Good news for those who enjoy chatter, but not great for those who have difficulties with it. Striking a conversation with someone gives him or her the opportunity to either accept or reject you. This is probably the main reason for its importance.
Americans typically strive to be accepted by their peers. We want to be liked by our peers and when we engage in small talk we are being judged. A lot of the time it is the first impression we leave with someone. Another benefit of small talk is meeting new people and possibly new friends; or making new business relations, which could lead to a promotion or new business venture. Wendy Warman, co-author of Loud and Clear: How to Prepare and Deliver Effective Business and Technical Presentations, gives instructional seminars on how to effectively participate in small talk for big success.
Warman discusses the importance of small talk in order to improve communication, boost sales, enhance customer service and increase profits in any organization or industry. These are all very important benefits, which I think everyone could find use for. Now that we more thoroughly understand the basic means of small talk and what small talk actually consists of, we need to be aware of the topics chosen for these conversations. There is an ethical approach to small talk and ethical judgments need to be made.
Very frequently small talk is shared between individuals whom do not know each other well, therefore there are many ‘forbidden’ topics that should be avoided. When people do not know each other well it is not a wise decision to discuss personal information such as salaries or divorce. Two main topics that should be avoided are religion and politics. The foundationalist’s view should not be considered here since everyone’s justified beliefs on these topics might vary. The intent of small talk should basically be to get to know someone better, keeping in mind other peoples feelings.
Raised emotion may arise if one of these topics is brought forth in a conversation. The consequence of these discussions may be a negative response, being that many people have different beliefs and opinions in the matter. An altruistic approach is definitely called for when engaging in small talk. The “golden rule” of “Love your neighbor as yourself” should be remembered in these situations. Placing the other person’s feelings first will usually lead to a pleasant conversation with affirmative results. Thus one can also say a utilitarian approach is also necessary when engaging in small talk.
There are some basic guidelines one can follow to assist in creating proficient small talk. The first step before going to a function or gathering is to prepare yourself. Here is a list of tips that will help in engaging in small talk: 1. One should derive at least three topics to discuss as well as four questions that can be asked to others to spark conversation. If you know that there will be people there that you have met before, try to remember some things about them that you can bring up . . . maybe a charity they’re involved with or a hobby they partake in. 2. Be the first to say “Hello. Offering your name when greeting someone will avoid an uncomfortable situation of him or her not remembering your name. 3. Make an effort to remember names and use them frequently. 4. Motivate the other person(s) to start talking by asking an open-ended question that is common ground, such as, “How do you know the host? ” 5. Be an active listener and provide feedback. 6. You were given two ears and one mouth . . . you should listen twice as much as you talk. 7. Try to contribute something interesting to the conversation. Stay away from negative or controversial topics, as mentioned above. . If you want to meet someone in particular, be introduced to him or her by someone they respect. A mutual friend should be asked to do so. 9. When accepting a business card, receive it with both hands, read it, and place it in a coat pocket, purse or wallet to show it is valued. 10. Be mindful of you body language, this can cause others to be uncomfortable. Act confident. 11. Observe and listen before entering a conversation that has already begun. 12. Always be prepared with a few exit lines so you can have a graceful dismissal from the conversation. “Be bright. Be brief. Be gone. I chose this topic with the expectations of finding good reasons for small talk. Although I find small talk to be necessary and appropriate in certain situations, I find it unnecessary at time and frankly quite annoying. I still think talking about the weather with a fellow employee at the printer is unnecessary, but I don’t see those instances being avoidable. However, I have learned if you are active in using the tips provided, you can obtain more control over the conversation and guide it so that it is more enjoyable. Being prepared for small talk is the best way to avoid ‘lame’ conversation.
If you go to a function with a select few topics to discuss, chances are the conversation will be strong and others will be guided by your contributions. Another important matter in successful small talk is to think of others first. This is very important with successful small talk and getting positive results. You want to make people happy and to feel good—everyone likes to be around people that make them feel better about themselves. Reference List “12 Tips for Making Small Talk. ” CareerBuilder. com. 2005. CNN. com. 1 May 2009 Hoekman, Laurel. “The Benefits of Small Talk. Gray Center SUN News. 2008. Gray Center. 2 May 2009 Murphy, Peter. “How to Master the Art of Small Talk. ” Relationships/Communication. 2007. Ezinarticles. 1 May 2009 Rosenstand, Nina. The Moral of the Story: An Introduction to Ethics (Sixth Edition). New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. , 1994–2009. “Small Talk. ” Encarta World Dictionary. 2009. EncartaMsn. 2 May 2009 “Small Talk: Who, What, Where, When, Why?. ” EnglishClub. com. 1997–2009. nglichClub. com. 1 May 2009 “Wendy Warman. ” World Class Speakers & Entertainers: wcSpeakers. com. 2005–2009. wcSpeakers. com. 2 May 2009.