A while back, I wrote that there are no bad essay topics — there are only bad essays.
Similarly, there is no such thing as small talk — only small minds. The good news is, if you're one of those people who "hates small talk" or thinks small talk is "boring" or "meaningless" or "shallow," you are not doomed to be boring and meaningless and shallow.
"Small talk," like any social skill, is a skill. And this one is really easy to learn.
All you have to do...
Is care what other people say.
Yes, really — that's it!
A behavior commonly mistaken as flirting (See also: Why you should "flirt" with basically everyone), listening to people when they talk and caring what they say is like, the greatest and easiest social skill ever!
And, unlike when you're sitting there talking endlessly about yourself, it's a really cool opportunity to learn something you didn't already know.
Here's a story I shared on Quora after seeing dozens of people ask questions about how to avoid small talk:
I was camping (for free, by the way — see also: Harvest Hosts) at Indianhead Mountain up in the UP, and I stopped by the Sky Bar (they have all-you-can-eat chicken wings on Tuesdays — I couldn’t not!) for dinner and a bonfire.
Image: Harvest Hosts Lets You Camp For Free. It's Also Keeping Small Businesses From Closing During the Pandemic.
There were several people at the bonfire — all locals. All from a super small, isolated town. (“It’s not a town, actually — it’s a village,” one of them.. either corrected me or joked.) None had traveled. None even really had internet in their homes.
We seemingly had nothing in common — what could we possibly have to talk about?
It ended up being one of the most interesting, energizing nights of my trip (and I've just started the 18th month of the trip, so that's saying something!).
I asked everyone how they knew each other — two had met working on a small goat island (“Wait — what??!!”), and I couldn’t stop asking follow-up questions (“So…. you pay to rent the goats? How much does it cost per day to rent a goat? If you have goats, why did you also need to rent sheep? Where do they do in the winter? Have you tried goat yoga?”).
Free camping! Image: @TheHappyTalent
I asked one what he did for work — he told me that he was the manager at not one, but two local grocery stores, and some of the logistics and challenges he’s faced rival those of my friends with fancy tech jobs in Silicon Valley. The ins and outs of running a grocery store are endlessly fascinating.
Then, I asked a question that really got the men fired up:
“What kind of chainsaw do you use?”
This sparked a very lively discussion about the advantages and disadvantages to different types of chainsaws, as well as stories about the family and local history of logging in this area. Prior to The Question, two of the men had crushed their beer cans and said goodnight — then they stayed another hour to share their stories and experiences.
"Where do you work?”
“How do you know each other?”
“What product do you recommend?”
To a small mind, this is small talk. To a large, open, and curious mind, this is the stuff of lasting friendships and unforgettable conversation.
So there you go. Open your mind to learning. Become curious. Be genuinely interested in others. Suddenly, small talk won't feel so small anymore.
Another Quora user had a slightly different perspective, which I also wanted to share here. On the same question, Jerry Pagart answered:
You have to become less self centered and develop some empathy.
Is it a harsh take? Sure. But sometimes, cruel is the kindest thing you can be — especially given how rare honest feedback is — from friends, from family, and even from professional therapists.
I'm glad I read his answer, because I think he's identified another reason people might hate "small talk." They prefer ME! ME! ME! talk.
Which is a really good way to make people forget or dislike you.
Be bigger than that.
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Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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