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Small Talk: Just Filler or Worthwhile?

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Why do we bother with small talk? We often fret over how to keep conversations light and fun, or how to really grab someone’s attention. It’s easy to grumble about small talk feeling pointless or time-wasting. And let’s not forget the classic cocktail party stress, where we’re supposed to chat with lots of new faces – that can be pretty overwhelming.

We keep making small talk, even though it can be tough. There are even classes on how to ace it. Experts tell us what’s okay to chat about and what’s not. And there are loads of books on how to meet people, chat about this and that, and get along with coworkers.

It’s often a big stress. But really, ‘small talk’ means it’s supposed to be no biggie. Still, we take it super seriously. I’ve helped people who are more on the quiet side get the hang of it. We pick topics they like and know stuff about, then practice how to swing the chat towards things like Humphrey Bogart movies, Frida Kahlo’s art, or how puffins can fly but penguins can’t (yep, puffins aren’t penguins!).

A new study shows that just four minutes of chit-chat can help you work better with someone. In those few minutes, you get a feel for their personality. This helps you figure out the best way to get along and work together.

If you figure out someone’s outgoing, you’ll find they’re easier to chat with. Plus, we often think others are like us, so we connect faster and easier. But really, we’re just building a quick idea of how they like to talk. Even if it’s not perfect, it helps guide the chat.

Small talk is great for making our talks with people smoother. So, what’s really happening when we make small talk?

When we small talk, we’re actually sharing loads of unspoken info about each other, especially when meeting someone new. We’re figuring out things like: Is this person friendly or not? Can I trust them? Can we work together? Who’s more in charge? What’s our social status? Could they be a potential partner? And so on.

We don’t usually realize we’re ‘asking’ these questions. We’re not clear on the exact answers, but we get a vibe whether we’d like to stick around with them – or not. That’s the point at a party where you either say, ‘Gotta grab another drink, excuse me,’ and leave, or you lean in and ask, ‘So how’d you learn so much about puffins? They’re such cute birds. Tell me more!’

Don’t brush off small talk, and don’t be scared of it. It’s less about what you say and more about how you say it – whether you’re outgoing or shy, friendly or distant, lively or calm. Just go with it and accept how it turns out. You’re not wasting time at all.

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