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Why small talk is so excruciating

https://www.vox.com/2015/7/7/8903123/small-talk

vox.com

Why small talk is so excruciating
This essay was originally published in 2015 and has been lightly updated. I hate small talk. Hate it. And when I say I hate it, what I really mean is I'm abysmal at it. Just a total failure. Here's how I experience small talk.

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Small talk

Small talk

Not everyone enjoys small talk. It is not that they are not comfortable talking, but one-on-one, small talk remains an issue.

Small talk precedes big talk in the normal course of human affairs. Most people feel the need to connect first before they delve into the serious conversation or ongoing friendships - which means those who avoid small talk are removing themselves from meaningful social interaction.

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Small talk has meaning

Anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski noted in 1923 that a great deal of talk "does not serve any purpose of communicating ideas" but "to establish bonds of personal union." He also said that small talk was merely a way to fill the silence.

He was wrong. Small talk is not just for those seeking companionship. It enacts and reinforces social roles in a whole range of social, commercial, and professional settings. 

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Speech operates on two levels

  • Speech communicates information or ideas. It is the semantic content of speech.
  • On another level, talking is a social behavior. Every speech does something. It reassures, acknowledges, nurtures, enjoins, rejects, dominates, encourages, or just fill an awkward silence.

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The social function speech

The daily human interaction speech is a social, relational behavior. It reveals the social fabric.

Small talk is not void of semantic content. Even saying "I am doing well" has some information. But, the primary function of small talk is to do something. It is meant to serve the purpose of social bonding.

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Two talking skills

To "talk well" in the social sense is to send the correct social signals and is different from "talking well" in the communicative sense. 

Few people can master both. Most people are either extremely verbal and eloquent but socially inept or intuitively at ease in a social situation but inarticulate beyond that.

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Not for everyone 

Not everyone needs small talk. For some small talk feels like their head is a haze of white noise and they desperately want to escape the interaction.

But, they feel comfortable if you dive straight in and ask about politics or religion or the meaning of life. 

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SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Small talk

It’s a brief conversation between you and someone you don’t know very well. 

Small talk is an essential stage of a casual conversation, especially in English-speaking cultures.

How to get better at small talk

  • Have a genuine interest in getting to know a person you’re talking to and learn from them.
  • Ask open-ended questions. It encourages the other person you're speaking with to open up.“What do you do?” followed by “Why did you choose that type of work? How did you enter that profession?”
  • Never talk about something too personal.
  • Practice active listening. By paying attention to the speaker’s words, you’ll create much stronger connections.

Our mental processes and habits

E-thinking has moved us into habits of grabbing our phones to answer the simplest of questions: finding the map directions to a known address, or calculating the square root of four.

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You can’t pay attention to anything

Attention is selecting which elements you look at, interact with, and remember. Attention can get tired, like a muscle.

The internet is a very powerful stimulus for attention. It offers information constantly, demanding and overloading a system that was designed to function in the low to medium social networks of the natural world.

The burden of task-switching

Trying to protect oneself from boredom and the fear of missing out (FOMO), has caused people to switch from tab to tab, or screen to screen on the desktop. 

People switch between content on computers every 19 seconds, viewing the content for less than a minute. Multitasking this way breaks concentration. You lose time with this and context-switching and deplete your available mental energy.

4 more ideas

Gestures and Speech

  • Gestures are closely linked to speech.
  • People seem to gesture naturally and even blind people who haven't seen anyone gesturing, are able to do so.
  • Our words and gestures close...

Gestures Aid Thinking

  • Just as speech puts our thoughts into words. pir gestures put our thoughts into our hands.
  • Gestures aid our thinking and many problem solving tasks are done in a better way through the help of gestures.