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Why small talk is so excruciating

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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Why small talk is so excruciating

Why small talk is so excruciating

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

vox.com

6

Key Ideas

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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 brain while listening to words
Our brain while listening to words

Our brain uses two separate areas to identify the mood and the real meaning of the words. Words are passed to the left temporal lobe of the brain...

Words only count 7% Myth

The myth purports that we use 55% body language, 38% tone of voice and 7% actual words.

The research of Professor Mehrabian had nothing to do with speech, but to guess emotion based on the recordings of a single word. 

Actual words "must dominate by a wide margin", argues famous author Philip Yaffe.

Facial expression in speech

Smiling is one of the most powerful elements when thinking about speech.

The smiley face is rated with the highest positive emotional content. The painting of the Mona Lisa with her contented smiled is one such example.  

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Preparing For Small Talk

If you often find yourself participating in small talk about topics you have no interest in or have already discussed to exhaustion, the solution may be asking people unexpected...

Small Talk Questions About Work
  • If you weren’t working here, what would you probably be doing right now?
  • How did you become a [job title]?
  • What’s the craziest thing a boss has ever asked you to do?
  • If you were guaranteed to be successful, what job would you want?
  • What was your first job? Did you like it?
  • What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? How about the worst?
Small Talk Questions About Entertainment
  • Are you reading any good books right now? How about shows?
  • Are there any apps on your phone that you can’t live without?
  • If you could only watch one genre of movies for the rest of your life, what would it be?
  • Do you have any podcast suggestions for my commute?
  • What’s the last movie that made you cry? Or laugh aloud?
  • Who is your favorite person to follow on Instagram?

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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.

...
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.

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Happy/sad music

Our brains respond differently to happy or sad music.

One study revealed that participants interpreted a neutral expression as happy or sad to match the tone of the music they heard. 

Ambient noise can improve creativity

A moderate noise level is ideal to improve our creativity. It increases the processing difficulty which stimulates abstract processing, leading to higher creativity. 
High noise levels impair our creative thinking because we feel overwhelmed and struggle to process information properly.

Music and personality

Different genres correspond to our personality. For instance:

  • Blues and Jazz fans have high self-esteem, are creative, outgoing, gentle and at ease
  • Classical music fans have high self-esteem, are creative, introvert and at ease
  • Opera fans have high self-esteem, are creative and gentle
  • Rock/heavy metal fans have low self-esteem, are creative, not hard-working, not outgoing, gentle, and at ease

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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.
Turn Small Talk Into Intriguing Talk
Turn Small Talk Into Intriguing Talk
  • Twist a “light topic” with a serious tone: use what you already know to ask more personal questions or go deeper into topics.
  • Play it straight: admit that you don’t like ...
Narrative Habits

The way we talk to ourselves about the events in our lives is subject to the same laws of learning and habit formation that physical behaviors are.

That means we can learn to talk to o...

Events + Thoughts = Emotions

Our emotions are always mediated by some form of thinking. 

If our thoughts determine how we feel, that means how we habitually think will determine how we habitually feel.

Mind Reading

It happens when we assume we understand what other people are thinking without any real evidence.

It is a failure of imagination because we often only imagine and focus on the negative aspects.

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Looking Friendly
  • Smile. It is even more important than you think. It's a great way to create trust. We judge people to be more pleasant when we are smiling.
  • Expand. Body movements th...
Being More Influential

The best body language for influence depends on your goal. Make sure your body language matches your words to make you more effective.

  • If you want to increase the attractiveness of an offer, think sales-y. Use animated movements. Lean forward. Move and speak quickly.
  • If you want to reduce resistance to what you're saying, think calm and authoritative. Specific gestures. Lean back. Move and speak slowly. 
Looking Like A Leader

It is important to balance the appearance of authority and warmth.

  • You show authority and power by your upright posture, your command of physical space, purposeful stride, a firm handshake, and palm-down gestures.
  • You communicate warmth nonverbally with open body postures, palm-up hand gestures, full-frontal body orientation, positive eye contact, synchronized movements, nods, head tilts, and smiles.

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An icebreaker that works

The only icebreaker question that'll work every single time: Tell me about yourself.

It is more effective than "So what do you do?" Posing a broad question lets people lea...

Stay curious and engaged

After the initial breaking, you have to really listen to how the other person responds. What are they excited about? Ask them more questions about that.

Pay attention to body language. You will be able to tell if someone is losing interest, for instance, eyes wandering, crossing arms or turning away from you.

Exit gracefully

Not every conversation will be a big hit. You will run out of things to say. Be honest. Say you've got to go to the bathroom or say hi to your other friend. Then go.

Even though it might feel rude, remember that it will free up time to start another potentially interesting conversation with someone else.