I have never thoroughly enjoyed ‘small talk’. In fact the older I get the more I seem to despise it. I always thought of it a meaningless waste of space and longed for deep diving, intimate conversations with people that opened me up in all ways possible. I lusted after pure vulnerability that unlocks two people and invites an energetic exchange that makes space for a conversation that moves into deeper waters way beyond the shallow depths of small talk. I wanted to know what moves people, what lights them up, what are they afraid of over the perceived mundane nature of the weather, how bad the traffic is, the price of things these days and other common and overused subjects of small talk.
According to Wikipedia (our ‘not so reliable yet always quotable’ resource these days) Small talk is conversation for its own sake. It is a bonding ritual and a strategy for managing interpersonal distance.
It lubricates social interactions generally in the following 3 ways;
- A conversation starter (encourages positive interaction especially between strangers)
- At the end of the conversation (softens rejection of one another, validates the interaction and affirms the relationship. And…
- Fills the uncomfortable silent space – my own personal pet peeve!
Whilst of course I would partake in small talk as a common courtesy to the people around me it never left me feeling alive, thirsty for more or obviously moved in any way. It was more of a necessity and came out of politeness rather then desire; thus is the conundrum of the deep thinking, obsessive, inspiration junkie that I am!
However a recent chance encounter changed all of this for me in an instant.
It was a rainy and overcast Wednesday night and I was on my way home from a long and exhausting hospital visit. I had been there for most of the day and I HATE hospitals so even though I was pleased to get out of there I felt drained, mentally exhausted and bone weary tired…it had been ‘one of those days’. I needed to pull up at the fuel station to full up my tank and unlike my beloved Bali, in Australia they don’t have attendants so you need to get out of the car and do this yourself (I know, can you believe that ???). I put the nozzle in the gas tank and started filling up not really paying attention to my surroundings when all of a sudden I hear a mans voice;
“How ya goin’” (said in a strong Aussie Accent)
I looked up and politely smiled “Not bad thanks (lie) How are you?”
This was his invitation to engage with me in small talk. Unbeknownst to me I had just officially opened up the channels of communication and he took the reigns and let rip.
“Yeah not bad Love, had a pretty rough day with the rain. I am a landscaper you see, can only work when the sun is out. They say it’s forecast to be miserable like this for the next 4 days which doesn’t really suit me if you know what I mean but we can’t really trust the bloody weather forecasters these days anyway, can we?”
“Um no I guess not” I replied.
“But you know the earth really needs this rain so I can’t complain too much as there are people out west in heavy drought, you know begging for a downpour like we’ve had, poor buggers”.
The Landscaping man and I continued to engage in small talk for at least 15 minutes and during this time I had a huge realisation.
I was absolutely loving it!
We spoke about the weather, the price of fuel, the engines of land cruisers (which I happened to be driving) and the building construction that was going on next to the fuel station. I kept chatting away to him well past filling up my tank and as it came to an end I found myself feeling somewhat disappointed our little encounter was over.
I went in and promptly paid for my fuel got back in my car and drove off, never to see that man again.
As I was driving home I felt so much lighter, it was as though the hardship and stress of the day had vanished. I was going over our conversation in my head and felt really grateful to have had a simple chat, nice pleasantries, a real life human interaction with a nice man for no particular reason at all, about absolutely nothing important at all. It was then for the first time I fully understood the power of small talk.
- It allows us to drop out of the busyness of our own heads for a minute and engage in the present moment with another human being
- It opens up channels of communication and expression despite the mundane topics
- It gives you a chance to respond, react, form opinions and connect with another human being
- It provides a chance to be pleasant and courteous to a fellow human being just for the sake of it and without any agenda at all
- It may potentially open the doorways to something beyond your expectations or wildest imagination, you never know unless you engage in the primary small talk that we endure in chance meetings with strangers
- It allows you to use eye contact, body communication and show general interest (or dis-interest) in another person.
That man demonstrated to me that small talk does have some power for our conversation lifted me out of my weariness and gave me energy that I needed for a long drive home in the rain. I could have so easily shrugged him off and remained non-committed to engaging with him and I was so happy I didn’t because he made me feel connected. I felt relieved of the stories inside my own head as we spoke and although I didn’t learn anything new I felt as though I was a human being taking part in a kind encounter with another fellow human being whom I will never see again. And in that moment that made me feel good.
In the days that followed I was ‘small talking’ all over the place; at the supermarket, with strangers in the street, in the hospital waiting rooms, on the beach and in the parking lot. What I learnt was this;
…a kind encounter, a nice word, a warm smile or a common agreement, a nod of the head in knowingness with a stranger can change your whole outlook on your day and bring warmth in to your heart if you allow it. This only happens when we open our mouths and talk to the people around us, even if it is about the weather or the lack of free parking available in the parking lot.
I now engage in small talk whole heartedly with full presence and have noticed so many blessings this once perceived ‘waste of space’ is now bestowing upon me. Yes I still long for the deep, juicy intimate conversations that inspire me but I fully acknowledge that small talk can and will move me in subtle and delicious ways if I allow it.
So now I want to know from you;
- Has small talk ever made you smile?
- How often do you allow yourself to engage in small talk with strangers?
- Has any unusual occurrence, spontaneity or serendipity happened to you whilst engaging in small talk?
- What are your favourite mundane topics?
In love, light and small talk delight,