So, how about this weather, huh?
I’m sure you’ve either asked this question or something like it in a brief conversation. It’s an example of what we call “small talk”. Small talk can be useful as it allows us to engage respectfully in situations where there simply isn’t the time or inclination to take a conversation into deeper topics.
Chatting about the weather, sports, or weekend activities can serve as good small talk, but there’s a common understanding that this kind of conversation is more of a polite social recognition than an honest inquiry into the wellbeing of the other person.
Small talk can be tiring. You may have heard someone express their frustration with having too much small talk in their day. Retail workers can suffer small talk fatigue, engaging with hundreds of customers each day, minutes at a time. “Did you find everything okay? Have a great weekend!” These polite phrases can be repeated so much they start to lose their meaning, and the words ring hollow in the mind of the speaker.
Small talk can be limiting. When you engage in small talk, you’re signaling to the other person a polite acknowledgment, but you’re also signaling an intention to keep the conversation brief. This can be appropriate, depending on the situation, but it certainly cuts off any opportunity to learn something more about the other person… or does it?
Small talk can become “Big talk”. Behind every low-commitment topic like weather or traffic, there hides something more meaningful. Think about it. Why do we love it when the weather is nice? We value our comfort, sure, but we also each carry with us a lifetime of memories associated with the weather, and a world of possibilities for how we want to enjoy it.
“What do you like to do when the weather is nice?” is the kind of follow-up question you can use to break through the small talk. At least, it will give you the opportunity to learn something new–something valuable and unique about the person with whom you are speaking. “I like to take my dog Rosie to the dog park and play catch. We both get our exercise in and she gets to meet other dogs, which she loves.”
If a coworker makes small talk about last night’s baseball game, aside from breaking down the score, you could ask them who their favorite player was as a kid. For me, that kind of question brings back formative childhood memories of cheering from the stands, opening up packs of baseball cards, and playing little league with my brothers.
How you approach it depends on the topic, but most small talk can be turned into big talk if you try. The next opportunity you have to learn something new about someone, take it. Allow yourself to be curious. Big talk doesn’t mean spending all day with someone, though the risk of extended conversation is part of the deal.
vidl conversation is all about engaging in the kinds of conversations that go beyond small talk and reach into something greater. Show someone they’re vital through your genuine curiosity.