It’s not the size that matters
By Elliot Chan, Contributor
Small talk doesn’t need to happen, but it does. Often overwhelmed by the awkward silence between two people, small talk manifests itself in various occasions from waiting in line for coffee to mingling at a social gathering. Since it’s too strange to smile at someone and not say anything, we might as well try to perfect the skill. Properly conducted small talk will make a big impression, but there’s the possibility that negative repercussions will leave you looking like either an obnoxious rambler or a disregarding jerk.
While some of us have busy lives and are eager to get things done, others are lonely and starved for human contact. The key is being able to identify which is which. So before you ask someone how he or she is doing, ask yourself if you even care. A simple “Good morning,” or “Hello,” might sound drab and boring, but it’s a polite way of putting the conversation onus on the other person.
Some people prefer entering a conversation with “How are you doing today?” and most of the time it’s harmless, but every so often you’ll find someone who just isn’t doing well and wants to vent. Sure, you might’ve helped that person relieve some stress, but they also murdered a chunk of your day. Is it worth it? If you don’t want to know how someone’s weekend was, don’t ask. If you don’t really care how their family is doing, don’t inquire about them. To avoid exiting a conversation early and leaving the person feeling rejected, it is important to understand what you want out of the small talk.
There’s nothing wrong with the classics. Talking about the weather has become a cliché or a bad habit, but why should it be that way? Why can’t we just embrace the topic? After all, despite all the science in the 21st century, weather is still an uncontrollable factor in our lives. It’s fascinating! Shouldn’t we talk about that? And since so few of us are ever correct about it, shouldn’t we take in everybody’s opinion? If even the professionals can’t get it right, then it seems like a very harmless conversation to have
Well-constructed small talk can be a very enjoyable experience. It doesn’t need to have a compelling anecdote or a passionate rant; it only needs to be mutual.
Turn small talk into meaningful talk
By Joel MacKenzie, Staff Writer
There’s no doubt that questions like “How are you?” are overused to the point of redundancy. The start of most of the conversations I have with bosses, co-workers, and even friends begin with “How are you?” followed by “Good, you?”—each spat out as quickly as possible with no expectation to hear anything other than the stock reply. What is the point of asking something so personal if we expect a response that is nothing close to it? “How are you?” and similar questions should be followed by a personal response, or should not be asked at all.
The questions seem like a polite way to start a conversation, but they are pushed closer to rudeness when they are reduced to a formality. Asking about others shows respect to them by inviting them to reveal something personal; it shows that their feelings matter to someone else and that someone wants to connect with and understand them. But when it turns into a knee-jerk response to seeing someone, it becomes meaningless. When the question’s answer is expected to be completely impersonal, the question itself almost asks the opposite of what it really does: “Tell me something personal about yourself” becomes “Sum up your feelings in one word, preferably ‘good.’” Being reversed, the question is closer to an insult than a respectful gesture. At best, this is an annoying hurdle to jump past before starting a conversation; at worst, it is a barrier restricting people from opening up.
Honest, personal conversations are what we should always strive to have. As much as the truth isn’t always pleasant, it is what it is. No one is always “good,” and no one should feel the need to act phonily in normal conversations.
When asking someone how they are is meant to be meaningless, it pulls people apart by making them more concerned with formalities. The question should be said only with meaning, or not at all. Ask someone how he or she really is, and start making honest connections with people that go beyond rehearsed script.