The Destructive Power of Small Talk
Some time ago I came across this article. I found the main premise that small talk prevents the development of strong relationships between people truly captivating. It helped me to understand the reason why I feel like I’ve been struggling to create new friendships in the last few years. It made me realise something that I had suspected all along – I need to feel truly connected to someone in order to perceive them as a friend. I need to feel that there is a common ground, which we share. More than that, I need to feel that I understand them as a person, that I know what they consider important in life. I want to know about their core beliefs, what motivates them and what their deepest fears are. And if I discover that we have a lot in common on any of these topics, I feel inherently attached to them and ususally a friendship forms.
However, I have found this to be easier said than done. And I think the reason for that is small talk. Nowadays, engaging in small talk is so easy that we all do it automatically, without a consious recognition that yet again we have engaged in another meaningless conversation about the weather.Small talk is a safe haven – you can’t be wrong engaging in it. On the other side, talking about truly meaningful topics with people you don’t know very well poses the risk that you will be perceived as weird, strange or at least different from most. And no one likes to be different – social exclusion is an innate human fear.
Yet, I continue to strive for meaningful conversations with those I meet. I have never been one to care too much for other people’s opinions so if someone perceives me as different I would not mind too much. That’s not to say I do not fear social exclusion (I am not super-human 🙂 ) but I somehow find it in me to put my needs of connecting with people in meaningful ways first; that is, my needs matter to me more than the approval of complete strangers. And if those strangers are not willing to open up and be vulnerable in their converesations with myself and others, then that is how we will remain – true strangers to each other.
No matter how much society is forcing us to conform to engaging in small talk, I am not willing to succumb. I have proof in my personal connections and friendships that the truly important relationships in my life are based on information and knowledge sharing, emotional empathy and attachment, and you don’t get either of these through small talk. Therefore, I will continue to seek out those people who feel the same way, no matter how many others tell me that “small talk is necessary so you can feel at ease with other people” and “you cannot always talk about deep stuff, it’s no fun”. I know for a fact I feel more at ease with someone if I know we share a passion, a fear or a strong belief about a key aspect of life and I know how much more emotionally invested I am in the “deep” conversations that are supposedly “no fun”. The best jokes I’ve ever laughed at have been intelligent jokes.
Having meaningful conversations should not be associated or equated with having boring conversations. Nor should someone trying to connect with others in this way rather than through small talk be perceived and labelled as “too serious” or “arrogant”.
You don’t want to let small talk destroy your ability to connect with others and make friendships likely to last a lifetime. If you let it, before you know it you will start wondering who is this person you call “you”.