Small talk: sending the ball back

Have you ever wondered what we really mean when we talk about the weather?

Experts say that what we intend to do through small talk is to get in contact with someone else. Nothing more, nothing less.

In order to succeed we normally use simple topics which, at first, may seen rather silly (you know, the weather, sports), topics that everyone can talk about. The point is you don’t want to be original, because what really matters is the process of contacting, of approaching the other person, rather than the content itself.

Small talk is considered phatic communion, an expression first used by anthropologist Malinowski, in the 20’s which refers to any free aimless social discourse, a mere exchange of words.

But why do we do this? Why is it important? To avoid addressing someone directly, going directly to the point. It helps to warm up, to build trust. Through small talk I also assess how approachable you are. Imagine I ask you “how was the trip?” and you only reply “fine. I try again and add Where did you go? “Spain”. Well, in that case, having those one-syllable words by way of reply, it’s almost impossible to start any reasonable conversation.

In small talk, all we want is a response. So, in cases such as the one described, I can’t expect any confluence.

As Allie Edmardsson clearly puts it “it’s all about sending the ball back”. “Small talk – she explains- is part of the tennis match right at the beginning”.

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