Maybe it is the first day on the job, or the first day of college, or you suddenly find yourself in a position where you have to make conversation with a random stranger. What do you do? If you’re in Bangalore, then you can go on for ages about the weather. And then, you rack your brains for some other topic of conversation. An awkward silence stretches, you avoid eye contact and pray for the universe to make you slowly disappear from the room.
Wikipedia describes “small talk” as polite conversation about unimportant things. A lot of people openly proclaim that they hate small talk. They think that it is beneath them to indulge in it. They believe in having deep meaningful conversations that enrich their worldviews. But, small talk has the potential to do all that and more!
If you think about it, most of the people in your life are connected to you by small talk. The people you have meaningful conversations with will only be a handful. But you need these other people because we are social animals and our brains are tuned to absorb a variety of different details and knowledge. Small talk might actually help us learn more than we would give it credit for. A random topic of conversation with a senior colleague that you endure painfully might come in handy to you at some other point. A stray fact or statistic might save your face in a big presentation when your mind suddenly goes blank and this untethered piece of information floats to the surface.
But there is, of course, also a flip side. Some days, it might seem like all you do is small talk. You yearn for a conversation that makes you feel like yourself again. And those days, you have to take the leap from small talk. You have to find someone who you think is tolerable and ask them personal questions. They might recoil in shock and horror initially. But eventually, they will open up. Because ultimately, everyone wants to talk. But there is no one to listen. Be that listener and you might just find a kindred soul.
So, the next time you find yourself in a solitary bus/train ride or waiting in line for the booster dose, test your small talk skills. Hone it like you would a fine art and see how you can steer the conversation to different trajectories. You might just stumble upon something big hiding behind all that small talk.