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Here are Carol's five reasons why small talk serves an important role in our relationships with others:
1. It is a way to establish trust. The actual topic of the talk is really immaterial; it is the gesture of time spent facing each other, exchanging pleasantries, and establishing that friendship is wanted or is possible; and nothing else is possible without this trust-building period.
2. Small talk is the on-ramp to genuinely interesting and relevant conversations. These substantive conversations cannot go from a cold start but they can start from a rather random or mundane observation. They need something like:
“Hello! Boy, that was one gorgeous day today! I played hooky and walked my Doodle down at Ocean Beach.”
“You’ve got a Doodle? I’ll be getting one in about a month. How are they as puppies? Are you using a crate? How about house-breaking?”
“If you’re interested I meet with a puppy group on Saturday morning at 9am. You’d get a chance to see different ages. And we talk about these kinds of things.”
“I hope it’s here in the city; I’d like to come. My name’s Steve.”
What this person really needed to learn about is the new puppy breed he is looking to get, but the conversation started with the weather.
3. The road to your future will be paved with social conversation. A person’s particular importance to you may not be apparent as you begin the exchange, but the relevance will emerge as you pay attention to the ‘free information’ being offered to you in the chat. No one will just walk up to you and say, "Hey, my company is hiring and you just seem like a good fit!"Or the love of your life is not going to come up to you and say, "You know, I just get the feeling we would it hit it off romantically!" Everything starts with small conversations.
4. Simple conversations and small talk establish positive familiarity and can be very helpful at the right times. Just chatting or a simple introduction may seem perfunctory or unimportant, but it can open doors when you might be in an emergency situation and need something. Just saying hello to your office building guard on a regular basis can come in very handy when you are locked out of your office and need him or her to let you in. If you shared small talk, that guard will trust you enough and recognize you and let you into your office, which, depending on what's at stake, can make all the difference.
5. Small talk can convey caring and affection. Do you ever just ‘hang out’, or “shoot the breeze”, with someone face to face or on the phone? It may take you nowhere in the utilitarian sense, but will strongly communicate your caring to that other person. Sure, you can have an intense sit-down conversation but too much direct intensity is overwhelming. You can establish as much with a random chat like this:
"So what you are up to?....Frying chicken! I thought you were going to give up on fried foods!...So what’s the new doctors name?...Got a specialty? Is that right! It’s amazing you found a gerontologist. I hear they’re really hard to find. What she like?.... Well, that sounds O.K… I’ve got a new doctor, too but I haven’t actually met with him yet. He seems to have a good reputation.”
Sure, it's blah-blah-blah, but it also says "I care about you and your health. I want to know how you're doing."
Now go call your Grandmother!