Developing good social skills at a young age can help people to be successful in many different areas of their life. Social skills embody everything from making eye contact to how we are able to interpret another’s reaction. In very young children these skills are all but absent but the learning curve is very quick. We see toddlers say “please” and “thank you” and we watch as they learn how to share. As we get older these skills become more natural for most people but not for everyone.
I often hear clients, who struggle making new friends or starting new relationships, tell me how they really hate to make small talk. They are usually referring to the type of conversations that seem superficial or insignificant. This doesn’t mean that that these individuals are devoid of meaningful relationships, it is simply more challenging for them to get there.
In her book entitled Small Talk
, Dr. Justine Coupland looks at the role that small talk plays in many circumstances. She examines how it is used in politics, business dealings, and general social discourse. Coupland describes how small talk is used to relieve anxiety and even keep couples connected.
It is true that when couples stop sharing the seemingly mundane aspects of their lives they begin to drift apart. It is those light conversations about things such as a television show or a trip to the market that can sometimes bridge the gap after an argument or when time apart has driven a wedge. Think of it as a jump-start. In fact, couples will often tell me how hard it is to re-engage after an argument and it is typically some form of small talk that breaks the ice. Of course if it only feels safe to engage in small talk then the relationship is in trouble as well.
In an era where families are spread across the country or even the world and contact is often made via text or email, hearing someone’s voice becomes even more meaningful. Just a, “Hello, how are you doing?” type of call keeps people connected. The call, and the voice, become more important even than the content. When people reserve making that call for only big reasons or questions the connection is often not as great.
Clearly people need to develop skills that allow them to have a conversation about deep, meaningful issues but learning how to be comfortable with small talk is often the catalyst for getting to those deeper topics. It also serves to make people feel less alone in the world. For someone who may be socially isolated, something as simple as a conversation about the weather with a stranger in line at the supermarket can bring tremendous comfort.
The ultimate message is that while you may find small talk boring or a waste of time it actually serves an important role and its value should not be underestimated.
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