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What is small talk?
Small talk is an informal type of discourse that does not cover any functional topics of conversation
or any transactions that need to be addressed. Small talk is conversation for its own sake. The ability
to conduct small talk is a social skill; hence, small talk is some type of social communication.
In spite of seeming to have little useful purpose, small talk is a bonding ritual and a strategy for
managing interpersonal distance. It serves many functions in helping to define the relationships
between friends, work colleagues, and new acquaintances. In particular, it helps new acquaintances
to explore and categorize each other's social position.
The functions of small talk
The desired function is often dependent on the point in the conversation at which the small talk
Conversation opener: When the talkers do not know each other, it allows them to show that
they have friendly intentions and desire some sort of positive interaction. In a business
meeting, it enables people to establish each other's reputation and level of expertise. Where
there is already a relationship between the two talkers, their small talk serves as a gentle
introduction before engaging in more functional topics of conversation. It allows them to
signal their own mood and to sense the mood of the other person.
At the end of a conversation: Suddenly ending an exchange may risk appearing to reject the
other person. Small talk can be used to mitigate that rejection, affirm the relationship
between the two people, and soften the parting.
Space filler to avoid silence: in many cultures, silences between two people are usually
considered uncomfortable. Tension can be reduced by starting small talk until a more
substantial subject arises. Generally, humans find prolonged silence uncomfortable, and
sometimes unbearable. This can be due to human evolutionary history as a social species, as
in many other social animals silence is a communicative sign of potential danger.
The topics of small talk
The topics of small talk conversations are generally less important than their social function. The
selected topic usually depends on any pre-existing relationship between the two people, and the
circumstances of the conversation. In either case, someone initiating small talk will tend to choose a
topic for which they can assume a shared background knowledge, to prevent the conversation being
Topics can be summarised as being either direct or indirect. Direct topics include personal
observations such as health or looks. Indirect topics refer to a situational context such as the latest
news, or the conditions of the communicative situation. Some topics are considered to be "safe" in
Television and films
A study of small talk in situations which involve the chance meeting of strangers has been carried
out by Klaus Schneider. He theorises that such a conversation consists of a number of fairly
predictable segments, or "moves".
The first move is usually phrased so that it is easy for the other person to agree. It may be either a
question, or a statement of opinion with a tag question. For example, an opening line such as
"Lovely weather, isn't it?" is a clear invitation for agreement.
The second move is the other person's response. Schneider suggests that politeness in small talk is
maximised by responding with a slightly longer answer than you might think. Going back to the
example of "Lovely weather, isn't it?", to respond factually by just saying "Yes" (or even "No") is less
polite than saying, "Yes, very mild for the time of year".
Schneider describes that subsequent moves may involve an acknowledgement such as "I see", a
positive evaluation such as "That's nice", or what's called "idling behaviour", such as "Mmm", or
Small talk rules and topics can differ widely between cultures. Weather is a common topic in regions
where the climate has great variation and can be unpredictable. Questions about the family are
usual in some Asian and Arab countries. In cultures or contexts that are status-oriented, such as
China and Japan, small talk between new acquaintances may feature questions that enable social
categorization of each other. In many European cultures it is common to discuss the weather,
politics or the economy, although in some countries personal finance issues such as salary are
Taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_talk, 23rd
A. Make the Person Comfortable
1. Have approachable body language. If you want to make a person feel comfortable, the best thing
to do is to have an "open stance" and to direct your body toward that person without being too
forceful. Just make eye contact, don't cross your arms, and face your shoulders toward that person.
This will make the person feel like you're giving him all of your attention and that you're not just
lukewarm about talking to him. Maintain the right distance from the person. Though you should look
eager to talk to the person, don't look too eager. Don't lean in so close that you overwhelm the
person or scare him away. Many people are turned off by a close-talker.
2. Give a friendly greeting. If you're seeing someone you already know, just say hello and greet her
by her name: "Hi, Jen, it's good to see you." This is simple and direct and lets the person know you're
excited to talk. If you don't know the person, introduce yourself first so you feel more confident and
in control of the conversation. Just say, "Hi, I'm Marla, what's your name?" Repeat the person's
name when she tells it to you, and she'll feel more special. Remember to smile and pay attention to
the person when you greet her. Don't make it look like you're just killing time until your real friends
3. Keep things light and positive. Conversations are just as much about an exchange of energy as an
exchange of information. To make great conversation and great small talk, you should keep things
light, fun, and positive. If you're upbeat, ready to smile at a moment's notice, and laugh over things
that aren't that funny, then you'll make the other person want to keep talking to you - even if you're
only talking about your favourite brands of cereal.
It's true: it may be hard to keep things light and fun when you've had a really bad day or bad week.
But remember that if you're making small talk, then this person is not your closest friend, so you
should avoid talking about anything too negative or the other person will be turned off.
4. Start with a small compliment. Just a simple, "I love your shoes - where did you get them?" can
get you into a fun conversation about shoe shopping. Even if the compliment doesn't lead anywhere,
it will still make the person feel more appreciated before you start discussing other subjects. You can
also use this move earlier, as a way to actually introduce yourself to someone.
Relax, the whole world is not watching you.
Watch your breathing; make sure you are not breathing too rapidly or holding your breath.
Always be respectful.
If you don't read/watch the news, at least scan the headlines each day.
Sometimes if you are comfortable around a girl, a good corny joke told the right way can
really make her smile.
Practice by talking to your milk-person, post person, etc. You can just say 'hello' if you are
From: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Small-Talk, 23rd
B. Start Talking
1. Find common ground. Common ground doesn't mean that you and the other person are both die-
hard horseback riders. It can just be as the fact that you've both had to deal with a lot of bad
weather that week. Anything that the person can relate to and that establishes a connection,
however tenuous, can be considered common ground. And just because you don't want to talk
about the weather, remember that the "small stuff" can lead you to talk about the things that
matter to you. Here are some ways to establish common ground:
"Can you believe all of this rain?"
"I just love coming to Arbor Cafe."
2. Reveal something about yourself. Once you've established some common ground, you can use it
to elaborate and say something a bit more personal. You shouldn't say something so personal that it
freaks the person out, like, "I've actually been in love with Professor Hoffer for the last five years,"
but you can ease in to talking about yourself just a bit more. Here are some things to say to follow
up with the last statements:
"The rain is just awful. I'm training for a marathon and had to do my long runs on the
treadmill -- it's the worst."
"Whenever I'm at this cafe, I just really feel like I'm in the zone. Maybe it's the intense drip-
coffee -- but seriously, I feel like I can work for hours here."
3. Engage the other person. Now that you've established common ground and have revealed
something about yourself, it's time to engage the other person and get her talking by asking her to
reveal some information about herself. Don't ask anything too personal, like asking about the
person's health, religion, or political views. Just keep it light and fun and ask open-ended questions
about the person's interests, job, or surroundings. Here's how you can engage the other person:
"How about you? Has the rain kept you from doing anything fun this week?"
"Do you come here to do some work, or are you just reading for fun?"
4. Follow up with a question or statement. The person's response will influence whether you follow
up with a question, a statement, or a joke. Try to find a balance between questions and statements.
Too many questions will make the person feel like he's being interrogated, and too many statements
won't give the person room to talk. Here's how you can keep these conversations going:
Other person: "I don't mind the rain so much, but it made it hard for me to walk my dog!
That was so annoying."
You: "You have a dog too? I have a little poodle named Stella. Do you have a picture of your
Other person: "I'm just here to read for fun. I can't believe I've gone this long without reading
The Catcher in the Rye."
You: "I love that book! Some people think it's overrated, but I completely disagree."
5. Notice your surroundings. Once you start really talking to the person and get your back-and-forth
banter [‘banter’ means informal conversation] going, you can also look around for cues for what to
talk about next. You can notice anything from what the person is wearing or holding, to a sign on the
wall that may apply to both of you. Here are some things you can say:
6. Take the time to listen. Really listening to things that the person says can help you pinpoint new
common ground and to steer the conversation in a more fun or productive direction. The person
may make a small comment that's tangential to your question or topic, so keep your ears open and
see if something the person says can trigger a new line of conversation. Here are some example of
how two people can pick up on cues and steer a conversation in a new direction to connect on a
From: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Small-Talk, 23rd
C. Finish Strong
1. Open up (but not too much). By the end of the conversation, you could reveal something more
about yourself, however small, whether it's your obsession with your cat, your passion for yoga, or
just your thoughts on your favourite band's new album. Have the person walk away knowing
something about you, which could make you connect on a deeper level and make the person think
you weren't just shooting the breeze [‘shooting the breeze’ means talking just to fill time].
You probably shouldn't reveal your thoughts on the meaning of life, lost love, or death in a round of
small-talk. Just reveal something about yourself and wait to develop a deeper bond before you get
2. If it's going well, mention hanging out again. If you've really enjoyed talking to the person, you
can say that you really liked talking to this person about a certain subject and ask if the person wants
to hang out again or get the person's number. Or you can just mention a place where you both will
be. Here are some things you can say:
"I'm really serious about seeing that new movie with you. Can I get your number so we can
work out the details later?"
"Maybe I'll see you at Ashley's next party? I hear she won't let you in the door if you're not
wearing a real toga, so it'll be something to see."
3. Say goodbye nicely. After you've made small talk but have to go, whether it's to get back to class
or to talk to someone else at the party, you should make the person feel important, not like you
were just talking to them because you had to. Here are some ways to end the conversation politely:
"It's been great talking to you. I'll let you know how that paella recipe works out for me."
"I'd love to talk more about Spain, but I haven't said hi to Nina yet, and it looks like she's
about to leave."
"Oh, there's my best friend, Kelley. Have you met her yet? Come on, I'll introduce you."
"I wish could keep talking to you, but AP Calculus is calling my name. I'm sure I'll see you
Always retain as much as the person says. Especially, if she emphasizes a certain subject, try
your best to be interested and talk about it.
Do not force people into having small talk with you; some people are introverts, and
everyone is social at certain times and with other people. Some may not care about the
weather or where you get your shoes.
From: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Small-Talk, 23rd