Conversation

Do you hate small talk? If you do, you’re definitely not alone, perhaps not even in the minority, and yet many people feel guilty about disliking meaningless conversation.

We are so conditioned to view social behavior as an absolute good that avoiding small talk is considered rude. This is part of something I call “the tyranny of extroverts,” a set of expected behaviors that are assumed to be superior, simply because they are louder or more visible. As someone who despises small talk, I’d like to debunk the myth that it is necessary or even useful.

Let’s start with a product analogy. Likely as a result of Apple’s influence, there’s been a trend in the tech industry to remove superfluous features and make things more simple. The goal is to create products that “just work” as opposed to products that can do everything at the expense of simplicity. Small talk is the equivalent of the superfluous features that should be removed. If you have something to say, you’re better off getting to the point as quickly as possible. What you have to say is a product, just as this blog post is a product. I doubt you’d want me to spend the first three paragraphs rambling about various unrelated topics. Avoiding small talk and communicating clearly isn’t a flaw, it’s an example of good product design.

Don’t you need small talk to build relationships?

Not really. Relationships built on small talk are superficial, and strong relationships are built on trust. Small talk can be socially disarming initially, but many people are so concerned about offending others or causing a disagreement that they’re afraid to go beyond this. Their only contribution is a polite smile and meaningless words of support. This kind of small talk is the worst because you can never get past the pleasantries into a more meaningful conversation. Since they won’t or can’t engage on a deeper level, it’s impossible to have intelligent discourse with these people.

What about small talk with your friends?

If you hate small talk, why would you have friends who expect you to talk to them this way? Wouldn’t you be better off associating with people who appreciate more enlightening conversations? Or at least conversations that are humorous, clever, or in some way useful? I understand the importance of just being there for them when they need someone to talk to, it’s part of being a good friend, but if their small talk is consistently a chore, it’s probably time to upgrade your social circle.

But doesn’t that make you kind of a jerk?

Some people might think so, but look at it this way. Aren’t they the ones being inconsiderate for wasting your time talking about pointless things? Wanting to be left alone or spoken to in a way that is mentally stimulating doesn’t make you a jerk. It’s the small talkers who believe they are entitled to waste your time. You don’t owe them anything.

The idea that small talk is a requirement for friendliness is a myth propagated by salesmen and overly enthusiastic Dale Carnegie types. As far as I can tell, the only people who actually enjoy small talk are power networkers and those who are too simple minded or lack the attention span to engage in more weighty conversations. So if you hate small talk, you’re not alone. You’re not being rude, and you don’t have to talk about Kanye West’s baby in order to be interesting. Let the small talkers waste each others’ time.

[Image Credit: Calgary Reviews on Flickr]