Small Talk Sucks

by Sirin Thada

Fact:  more small talk occurs between the last week of November and the first of January than any other time of the year.

Okay, I made that up, but it certainly feels true.  We are just beginning the Small Talk Season and I don’t look forward to it.

Someone found my blog by searching the question “why do highly sensitive people hate small talk?” and I wondered “doesn’t everyone hate small talk?”  Everyone except those people who are comfortable wherever they are and talking to whomever’s around. Who are these people?  Instead of asking why do people hate small talk, we should be asking how can anyone like it?

I don’t know if all highly sensitive people hate small talk. I do and here are my reasons. You may relate:

Small talk is too SMALL — It’s meaningless, repetitive, and meaningless (that needed to be repeated).  I can’t stand meaninglessness but don’t mind superficial topics. Except I like going DEEP on superficial topics, something that small talk doesn’t allow. This quote from Susan Cain’s Quiet:  The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking  hits the nail on the head:

It’s not that there is no small talk…It’s that it comes not at the beginning of conversations but at the end…Sensitive people…’enjoy small talk only after they’ve gone deep’ says Strickland. ‘When sensitive people are in environments that nurture their authenticity, they laugh and chitchat just as much as anyone else.’

Small talk requires too much energy.  It doesn’t return the energy I put into it.  I have to think of things to say to empty questions, observations, and ideas.  It’s harder to do than talking about weightier topics.

Small talk forces me to think quickly about stuff I don’t care about.  Again, this requires energy.

Small talk is full of “non-questions”.  Non-questions are questions asked that seem like the questioner wants to know something but they actually don’t care about the answer.  I have a crazy habit of listening to people and trying to answer carefully people’s non-questions and when I do, I seem like the weird one for treating the question like an earnest one.  Again, energy.  How do you know a question is a non-question?  While you’re in the middle of answering it the person who asks looks bored, cuts you off, or you get a feeling the person just felt like hearing their own voice or wanted to seem like someone who asked questions that seemed like they cared about another human being.

Small talk is boring.  I never find out anything interesting about someone through small talk.

Small talk kills the beautiful silence.  I like silence.

Small talk gets in the way.  I’m too busy thinking, feeling, noticing to talk about the weather.

Small talk doesn’t allow me to do what I love.  I prefer long, big bursts of talk to short, small talk.  I’m a passionate ranter.

I understand why small talk exists.  It will always exist.  I would love to live in a world where we could all go straight to being best friends with everyone and by-pass the small talk stage that occurs at the beginning of every relationship.  Some relationships only exist at the small talk stage because without it, other more meaningful relationships wouldn’t thrive.  I would love to live in a world where silence was as valued as talking. But we do not live in that world.  Polite small talk is a necessary evil in our society.

I figured out a couple of flawed ways to enjoy(?) small talk.  To make small talk more bearable to me.  Feel free to use them.  I have to be in the right mood and right state of mind to use these tips myself.

1.  I get super interested in someone by asking a lot of very specific questions until I find a topic that doesn’t bore me.  I don’t do it often because it’s sooo annoying to hear myself talking a lot and it makes me seem like an attorney.  But!  Usually I can get someone to start talking about something that is actually fascinating and it stops feeling like we’re chit-chatting.  This happens so rarely, but when it does it’s sweet.

2.  I ask people how they FEEL.  Not in that touchy-feely way, but I express how I experience something and encourage the other person to do the same.  I ask “Was that fun?  Was that exciting?  Were you comfortable?  Did that make you angry?  Was that difficult?”  Doing this stops small talk in its tracks.

One of two things happen when I do this.  Either the person tells me how they feel about something and it’s interesting and we start having a real conversation.  Or, they don’t answer. They don’t know how to answer.  I’ve interrupted their blah, blah, blah.  They don’t experience things or they don’t know how to talk about it or they don’t want to talk about it and it’s fascinating to witness it.

Those people tend to stop talking to me.