While I was on break at work the other day, someone I didn’t know, but who clearly worked at my store, came over to the smoker’s table and sat on the other end. I turned and said something like:
You’re new, right?
(they replied with their name, which I’ll leave out for reasons) Nice to meet you.
And then they told me which department they worked in, probably about a 4 word sentence:
I work in (also being left out)
After a moment, they clarified:
In the back, mostly.
What department do you work in?
I’m the Grobody team leader…so, both, kinda. Grocery and Whole Body.
Oh, that’s cool.
And that’s basically where the exchange stopped. We hadn’t even made it to the small talk part, really. Before I knew it, the only thing to talk about was the weather (it was raining), so instead I pulled out my phone and twittered a bit.
This is all to say, small talk sucks and is generally a really hard type of talk to have. For me, at least. I will admit that I have been told once or twice that I’m particularly bad at it. Which isn’t great. You’d think that something that’s so commonplace and normal would be pretty easy. I mean, I’m pretty good at ordering drinks at the bar and asking for help in a store–aren’t those basically the same; meaningless conversations with strangers that only last about a minute.
No, because these have specific purposes, which is what makes them easier. It’s the lack of a real clear cut goal that makes small talk so difficult. If only I cared about how some team was doing or what the weather is/was/will be like.
There are other ways to interact with people that aren’t exactly big talk, but they’re like “medium talk,” or possibly just “talk.”
Talk–things like pop culture, work, weekend plans etc would fall into this category–I can do just fine. Maybe the differentiator is more than just having a goal, but also having an opinion. I have basically no opinions on weather or sports, but lots of opinions about books, art, music, how I want to spend my weekend, etc. Possibly too many.
For some people I can imagine that for a decent number of people these things may reasonably be categorized as small talk. Similarly, for people who have opinions on sports and weather–does anyone have opinions on weather? Meteorologists. Are there passionate meteorologists, who care about it outside of work?–these things would for them be elevated to Talk, right?
Then there’s BIG talk, which I enjoy the most, but is hardest to have without some sort of alcohol or other enhancer (coffee could even be sufficient). It’s always about things that people care loads about–religion, politics are two broad categories that basically cover everything in the big talk arena. Big talk is the kind of thing that can lead to arguments and therefore, my relationship with it is kind of love/hate. While I find that I learn quite a bit as a result of these conversations, I have to deal with a couple other things: 1) that sometimes I don’t like the other person’s opinions, 2) that I can’t really change them, 3) that maybe I’m the one who’s wrong (?) and 4) that most of the time other people know more than I do about something. Number 4 there really goes hand-in-hand with the learning thing, when you think about it…
I will admit though that the thing I like about small talk is the fact that it doesn’t really have much of a beginning or an ending. It’s something that happens from time to time and then it just stops.