Talking Small

I’m not the best small-talker.  For me, the function of small talk is a warm-up for deeper conversation.  I’m comfortable with that.  First you have to serve the ping-pong ball back and forth a couple of times before settling on a shared topic of interest.  But these days, small talk has become the so-called conversation.  At parties, people become uncomfortable when you actually want to talk.  Serious conversation is almost looked at as work, as social emphasis is placed on being entertaining and, well, shallow.  I come home from my day of interacting feeling frustrated that I’ve been caught up in a bunch of words with no value. My friend, Dana, warned me as a freshman on the Facebook scene not to be discouraged if my posts don’t generate many replies.  Apparently, people love to talk about the weather and what you’re cooking for dinner.  Really?  People are logging into the cyber-world for small talk?  Tim Challies argues that “We live in an age in which words have become a cheap commodity, and much of our communication has become unbearably light, frustratingly anti-intellectual, and devoid of substance” (The Next Story, p. 76).  This, he views as a negative consequence of the digital explosion.  I also see it as a side-effect of hurried, busy lives.  Between running from school, to preparing a quick meal, to baseball, my thoughts are fragmented and my time with the people I encounter is brief (except in sitting through a game of little league kid pitch!). Even when I do try to bring up a thoughtful topic, or ask a deeper question, I’m often given the cricket serenade.  Reflective thought these days comes off as smarmy, or a bit weird (that’s why we become bloggers).  But think about it.  Social critics lament on the fact that the average US home has their TV on for at least 7 hours a day.  If we do the math, that’s at least 49 hours a week and 2,555 hours a year.  I wonder how our small talk time would add up?  Maybe we’re just putting out what we’re taking in. Small talk isn’t always a bad thing.  It is a good warm-up to find a conversation topic.  And there are definitely transitional times in our day when small talk is the appropriate talk.  There’s nothing wrong with being entertaining and light—sometimes we just need to get together and take a load off.  And lately, the weather has been an interesting topic for conversation.  Light talk is handy when we are amongst new acquaintances.  There are plenty of appropriate uses for small talk.  But are we using them appropriately, or are we just talking small?  Moving Forward Do you want some more meaningful conversation?  Me too!  Here are a few tips that may get us moving in the right direction:
  • What are you taking in?  Is that TV on for 7 hours?  How much time are you spending keeping up on your friend’s latest status updates?  What was the last good book you read?  How is your time in God’s word?  If we feed ourselves with knowledge, we may have more worthy things to talk about.
  • Be prepared to ask good questions.  Since we are busy, and our interactions may be brief, think of some questions that you could ask to help you learn from the person you may be engaging.  You could even brainstorm on the car ride there. 
  • Remove some of that veneer.  Many times that smile on our face doesn’t express joy.  Rather, it’s pasted on there to portray an image—I’m fantastic! Now leave me alone.  We have to be willing to notice some our own off-putting, intimidating non-verbal gestures if we want to be approachable.
  • Always have the gospel in mind.  As I find myself going way off-track in gossip, or meaningless chatter, I need to be reminded of the gospel—and place it back in the center of my thoughts.  This is our conversation filter.  I need to get better at reminding myself before my mouth opens.
  • Schedule some get-togethers with purpose.  Sure, it’s great to have evenings out just to be light and have fun, but make sure you also plan for enriching dates .  For example, invite someone over for coffee-talk to discuss the biggest challenges they faced this semester in college, or to talk about the latest books you have read.  Stating a purpose of conversation before the visit can help keep you focused on quality time.
Now, talk amongst yourselves…