Death to small talk

Most human interaction is a combination of canned responses.

Does anyone enjoy small talk? Are there people who look forward to talking about the weather and asking about each other’s weekend plans? Why is that the default?

Everyone appreciates an authentic moment. A chance to really see another person…does it get any better than that? So why is it so hard to be authentic? Why does society expect us to waste so many words talking on-script?

We appreciate authenticity, but we’re scared to show it ourselves. How can we break past this cognitive dissonance?

A lot of my lifelong incorrect belief that I was an introvert boils down to the fact that I hate small talk. I suck at it, first of all. And it’s boring. I assumed that my hatred of small talk meant that I was an introvert. It didn’t occur to me until recently that small talk is not required.

So lately, I’ve been experimenting with skipping past small talk and diving right into big talk. A few examples:

  • In a casual work chat, after saying hi, I skipped the next 10 minutes of canned small talk. I jumped straight into a tough question about how he has stayed sane in the same role (CEO) for 20 years, with no boss and no growth path. He rolled with it without missing a beat. We went deep for 30 minutes on what it means to have a boss and how there are different types of growth. It was amazing.
  • A neighbor and I ended up at the same spot at the same time. I knew that she was taking a break from her teaching job during the pandemic. So after saying hi, I asked her if she’s been missing teaching and the meaning that brings to her days. She lit up and I got to know her in a way that 7+ years of neighborly chit chat has never allowed.
  • A relative was at our house a last week. Usually, we’d chat for only a couple minutes about surface level “how’s work going?” type stuff. This time, I asked him why he has stayed with the same company for 40 years and if he’s ever wanted to leave. He was so excited to tell me about his career and why he’s avoided managerial roles and why he’s considering leaving now after all this time. This is a guy I’ve seen weekly for 15 years, and we had never made it past the canned interactions until now.

Powerful things are happening in my life when I go off-script. I’m finally seeing people authentically that I’ve “known” for years.

I wish I had realized decades ago that small talk is not only optional, but toxic.


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