Let’s talk about “Small Talk.”

Small Talk is defined by wikipedia as “an informal type of discourse that does not cover any functional topics of conversation or any transactions that need to be addressed” (source). In other words, Small Talk is talk about nothing.

Small Talk has several nicknames:

  • shooting the breeze
  • chitchat
  • exchanging pleasantries
  • idle chatter

Let’s talk about why you need to use Small Talk.

Why you need Small Talk

Small Talk is an important part of the conversational process, especially with strangers or people you haven’t seen in a long time. It seems strange that talking about nothing would be important, but you have to understand the purpose it serves: priming.


What do lawnmowers and conversation have in common?

When I was younger, one of my chores was to mow lawns. When starting your typical gas-powered lawnmower, you can’t simply pull the cord and expect the engine to start — you need to press a little bulb by the engine that squeezes gasoline into the engine, because gasoline usually dries or empties out. This process is called “priming.”

Conversation with people is the same way — you should not jump into conversation of substance with a person before first “priming” the person with some small talk. If you do skip small talk, you may find that the other person feels uncomfortable or the conversation feels awkward because you went straight from saying “hi” to talking about life goals.


The Conversational Hierarchy

Conversation topics can be about anything. However, when you are talking with a stranger or an acquaintance, you cannot talk about the same things as you would with a trusted friend or trusted family member.

Here is a general conversational hierarchy, showing from top to bottom, the progression of conversational topics from shallow to intimate. As people get to know each other more and feel more comfortable with each other, they can talk about deeper topics. Deep conversational topics of course, are what establish bonds and intimacy between people. And bonds and intimacy are what lead to the development of trusted friendships and romantic partners or unbreakable bonds between a trusted parent and a child.

a conversational hierarchy, somewhat poorly drawn

a conversational hierarchy, somewhat poorly drawn

So why is Small Talk important? Because it is part of the basic, initial step you need to establishing lasting relationships. Not everyone you have small talk with will become a friend. In fact, most people you meet will not have a large place in your life. But the goal here is to have the proper social introduction skill so that you can eventually meet the right people who will be, eventually, significant people in your life.