How Small is Small Talk?

Have you ever been in a situation, like being in an elevator with someone you don’t know, of feeling the awkwardness as you both are looking forward at the door as if the other person isn’t there: you suddenly break the silence with the profound observation of… “Nice weather we’re having lately, huh?” to which they reply “Yeah, it sure has been.”

I’m pretty sure most people can relate to the previous example if not a hundred others we have experienced at the grocery store, in school or at work where we have relied on ‘small talk’ as our go-to form of communication, saying things like “Hi, how are you?” to replies like “Fine, and you?” only to end it there and carry on your merry way when in fact you are feeling like hell that day and it would have been really supportive for you to actually express that with honesty and perhaps have a conversation with someone about what choices have led up to that current state of being.

Even though I am not saying we always have to get into some huge philosophical conversation with everyone we meet on the street, I know for myself that after I have resorted to this type of ‘small talk’ by holding back what was really there to say and feeling the other did the same, it has left me feeling flat and as if I had let us both down, like we could have gotten to a greater understanding and awareness, but chose to not do so for some reason.

So why do we continue to play this game when we all feel to some extent that it is not truly serving us to do so and we can feel there is so much more for us to share with the world, learn from, and grow by?

Are we afraid that someone will judge us for what we have to say or that by exposing how we truly feel we will be too exposed in that vulnerable state and be either rejected or hurt by how the other responds? It feels to me that there are so many things that happen to us as we grow up where we are not really honoured for what we have to say (especially when adults consider their views and knowledge to be more important or worthy based on their age or experience in life).

But if we consider for a moment the possibility of reincarnation, as is a prevalent belief throughout the world, then even as a small child we come into our current life with literally thousands of lives worth of teachings, skills, wisdom, revelations, and experiences of life that are held within our bodies and ready to be tapped into and shared with the world.

In fact, I feel it is our duty to not hold this wisdom back as we all bring such a unique aspect to the world based on all these lived experiences, whether in this life or past ones. It would be a shame to hold back sharing this with the world, would it not? And even though we may not have conscious memories of all these experiences, we can move our bodies with self-care and love in a way that allows that innate wisdom to come through us, knowing that even the smallest gesture of concern or expression of how you truly feel from your body with another can change someone’s day and allow them to not only know that other people care, but that through sharing honestly how we feel it allows others to feel safe about doing the same, thus bringing more awareness and truth to their lives.

There have been countless times where something inside me gave me an impulse to spark up a conversation with, for instance, the check-out clerk at the grocery store, and what unfolded was a beautiful sharing that resulted in our both feeling very connected to, understood, and expanded in a way that carried that lovely feeling into the rest of our day. You can feel someone’s eyes light up when someone takes the time to appreciate something about them and show them that you care. It truly is a catalyst that can trigger a transformation in us when we drop our protection or guard  – that is based on a previous difficult relationship or past hurt – and give people a chance to be themselves without any feeling that they will not live up to our expectations.

Relying on ‘small talk’ as our typical mode of communication really does keep us ‘small,’ but allowing ourselves to be open by going a bit deeper each time we interact with people can lead to an evolving form of relationship that may surprise with just how much we all have to offer each other.

Taking these small steps towards a more connected community can go a long way in helping curb a growing culture of people that seem to have given up on love and life and have ‘checked-out’ via the use of drugs, alcohol, and the myriad of electronic games/devices out there, isolating themselves from the world in an attempt to protect themselves from getting hurt again.

So, by making the effort to not settle for ‘small talk’ but instead be willing to take the conversation to the next level, we can all move towards a form of relationship with each other that brings us closer together and makes life more about evolving as a humanity and less about merely existing and getting through another day, week and year without that connection and expansion that we all can feel in our hearts is our true way.

By Michael Goodhart, Aircraft Technician, B.A. Psychology, Lover of Nature and being playful with life, North Carolina, USA

Further Reading:
Crying out for connection: technology and us
Connecting with people: a vital part of self-care
Connecting to People: No Such Thing as ‘Strangers’

75 thoughts on “How Small is Small Talk?

  1. What came to me reading this is what I love about my job, and that is just how little small talk there actually is working with young people. We have conversations about loads, sometimes very deep conversations about everything they are feeling. Similarly with colleagues, most of the time there is either purpose in our conversations, or a light heartedness to our conversation from working in a service where the work can be quite full on.

    1. Yes, people are itching to have conversations that mean something and not just stay on the surface, it is like it wastes time and there is an irritation that we are avoiding living.

  2. It is amazing how open others around us are now, and how willing to express anything when we are open when connecting to others — all of this by just speaking to them. We must not hold back this wisdom that flows through us!

  3. ‘So why do we continue to play this game when we all feel to some extent that it is not truly serving us to do so and we can feel there is so much more for us to share with the world, learn from, and grow by?’ Why indeed? On reflection and pondering on this question, what comes to me is first how do we truly feel about ourselves? For if we are truly there for ourselves, honouring how we feel, asking ourselves these questions and taking care of ourselves then of course, if there is a consistency with this, it will naturally ripple out to all the other relationships we have. So maybe in being genuine, real and honest with ourselves then stops the game of not being that with another.

    1. I couldn’t agree more Vicky, it’s the fact that most of us aren’t comfortable sharing us with ourselves and so there’s no possible way that we can share ourselves with others, hence the need for small talk.

  4. There is something super beautiful, inspiring and warming about extending conversation beyond polite small talk. And we all respond to it. It is like a breath of fresh air that liberates us from the niceties we have been trained to deliver and accept. There is no formula to this, simply the willingness to open ourselves up to the innate and truly loving connections we have with others.

    1. I remember once having a conversation with a teaching colleague ages ago about my observations around healthy eating. After the conversation she thanked me because she said she wasn’t used to people speaking in such an honest and candid way. This has stayed with me simply because I got to appreciate the enormity of how that connection and consideration can make someone else feel.

      1. So often when we converse with another what we bring is some form of regurgitated text, but when we speak from truth there is a fresh crispness to our words, and our words in turn have the power to offer evolution to ourselves and others, but when we speak from regurgitation then it simply nails us and others to the spot.

    2. Matilda although I agree with you that ‘extending conversation beyond polite small talk’ can be a very beautiful thing for many, I would also say that for just as many people, if not more, it is excruciatingly uncomfortable and even scary, which is why so many of us avoid it like the proverbial plague.

      1. Yes – in the protection of our hurts we can feel awkward in our vulnerability and if anyone gets close to uncovering what we have been trying to hide and protect we can feel exposed. So often shame is mixed in with our vulnerability as the world teaches us that it is weak to feel so. However if we were to acknowledge that we all feel vulnerable and that far from being a fault, it is one of our greatest assets then we would feel more comfortable in being transparent and would welcome the talk that supports with evolution.

  5. Thank you Michael by bringing this subject through you cast a light on something we’ve all done and probably still do. When open, we can connect and have beautiful conversations that go beneath surface talk and get to the heart of where we and others are at. This brings quality to conversations with some amazing revelations shared.

    1. Conversations can either be a ‘towards ourselves’ or an ‘away from ourselves’, so basically either an invitation for another to come in or a statement for others to back off.

    2. That transfers to everything we do in life doesn’t it – quality over quantity. I find that when I listen rather than talk, the conversation often goes somewhere I hadn’t expected which shows me that I had a picture of this person and what they were going to say. Inevitably it is sadly less than they actually bring so healing occurs on both sides.

  6. A conversation was transformed when I asked a friend ‘ How are you in your body? Taken by surprise, she stopped and felt before answering. The question invited her to connect with the truth of where she was at and share with another. She responded fully.

  7. There are many ways to communicate to another and some do not involve words. Many hours were spent with my Dad in silence, but connected to him. When he reached the advanced stage of dementia, and lost the capacity to speak, it was even more important to be with him without speaking, but also speaking to him without any expectation of a response. At this stage of life, being fully present with self with or without tenderly touching another, are powerful ways to communicate.

    1. Yes, I can really feel this. I may not be able to talk much with a close relative who has dementia but I feel we both are present and this is lovely to feel. Indeed talk can cause them great anxiety if they feel they have to reply, to live up to something but aren’t sure of what. Loving presence is such a gift we can bring one another, it has no expectations only the grace of being.

      1. “Loving presence is such a gift we can bring one another, it has no expectations only the grace of being”
        Beautifully expressed Karin and true.

  8. Yep – small talk is very small since it does nothing to offer another or yourself any evolution at all – best left unsaid.. Instead if we feel the impulse to utter it, could it be simply because we are trying to avoid feeling awkward? In which case it may be more purposeful to work on that lack of worth that needs to fill space rather than a sense of self worth that can feel and connect to the enormity that within the space itself.

    1. Small talk runs effortlessly off our tongues, it’s what constitutes most of our conversations, and not just when we’re in a lift with someone but at work, in the community and in our own homes. Sit in on most conversations everywhere and I can guarantee you that they will be small. The thought of making ourselves or anybody else uncomfortable is almost unbearable, which is why we continue to play safe by talking about not much at all.

      1. There is a lovely quote by Oscar Wild in an Ideal Husband about a character (Lady Markby) and it goes along the lines of ‘Talks more and says less than anybody I ever met’…

  9. Why do we feel the need to talk at all? We can connect to another without words. Sometimes the most profound of connections are momentary – a simple look into the eyes, a smile and a beholding – sometimes that’s all that’s needed.

  10. Sometimes I’ve observed myself not going into a converstion with someone to avoid the connection that is already there, because this connection would inescapably unfold, so I stop that because ‘I have to do some things and want to control the time I spend at every place to be able to do it everything’. How absurd is that! When I behave like this I feel empty later on, because I rejected and missed the opportunity of the encounter I could have, so thereafter I want to numb myself to avoid feeling the reduced version of life that I chose in that moment. Fortunately this is not always the kind of choices I make. I’m also experiencing another way and observing myself allowing the conversation to happen, without controlling, just connecting with the other and being open to what is there to be shared with them. This makes me feel energised, later I understand the reason of that meeting and feel very different and grateful for what that openness brought to both of us.
    Sometimes we think that we can go through life on our own, with the idea of independence and self-sufficiency and this is actually quite far from reality. In fact, we all are social individuals and our nature pulls us to meet and share with others. When we flow with this, we naturally support each other, enrich, learn, grow and evolve together and brotherhood just happens..

    1. Every interaction is an offering and what matters is how we respond and when we do, we truly begin to live life. We evolve through our relationships with others.

    2. Currently most of our interactions are in place to stop us from going deeper within ourselves, but there will come a day when every single interaction that we have will be for the purpose of taking everybody deeper into the belly of life, and deeper we will all go together until such time that we all collectively return back to the beginning again, which will feel so incredibly familiar to us all.

  11. Often when we choose small talk we are choosing comfort, our comfort zone – when this happens everyone misses out

  12. Michael small talk is what constitutes most of our communication but when you consider that we are all the living consciousness of God then you realise that it’s not actually small but minuscule. If we were living the truth of who we all are then we wouldn’t be speaking in the way that we do, the words would literally not be able to come out of our mouths.

  13. I love those spontaneous conversations, magic happens in them every time because we have both made space for each other, even if it is passing or whilst paying for something. However, I can’t do the passing ‘hello how are you? fine’ one though! There is an expectation of the same answer to close the loop of the question and to satisfy a feeling of being polite with no real connection or interest at all.

  14. I remember having quite a journey home, car broke down etc. I stopped off at a supermarket and when the man at the check out said how are you which is usual custom at this supermarket, I said well actually… and listed the many things that had ‘gone wrong’ in a light hearted way. The conversation that ensued was so joyful and life affirming. I really got to feel the gem of people we are surrounded by everyday that we probably don’t tap into. Such a wealth of wisdom and support that is there through people if we open up.

    1. Karin, your story perfectly captured the essence of what pulled me to write this piece in the first place. It’s like we are constantly being offered through an ordered arrangement these beautiful opportunities to deepen our connection with each other in a way that lets us see just how Divine we really are.

    2. Our words have the ability to open people right up and when that happens we get to feel the treasure trove inside, alternatively our words can keep others closed and consequently we get to feel nothing of what’s inside. And it’s a choice we’re making every time we open our mouths.

    3. And it is this support that I feel so keenly – the innate support and care we have for one another which is ready to be expressed and shared at the merest hint of an opportunity.

  15. This reminds me of all those times I have had conversations in order for either me to feel okay with another, or that they feel okay with me. Staying in the comfort zone, rather than make it about true or absolute connection, and as others have shared here and from my experience, so much, in fact volumes, can be shared with no words said at all.

    1. Vicky it’s interesting what you say about ‘volumes can be shared with no words at all’ because this was my experience yesterday whilst playing of all things a game of cards with someone. Even though our communication was purely about the card game the feeling of love between us was undeniably incredible.

      1. “volumes, can be shared with no words said at all. Vicky this reminds me of visits to my Dad and nature of our relationship. Many evenings spent together in silence, yet I was always aware of the quality of connection between us, which was beautiful. No words needed.

      2. Too many words can feel incredibly ugly and a single word can feel appalling, no words at all can feel terrible and equally a lot of words can be beautiful as can no words at all and a single word can feel like heaven, everything depends on the energy in which it is expressed.

    1. Talking is a movement and small talk is a movement that guarantees that we and the other person will not receive an opportunity to evolve. Having said that sometimes small talk is what is needed to provide a bridge between conversation that is non threatening to a conversation that offers the possibility of expansion.

  16. An observation at a wedding reception. A young man in his twenties chose to sit with a group of elder women. I was one of them. It was rare moment – all around the party atmosphere was in full swing, yet this young man paused to sit with and talk to us in recognition of the wisdom and grace offered by elder women and not for five or ten minutes, but over an hour he sat with us and together we shared. It was beautiful, he himself had a depth and ease with himself that allowed him to relate openly to us all.

    1. Wow, kehinde2012, now that was wisdom seeing itself in the wise group of elder women, wasn’t it? What a beautiful reminder that young people have access to all this great wisdom, but many times squander it by participating in entertainment that really does not help them evolve at all, while ignoring elders as if they do not hold as much value to society, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

  17. Currently, I am using a dating app and about 90% of the conversations are small talk, it’s so boring! However, I am 50% responsible for it as it takes at least two people to have a conversation.

  18. Simply connecting to others in the most appreciative way we can opens people up to feel more joy in their day. All we have to do is understand how we are more than this physical being, thus what we appreciate in another; and this is felt. Hence they become open to sharing more of themselves and the ensuing conversation confirms this as a fact. Thank you Michael. I agree we can take our expression with another to a deeper level and have amazing conversations.

  19. We can also share all of ourselves without saying anything, or be completely closed off yet talk to someone. I agree with you Michael about the taking care of the quality of conversation, it dawned on me that it’s actually part of self care to bring ourselves fully to these moments. And it’s not just small talk, there’s also big talking, trash talking, and the one hilariously made famous by Seinfeld – close talking! I like what you’re sharing here Michael to just be ourselves and not place any constraints on how or what we communicate based on circumstances or the person we are with.

    1. I’ve never heard of close talking!!!!! 😶 but this is so true what you have shared here and ‘We can also share all of ourselves without saying anything, or be completely closed off yet talk to someone.’ So maybe what it comes down to not what we say but how first we are with another … or maybe how first we are with ourselves!

      1. Maybe we need to invent “closed talking” and “open talking” 😀! In Seinfeld the “close talker” gets inappropriately close physically when they say something, it was awkward and very hilarious! I read a fabulous quote today on intimacy and some of what it shares is that intimacy begins with an open body and letting people really see you via your eyes – what I felt was sharing all of us is a whole body expression well before the words come out. Thanks Vicky, lovely to chat ❤️

      2. A senior manager I once worked with routinely stood uncomfortably close to women in particular when he talked to them, and more often than not, talked at them. Many found this intimidating and is an example of ‘close talking’

    2. I totally agree with you Melinda about being able to share all of ourselves by saying nothing. In fact, I wrote another blog called ‘The Space in Silence’ a few weeks ago that may be coming out soon, which describes just that in detail. Silence really can offer someone the space to come to a greater understanding of what they are feeling and when you hold someone with your love, the results can be amazing as they feel all of it and it offers them an opportunity to respond in kind. I also cracked up when you mentioned ‘close talkers’ as I am a big Seinfeld fan and there is a guy at work years ago that would talk super close to people, making them feel uncomfortable sometimes as he was ‘in your bubble’ all the time (kind of compressing space, right?)

      1. “Silence really can offer someone the space to come to a greater understanding of what they are feeling and when you hold someone with your love, the results can be amazing as they feel all of it and it offers them an opportunity to respond in kind.’ Some beautiful examples of this were shared recently by a nurse fully present with herself who without words, triggered something in others which brought them to tears. We offer much through the quality we hold in our bodies and can offer others a safe and loving space to be, deeply connect to and share unexpressed feelings.

    3. We speak with our bodies long before we open our mouths and yet we have reduced conversation to verbal communication! If we were truly intelligent we would recognise the depth of non-verbal communication and be far more responsible with our movements.

    4. I really like what you’ve shared here Melinda about it being part of self care to ‘bring ourselves fully to these moments’ because as someone who held herself back from others and only ever offered others a tiny sanitised version of me, I can vouch for the fact that it’s incredibly disregarding to do so.

  20. I shared both my lunch and my dinner time with other people yesterday. People I am not ordinarily with. These are often times where we can keep conversations safe surface and nice. In both sets of conversations we went deep to various aspects of things that are going on in the world, both from personal observations and experiences and what we know is happening. On one level it may seem like doom and gloom but neither conversation felt that way, especially when someone was sharing their experience of something. By listening and deepening our understanding of each other builds all of our relationships and our understanding of the world around us. I even had my lunch box washed up for me after our shared lunch. You just never know where a conversation will go!

  21. Loving your expression Michael. Your blogs are coming through thick and fast inspiring all to step up in their expression, so naturally here is one on small talk. Loads to be discussed here and I also really love that you have brought into this ‘if we consider for a moment the possibility of reincarnation, as is a prevalent belief throughout the world, then even as a small child we come into our current life with literally thousands of lives worth of teachings, skills, wisdom, revelations, and experiences of life that are held within our bodies and ready to be tapped into and shared with the world.’ Absolutely! I have reflected on this a few times in 1. how I can someone ask someone ‘how are you?’ but have not REALLY meant this. It has on occasions been ‘I will say this to show I care and make myself feel good in saying this but really I am either not interested or have not got time to hear how you are!’ Ouch! This has changed over time but I am sure if we are honest, many of us have done this at least once in our lives. 2. The other of course is saving face, if we are being asked how we are and want to say we are good so everything seems okay and the other person will have a more hopefully ‘wholesome’ view to us than if we tell the truth where we then may be judged in how we are making us feel worse. All of it is very exhausting. Maybe if we let go of pictures, worries, concerns, thoughts of ‘what if I say this’ or ‘I am not going to say this’ then our conversation will not only be more natural but there will be a truth to it as well.

  22. So much wisdom in these words, and a connection with another person does not always have to be expressed in words. Standing in an elevator and not saying anything can also lead to a moment of grace where both people feel connected, unimposed upon and left to get on with their lives. Sometimes we feel the need to break out of the tension by engaging in small talk, but the tension is never with the person and feeling awkward that you’re in closed parameters – the tension is usually with ourselves and feeling uncomfortable with the silence because the silence gives space to feel whatever is going on for us.

  23. There’s a depth of conversation to have with friends and family when our conscious intent is not to dip into small talk. This requires a state of readiness to truly listen, pick up on cues offered that invite us to bring more of ourselves and truthfully so. Taking conversations to the next level is true communication and as you say Michael offers a way to evolve together as a community.

  24. I agree with you but also find at times that talking about those kind of topics can ‘break the ice’ laying the foundation to go deeper with the conversation after that. I always feel it is very much about how I hold other people, how much I allow my love to be felt in how I am and talk that matter most. Then there might be initial small talk but this does not matter as the connection is there.

    1. So true what you are saying here Leike, and I totally agree. There are certainly many times where you or another may just not be ready to ‘go there’ with anything deep right away, but that breaking the ice with a simple comment can be a bridge to a broader or deeper conversation that you may leave feeling more expanded. It’s when we settle for talking about the weather or just a basic acknowledgment of someone else’s existence all the time and are not willing to take it any deeper that we miss out on all we have to offer each other by way of our lived experiences and wisdom.

      1. The word that strikes me is ‘settle’ and this reminds me that when we settle we leave things unexpressed and that is energetic first and verbal second.

  25. Checking in at the check out can change a routine task to connection with another human being and inspire others in the queue to be more open.

    1. Thank you Mary, and may I add that checking in at the checking in queue at an airport has opened others to the most Loving connection and this has been shared by many attendants on numerous occasion at different airports around the world.

      1. Absolutely Greg. I could see how powerful that would be to not get into the usual hurried anxiety of the airport and really connect with the people working there who are many times met with a lot of hostility from frustrated travellers. They must light up when you meet them in that way!

  26. I love traveling in lifts, especially in the village community I live in. It’s where I meet people and each time someone I’ve never met before enters or I enter, my way of connecting with them is to introduce myself, this invites them to do the same. Each time we meet we build.

  27. Your post has made me aware of how often I do ‘small talk’ at checkouts etc. This new awareness will enable me to find other topics of conversation, although starting a conversation at a superficial level can lead to a deeper connection in time.

    1. Better to not have an agenda, simply connecting from where you and they are. No forced attempt to have a deeper level of conversation but being aware the choice is there. Connected to who we are, meet a person through their eyes and take it from there.

    2. Sometimes though ‘small talk’ can be used as a form of truly connecting with another. I will often ask someone at a supermarket check-out ‘how has your day been?’ so our eyes can connect and we can meet each other. Then again I guess if we are using expression in this way as a form of connection it is not small talk!

  28. “You can feel someone’s eyes light up when someone takes the time to appreciate something about them and show them that you care.” I love appreciating people and complete strangers get surprised when I appreciate an item of clothing they are wearing or if I have noticed and commented on how honouring they behaved in a certain situation. This has led to interesting conversations on occasions.

    1. Appreciating is a beautiful way to connect to another, and yes people are often surprised. This way of being flows naturally from what is offered, not something pre-planned.

      1. Yes, Kehinde appreciation that comes from our true expression is a wonderful blessing as it opens up our heart and our whole body feels more expanded and vital. When we live what we express we are expressing in every moment whether we are alone or in a bus full of people. We are never truly alone.

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