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103: Pleasantries

les of small talk (Real Simple)
6 Ways To Avoid Small Talk, Because Life Is More Meaningful Than The Weather (Bustle)
Transforming Talk: The Problem with Gossip in Late Medieval England (Penn State University Press)
Talk Deeply, Be Happy? (New York Times Well Blog)
Is Efficiency Overrated?
Minimal Social Interactions Lead to Belonging and Positive Affect
(Social Psychological & Personality Science)


Full episode text

Small talk gets a bad rap. A very bad rap. The New Testament book of 2 Timothy urges readers to avoid “irreverent babble” because it leads to ungodliness. Medieval books drew a clear line between silence being holy and therefore small talk being tawdry. This attitude extends to modern days, when Bustle the blog dictates that “life is more meaningful than the weather” in an instructional for avoiding small talk. The New York Times’ Well blog even discusses, at length, a study that seemed to show a correlational relationship between “substantive” conversations and happiness.

This bad rap, though, may be quite undeserved. Harvard Business Review provides a guide for international workers in the United States that includes a discussion of how important – and egalitarian – small talk truly iis in the U.S. Unlike in some other cultures, it’s considered appropriate – and often times almost required – to be able to make small talk with just about anyone of any social stature. This small talk helps lubricate the social gears, and often creates a sense of connection with an individual, without creating a deeply intimate connection.

A May 2014 Social Psychological and Personality Science study actually found that individuals who have “minimal social interactions” – as little as looking your barista in the eye and smiling while you’re ordering your morning coffee – actually has a big impact on your overall level of happiness. How? It creates a feeling of belonging, which is powerful for almost any human.

Being good at small talk also tends to expand your social network – and study after study shows that individuals who are good at small talk tend to be more popular. Why? That small talk is that social lubricant again that allows us to discover things about one another and make small connections that create larger, more stable, and more enjoyable social networks.