How many times per week do you find yourself talking about topics you have no interest in or have already discussed a million times — just for something to say? Whether it’s waiting for a slow elevator with a co-worker, talking to an acquaintance at an industry event, or chatting with a complete stranger at a networking event, it happens to all of us. Can you use small talk to test someone’s intelligence?

So, to combat these incredibly boring conversations, I started asking people unexpected, thought-provoking questions that couldn’t be answered with a simple yes or no. The results were awesome: I learned cool facts about other people that I would’ve never picked up in “normal” conversation — and as a bonus, we became closer.

And as a double bonus, I got to stop weighing in on the weather. In spite of seeming to have little useful purpose, small talk is a bonding ritual and a strategy for managing interpersonal distance. It serves many functions in helping to define the relationships between friends, colleagues, and new acquaintances.

In particular, it helps new acquaintances to explore and categorize each other’s social position. Small talk is closely related to the need for people to maintain a positive face and feel approved of by those who are listening to them. It lubricates social interactions in a very flexible way, but the desired function is often dependent on the point in the conversation at which the small talk occurs:

  1. Conversation opener: when the speakers do not know each other, it allows them to show that they have friendly intentions and desire some positive interaction. In a business meeting, it enables people to establish each other’s reputation and level of expertise. If there is already a relationship

Mike Schoultz

Mike Schoultz writes about improving the performance of business. Bookmark his blog for stories and articles.

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