How often do you say this to someone? What do you reply when someone asks you how you are doing?
I notice it every time a colleague asks me how I am when we pass each other in the corridor, meet at the pantry or take the same lift.
Most people use it as a friendly greeting and don’t expect anything more than “I’m fine. And you?” In other words, they probably don’t care to know more when they asked the question.
While I know how this verbal exchange is supposed to work, I don’t understand it and it makes me uncomfortable. Neither do I want to participate in this superficial exchange where I’m supposed to ask the party how he or she is.
I dislike small talk. Which is why I don’t enjoy events and parties with many people in attendance. While small talk is not limited to these scenarios, it tends to be more prevalent in such situations where strangers are put in the same space for a prolonged period.
The excerpt below from WIRED introduces the phenomenon of small talk:
What is your relationship with God? What is something you fear in life?
These may be great topics for conversations, but we rarely tackle such meaty topics at social gatherings. Instead, our discussions usually centre around summer travel plans, the latest home repair horror story and, of course, the weather… When left to our own devices, we have the freedom to discuss what we want, but we also feel the pressure to pick a topic that will be socially acceptable and easy for anyone to participate in – the uninteresting hallmarks of small talk.
When I lived in Europe, I had to get used to listening to people talk about the weather. In Brussels, where it’s mostly grey, wet and cloudy all year round, the weather doesn’t change much. Yet people talk about it all the time.
Surely there are more interesting things to discuss. For instance: Why is the centre of Brussels so trashed? Do you think this (your job) is what you want to do for the rest of your life? What do you think of same-sex marriage?
Let’s actually talk and listen to one another, including with strangers. There’s much to be discovered. Here’s a TED talk to get you started: