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> So, I say to this poster, it's true that things like idle chitchat may not be your cup of tea, I think it's important to realize that many people don't enjoy it either but just use it as a social grease to move into more deep conversation or connection.

it took me probably 7 years after moving out of my parent’s place to learn that “smalltalk” and “idle chitchat” are not necessarily the same thing. the “aha!” moment was attending a conference with a much older coworker and seeing him strike up conversations with the people sitting next to him which in the course of 15 minutes went from surface level to incredibly personal, sometimes philosophical things that i would never have thought a stranger willing to discuss, prior to that.

in my taxonomy, “idle chitchat” is talking about things. “smalltalk” is learning about each other. “the weather sure is nice today, isn’t it?” => idle chitchat. you’re not likely to understand a person from that starting point, except that “wow look, we both like the sun”. “where are you from? what brings you here?” => smalltalk. you’re encouraging the person to reveal some small amounts of information about themselves which you can use to probe further and hopefully find something fascinating (about them, about a topic you haven’t thought much about, or about yourself and how you relate to something in contrast to them).

now i take conversations with strangers (or anyone really) as a sport, as a challenge. “how can i use these precious moments we strangers share to discover something new? to leave one of us pondering something novel later in the evening”. sometimes these lead to lasting friendships, usually not. but still frequently beneficial to my life. important to identify the situations where smalltalk has the possibility of going beyond surface-level things though. an elevator ride — probably not. a conference, a party, a group activity, anything where people have already put themselves out there more than normal — seems to select for people more likely to “get” smalltalk, or maybe it primes them to open up more, idk.




Your comment has inspired me to change my outlook when participating in “ephemeral” conversations (conversations with people that I likely won’t ever have a chance to see regularly)

A couple of people I’m close to have always relished these conversations and I’ve never understood why until now. Thank you!


My wife is much better at initially talking and connecting with people. Last evening, she got the cook at our table (one of those places where they show off with spins, tosses, and such). He loves old westerns and samurai movies and will now be watching Paint Your Wagon upon our suggestion to see Clint Eastwood sing. Learned he is a stamp collector and rent is steep and that his son is in the navy. It was much better than just watching him twirling spatulas


I too treat it like a minor sport. If you do it repeatedly to the same people it can flower into a a more meaningful relationship.

Some people don't have strong relationships in their life and even strangers making an effort can brighten their week.


the race to find a good question :) Nice framing




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