What to Do If You Hate Small Talk – Free Ebook

A lot of discomfort about going to social
engagements is rooted in what can sound like

a rather high-minded concern: a hatred of
small talk. We can develop a dread of parties

because we know how likely we are to end up
wedged into conversations about the weather,

parking, traffic or the way we plan to spend
the forthcoming holidays – when there would

be so many deeper and more dignified topics
to address: the future of humanity, the fate

of the nation, or the melancholy state of
our hearts. We resent parties for holding

up an ideal of community and dialogue while
trapping us in unproductive and insincere

banter; for making us more lonely than we
ever would be in our own homes. But we are

perhaps misunderstanding what small talk is
for and how we might gently find an exit from

its more airless corners. Small talk exists
for a noble reason: it is designed to prevent

hurt. It provides us with a rich source of
information so that we can safely ascertain

the frame of mind of our interlocutor – and
therefore gauge what more in-depth topics

of conversation might safely be broached.
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer

once darkly reminded us that we should always
remember, when meeting new people, that they

might be only be a few steps away from wanting
to grab a weapon and end their own lives.

A few moments of small talk give us the signals
we need to find out who we have on our hands;

it lends us time to circle intimacy from on
high before determining where we might wish

to land.

Furthermore, a rigid hatred of small talk
overlooks that it isn’t ever the subject

matter per se that determines the profundity
of a conversation. There are ways of talking

about death that are trivial and ways of addressing
the weather that feel significant. A truly

deep mind can exercise itself as much on the
game of a child as on the puzzles of philosophy

– and it is unfortunate snobbery to

discount a topic merely because it has never
featured in erudite academic curricula. We

should take inspiration from how many great
artists have based their work around what

were, at heart, versions of ‘small talk’.
In the early 1820s, the English artist John

Constable painted fifty studies of the clouds
above Hampstead Heath in London, finding extraordinary

beauty and complexity in the ever-changing
quiet aerial drama above him.

John Constable, Cloud Study With no less open-mindedness,
at the end of the nineteenth century, the

French artist Paul Cézanne paid close attention
to the varied beauty of apples, painting dozens

of studies of these modest snacks laid out
in bowls and on sideboards. Paul Cézanne,

Still Life with Seven Apples Buddhism teaches
us that, to those gifted enough to see properly,

the whole world can be found in a single grain
of sand. We should perceive no insult in a

call to glimpse the grandest themes through
the lens of small talk. The skilled conversationalist

doesn’t insist that atmospheric or traffic
conditions or where a person has been at the

seaside are inherently unworthy of discussion.
They know that what a person feels about a

cloudy afternoon might be a highway to their
soul or that their experiences around parking

might provide clues as to their attitudes
to authority or their relations with their

parents. They are not put off by having to
work with humble matter; they are deft enough

to use whatever is to hand. The fear of small
talk reflects a worry, hugely understandable

and with roots in childhood experience, that
we will be unable to influence the flow of

a conversation by ourselves, that we will
be the victims of the obsession or pettiness

of others – and that conversation is fundamentally
a natural, organic occurrence which happens

to us but cannot be created by us; it may
at points be very engaging, at others hugely

frustrating; but the outcome is not ours to
determine. We can feel that when a person

says something, we must invariably respond
in a similar way: an anecdote about a golf

tournament needs to be followed by another;
if someone has a story about a booking confusion

at a hotel, the other must chip in with a
corollary. But, in truth, we have far more

conversational agency than this implies; it
is almost always in our power to raise more

intimate or profound follow-up questions.
And we can do so with the confidence that

few of us are ever committed to remaining
on the surface; we just don’t know how to

descend to the depths. An individual who is
currently talking at puzzling length about

an airline meal has also inevitably been disappointed
in love, had bouts of despair, tried to make

sense of a difficult parent, felt confused
about their direction – and will be longing,

at some level, therefore to stop talking about
cheese crackers and share the contents of

their heart. The confident conversationalist
does not take fright at small talk and others’

occasional apparently firm attachment to it.
They know that the small themes need only

ever be the first, understandable and never
insulting steps, towards the sincerity and

intimacy all of us crave at heart.

Our table talk placecards are designed specifically to help spark meaningful and revealing conversations.

For more information on exactly how they do this, including example cards, click the link on screen now.

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