We’ve all engaged in some sort of small talk either in the office, on campus, at a party, or other places where you find yourself in the company of others. For some of us, participating in small talk may come easily, while for others it may be quite difficult. Some individuals may find small talk to be irritating while others find it a necessity. In this paper I am going to explore what exactly defines small talk as such; the reasons why people find the need to engage in small talk; the benefits, and disadvantages of small talk; is there an ethical approach to small talk; and provide tips on how to participate in small talk—without it creating an uncomfortable atmosphere. What exactly defines small talk as such, segregating it from the normal conversations exchanged between two individuals? Small talk is defined as a light conversation; it is typically polite and about matters of little importance, especially between people who do not know each other well. In these conversations general-interest topics are commonly discussed such as movies, sports, food, travel, and music. Many find that those who engage in this form of conversation are approachable and friendly. By taking an active part in these conversations you send a message that you are ready, willing and able to communicate. This may not seem like a difficult task, considering all humans communicate at various levels daily, but to engage in small talk may actually be very difficult, so when done willingly and well it can say a lot about that person. Part of being successful at small talk is being an avid listener. This is a very important part of conversation. Many get worried about being able to communicate their thoughts clearly that they neglect to listen. Listening carefully helps in understanding and encouraging those who are speaking to you. Franklin Roosevelt, the thirty-second president of the United States of America, believed that most people were poor listeners. He believed that this held true especially when engaging in small talk conversations. To prove his point and amuse himself, he would greet visiting guests with, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” He was usually responded with a puzzling look yet a polite nod in approval. However, one evening he was impressed when one guest responded with a surprising response, “I’m sure she had it coming.” Even so, Roosevelt did prove the common neglect individuals give towards small talk. So, why do people engage in small talk? Talking is the primary form of communication between all beings. The mere act of talking is a way to “break the ice,” relieve any tensions, and it helps individuals find a common ground amongst them. Small talk is most commonly found in an instance when there is an uncomfortable silence, or is used in a situation where a person is waiting for something—it passes the time. There are many instances when people feel they have to engage in small talk simply not to be rude. We have been cultured in our society to view small talk as a politically correct act when in one of these instances. Those who do not openly converse with others are looked upon as rude and unapproachable. This leads to the topic of the benefits small talk has and its importance. An article from the Los Angeles Times entitled, “Researchers take a high view of idle chatter” showed that an increase of social contact aided mental function. This affect is similar to those of solitaire games such as Sudoku and crossword puzzles, which have the same benefit when engaged in for the same amount of time. Good news for those who enjoy chatter, but not great for those who have difficulties with it. Striking a conversation with someone gives him or her the opportunity to either accept or reject you. This is probably the main reason for its importance. Americans typically strive to be accepted by their peers. We want to be liked by our peers and when we engage in small talk we are being judged. A lot of the time...
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