When two dogs meet, they sniff each other. When two strangers meet, they often strike up a conversation about the weather. Small talk is a way for all of us to get to know each other. Mastering it might be the best way to gain acceptance by a person or group of people. It is also a way of getting to know someone with whom you are romantically interested. The simplest comments in a casual conversation tell us what is really on a person’s mind.
Seeking Agreeability in the Weather
The first thing that we all look for when we initiate small talk is agreeability. If you dislike someone or otherwise do not care to really be talking, your words and attitude will convey this in small talk. If you meet a person who instantly creeps you out and he asks about the weather, you don’t have to tell him you hope it rains so hard that he is washed away. Your tentative responses and disinterest in the details of a coming rainstorm will be enough to let him understand that there is a barrier with you that probably will never be crossed. Likewise, if you feel an instant chemistry with a good-looking man, you might not go so far as to say, “I hope the weather gets rainy so you and I can go cuddle by a fireplace,” but you will engage him in an agreeable fashion as the conversation (hopefully) moves in that direction.
The one reason we speak about the weather is that it is the greatest equalizer. Rich or poor, young or old, when it rains, we all need our umbrella. It is a common experience we all share. You cannot necessarily start up a conversation about a specific television show or article you read with people who may not watch the same shows or read the same magazines as you. When the weather is the topic, we all want to stay dry in the rain and beat the heat in the summer.
When Small Talk Turns Deep
There are times when our small talk among acquaintances turns deep. If there has been some sort of tragedy recently, this is understandable. We all need to vent and express our emotions. But often people will cross the line and bring up deep subjects with casual acquaintances. This can create an awkward situation. Does this person feel comfortable enough with you to be discussing private matters? If someone you barely know is disclosing too much personal information or is piling on hateful gossip about people you two know with no seeming purpose, this is a red flag. People with a deep narcissism love not only to be the center of attention, but also to pull others into this circle with “inside information.”
If someone with whom you are developing a relationship suddenly brings up a deep subject, asking something like, “What is the meaning of life?” or “What happens after we die?” you can be certain this person feels comfortable with you and wants to make a deeper connection.
When it comes to small talk about deep subjects, your relationship with the person will underscore the meaning behind the words. The subject is never the great beyond; it is how close you are with the person discussing this deep subject. A close bond that is forming naturally progresses to these topics. A person you hardly know is often just acting out … with you as a meaningless prop – a signal to stay away.
Small Talk as a Mask
There are people who are sociable and others who avoid small talk. When one of the latter suddenly becomes chatty, many of us just go along with it without thinking about why this quiet person suddenly wants to mingle. Small talk indicates a lot about a person’s intentions, but it also masks what a person may be intending to ultimately get at. Someone who has been standoffish for months or years just does not suddenly warm up. A change in the attitude toward small talk is as big an indicator as the type of small talk in which the person engages. Perhaps this person knows a single man and wants to play matchmaker. Often, people suddenly become chatty when they think you have information they want or need. If a person who never spoke to you before suddenly starts up a chat and steers the subject toward your job, it could mean they are seeking employment. Be wary; a person who is suddenly your friend could suddenly become your enemy. You may not want to mix too deeply with this type of “small-talker.”
On the other hand, some small talk can mask great intentions. A man who is falling in love with you might not know exactly how to go about revealing this to you and so every time he approaches you, the discussion never veers far from the weather or the day’s events that were on the news. At some point you may want to coax him or give some signal that it is okay to get a little more familiar. His small talk mask is being worn as a fear of rejection. If you like him, let him know he can talk about what else is on his mind.
Silence Instead of Small Talk
In a poker game, a warm conversation can suddenly be halted when one of your opponents takes a look at his or her cards. Cold silence may follow and this person may completely ignore the babble in which he or she played a part just a few seconds ago. The immediate assumption is that this person has been dealt some very powerful cards, perhaps the winning hand. Maybe this sudden and serious silence causes you to fold cards that you otherwise thought might bring in the chips.
What if it turns out that your opponent had terrible cards? The silence was a bluff! In the pursuit of love, a prospective partner might pretend he does not need to chat a lot with you and you might get angry, perhaps even emotional. Silence can be used as a tool to see how interested you are in a person. It works better than small talk if this other person knows that you are already invested just a little in the relationship. Sure, this is manipulative behavior. But all is fair in love and war. He might love you, but his silence can cause you to wilt and beg and give away all the strength you had in the relationship.
We all have moments when the impulse to fill the awkward silence arises. Take a moment to ask what else might be behind the casual chatter. It might lead to something else …