illustration with dialogue bubbles showing small talk leading to conversation

There is considerable value in small talk. Small talk helps break the tension with strangers in a short amount of time. I can start a conversation with someone I’ve met for the first time and graduate to meaningful dialog in minutes. It requires a certain amount of patience. There’s an ambiguity to it that might turn some people off. It excites me. Small talk may turn sour very quick, the other person responding with single word responses. But a majority of the time, I end up discovering so much more about the person’s interior life than I anticipate. All I have to do is start with a few warm-up questions, after which I’m on a sure path to an in-depth conversation.

The value of small talk is proven again and again during research, where I begin interviewing people with a couple simple questions. The questions might be about where they get their groceries or what their favorite restaurant may be. The answer is often more delightful and detailed than I could have hoped for. Interview subjects also tend to loosen up and become more open in responding to the more objective-oriented questions that follow. For meaningful dialogue to begin, all it takes is to start off with a little small talk.