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People dismiss small talk as superﬁcial and boring. People are wrong. Small talk is an essential part of the social con-tract. It allows us to engage and identify common ground with safe, low-risk topics. Unlike the attention-grabbing antics of cold openings and trigger words, which jump-start a conversation or jolt it into more interesting territory, small talk is a gentle on-ramp. It uses banal or mundane topics as proving grounds where we can establish a comfy initial rapport with another person. Using small talk, we feel one another out and map the spots where we want to dig deeper.Think about it: An offshore oil driller wouldn’t just jam her wellbore into the seabed, willy-nilly. She’d survey the ocean ﬂoor, study the most likely spots to strike black gold, and then plunge past the crust. Same goes for conversation. Here are three classic small-talk topics—trafﬁc, prices, and the weather—with options for growing them into big talk.
Small Talk about Traffic
Try talking about how the trafﬁc on your way over was bet-ter or worse than usual. Empathize with the other person’s agitation about having spent so much time in trafﬁc, or share their delight in the lack of trafﬁc where there should have been more.