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Small talk

This article is about the type of discourse. For other and soften the parting.
uses, see Small talk (disambiguation).
“Chit chat” redirects here. For the musician, see Chit 3. Space filler to avoid silence: in many cultures, si-
Chat Von Loopin Stab. lences between two people are usually considered
uncomfortable and/or awkward. Tension can be re-
duced by starting phatic talk until a more substantial
Small talk is an informal type of discourse that does not
subject arises. Generally, humans find prolonged
cover any functional topics of conversation or any trans-
silence uncomfortable, and sometimes unbearable.
actions that need to be addressed.[1]
That can be due to human evolutionary history as
Small talk is conversation for its own sake. The phe- a social species, as in many other social animals, si-
nomenon of small talk was initially studied in 1923 lence is a communicative sign of potential danger.[7]
by Bronisław Malinowski, who coined the term "phatic
communication” to describe it.[2] The ability to conduct
small talk is a social skill; hence, small talk is some In some conversations, there is no specific functional or
type of social communication. Early publications as- informative element at all. The following example of
sume networked work positions as suitable for social small talk is between two colleagues who pass each other
communication.[3] in a hallway:

William: Morning, Paul.
1 Purpose Paul: Oh, morning, William, how are you?
William: Fine, thanks. Have a good weekend?
In spite of seeming to have little useful purpose, small
talk is a bonding ritual and a strategy for managing Paul: Yes, thanks. Catch you later.
interpersonal distance.[4] It serves many functions in William: OK, see you.
helping to define the relationships between friends, col-
leagues, and new acquaintances. In particular, it helps
new acquaintances to explore and categorize each other’s In that example, the elements of phatic talk at the begin-
social position.[5] Small talk is closely related to the need ning and end of the conversation have merged. The entire
for people to maintain positive face and feel approved of short conversation is a space-filler. This type of discourse
by those who are listening to them. It lubricates social is often called chatter.
interactions in a very flexible way, but the desired func- The need to use small talk depends upon the nature of the
tion is often dependent on the point in the conversation relationship between the people having the conversation.
at which the small talk occurs:[6] Couples in an intimate relationship can signal their level
of closeness by a lack of small talk. They can comfortably
1. Conversation opener: when the speakers do not accept silence in circumstances that would be uncomfort-
know each other, it allows them to show that they able for two people who were only casual friends.[8]
have friendly intentions and desire some sort of pos- In workplace situations, small talk tends to occur mostly
itive interaction. In a business meeting, it enables between workers on the same level, but it can be used
people to establish each other’s reputation and level by managers as a way of developing the working rela-
of expertise. If there is already a relationship be- tionships with the staff who report to them. Bosses who
tween the two talkers, their small talk serves as a ask their employees to work overtime may try to motivate
gentle introduction before engaging in more func- them by using small talk to temporarily decrease their dif-
tional topics of conversation. It allows them to sig- ference in status.[9]
nal their own mood and to sense the mood of the
other person. The balance between functional conversation and small
talk in the workplace depends on the context and is also
2. At the end of a conversation: suddenly ending an influenced by the relative power of the two speakers. It is
exchange may risk appearing to reject the other per- usually the superior who defines the conversation because
son. Small talk can be used to mitigate that rejec- they have the power to close the small talk and “get down
tion, affirm the relationship between the two people, to business.”[10]


an opening line such as “Lovely weather. in a way these are also will be the conversation starter’s fault. In cultures or contexts that are status- 3 Conversational patterns oriented. Some topics are consid. although in tion. In functional conversations that address a particular topic. It may be either a ques- discuss the weather.[10] of personal appearance. or what’s called • Transactional analysis . cultures. When asked “How are you?" by company to be able to say these things without them be- an acquaintance they do not know well. The second move is the other person’s response. He theorises that such a conversa- situations are considered to be rooted in their sociocul- tion consists of a number of fairly predictable segments. such as “Mmm”.[15] weather.[6] such as the signal of that closeness. the men are sig- The level of detail offered should not overstep the bounds nalling that they are comfortable enough with each other’s of interpersonal space. men’s small talk tends to be more competi- however. or “Really?". erates a closer relationship between them and is also a ered to be “safe” in most circumstances. or the conditions troubles. very mild for the time of year”. and their secrets.” In this circumstance it would usually not be appropriate for them to reply with a list of symptoms of any medical conditions they were suffering from. and this Small talk rules and topics can differ widely between may create an uncomfortable situation. someone initiating small talk will rative than those of men. Grice’s Maxim of Quan- tity suggests that responses should contain no more infor. For example. The topics of small talk conversations are generally less important than their social function. Indirect topics refer to a situa. playful in- discussion. sports and television. Questions about the family are usual in some Asian and Arab countries. This self-disclosure both gen- of the communicative situation. turally ingrained perception of interpersonal relationships or “moves”. “Yes. such as China and Japan.2 6 SEE ALSO 2 Topics “idling behaviour”.[15] However.[16] small talk between new acquaintances may feature questions that enable so- cial categorization of each other. In either case. For some countries personal finance issues such as salary are example. ics may cover more personal aspects of their life. The first move is usually phrased so that it is [17][18][19][20] In many European cultures it is common to easy for the other person to agree. By contrast. and tend to support each other’s tend to choose a topic for which they can assume a shared involvement in the conversation.[21][22] it?" is a clear invitation for agreement. should be avoided unless there exists follow-up tive. their tional context such as the latest news.” Small talk between women who are friends indirect. a person is likely ing taken as insults. and putdowns. “That dress really Topics can be summarised as being either direct or suits you.[10] To 5 Cultural differences do so would assume a greater degree of familiarity be- tween the two people than is actually the case. Speech patterns between women tend to be more collabo- tion. isn't it?". to prevent the conversation being more likely to include compliments about some aspect too one-sided.[12] Direct topics include personal observations may also involve a greater degree of self disclosure. Topics for small talk are background knowledge. to respond factually by just saying “Yes” (or • Contact call even “No”) is less polite than saying. and it sults.[14] Schneider claims that one of the principles of small talk contradicts the • Active listening Maxim of Quantity. Top- such as health or looks.6 See also mation than was explicitly asked for. Asking about the weather. a positive evaluation such as “That’s nice”. Going back to the example of “Lovely weather. Otherwise. and the circumstances of the conversa. the conversation will stall. generalised reply such as “I am good.[11] The selected topic 4 Gender differences usually depends on any pre-existing relationship between the two people. politics or the economy. Weather is a common topic in regions where the climate has great variation and can be unpredictable. thank you. It may feature verbal sparring matches. He suggests that politeness in small talk is maximised by responding with a more substantial • Cheap talk (game theory) answer. Differences among A study of small talk in situations which involve the members of various cultural groups in aspects of their chance meeting of strangers has been carried out by [13] attitudes to small talk and ways of dealing with small talk Klaus Schneider. to choose a simple.[6] both creators and signals of solidarity. or a statement of opinion with a tag question. isn't considered taboo. Schneider describes that subsequent • Sociolinguistics moves may involve an acknowledgement such as “I see”.

The Organisation of Behaviour in Face-to-Face Interac- tion.118–133.6. (2006) EuroLinguistischer Parcours: Kernwis- Talk.) Syntax and Semantics : Speech Acts. International Journal of Disability 47. Telework. Gitsaki & R. (2000) “Silence and small talk”. T. G. A. Philipps-Universität. [15] Pearson. Tongue-tied. J. thanks. (2000) “Doing collegiality and keeping control 8 External links at work: small talk in government departments”. 197–210. 12. A. pp. itive languages”. M. not just small talk. J. 2009: 272–277 [8] Jaworski. 3 7 References [19] Cui. South China Morn- ing Post. [11] Tracy. / Harris. [14] Grice. Small Talk.). revised edi- tion.3. The Mean- ing of Meaning. ‘How are you? – Fine. CA: Sage. [5] Laver. (eds. & Fillary. Communicating with Chi- nese colleagues. (2000) “Handling Small Talk at Work: challenges for workers with intellectual disabili- ties”. London [20] Cui. [18] Cui. New Zealand Business. (1923) “The problem of meaning in prim- Scholars Publishing. (2014). [16] Hofstede. B. K. in: J.). 373–389).edu sen europäischer Sprachkultur. & Naughton. October 30). Harlow UK. J.3. Cole & J. Coupland. [6] Holmes. Harlow UK. [4] Bickmore. J. W. [10] Holmes. in: Ogden.215–238. Coupland. Pearson. How about you?’: A case of problematic social interaction at work be- tween Chinese and Australians. (1988) Small Talk: Analysing Phatic Dis- course. The Age. and Virtual Community search. (2012). NY. “Communicative Functions of Phatic [22] Grzega.9. X. Journal of Pragmatics 3: pp. Bal- [1] How to Master the Art of Small Talk – For Dummies dauf (Eds. Small Talk. in: J. A11 . • Bibliography by Anne Barron and Klaus-Peter Schneider [7] Joseph Jordania. / Key. 45(2). “Times to fight and times to relax: Singing and humming at the beginning of Human evolu- tionary history”. Cou- pland. E. [17] Cui. [9] Holmes. (1998) “Don't Under-Rate Small Talk”. [13] Schneider. (1975). (1979) “The Structure of Casual Conversation in English”. D. J. Frankfurt (Main): IKO. P. (2012. Getting to the Source: An Instrument for Examining the Dynamics of Problematic Interactions. & Richards. (2008) “Elements of Basic European Language Communion”. Germany. X. J. (2000) “Institutional identity-work: a better lens”. Routledge. Marburg. (2013. H. R. X. Guide”. In C. C. X. Beverly Hills. Pearson. accessed online at media. Journal for EuroLinguistics 5: pp.267–298. (1992) “How men and women use language differently in their lives and in the classroom”. Morgan (eds. in: P. B. The Hague: Mouton. Future directions in applied linguistics: Lo- cal and global perspectives (pp. (2000) Culture’s Consequences. (ed. J. [3] COMPUTER NETWORKS AS SOCIAL NETWORKS: RELC Journal: A Journal of Language Teaching and Re- Collaborative Work. [12] Ventola.) Small Talk. in: J. July 30). R. K. (1999) A Computational Model of Small [21] Grzega. M. in: Kendon. I.. Academic. pp. Harlow UK. PhD thesis. (1975) “Logic and Conversation”. Cambridge [2] Malinowski. Vol. Kadmos 1. The Edu- cation Digest 57.

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