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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 ller 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 nd 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 Bronisaw 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 specic 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 dene the relationships between friends, col-
leagues, and new acquaintances. In particular, it helps
new acquaintances to explore and categorize each others 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-ller. This type of discourse
by those who are listening to them. It lubricates social is often called chatter.
interactions in a very exible 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 others 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 sta 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 inuenced by the relative power of the two speakers. It is
exchange may risk appearing to reject the other per- usually the superior who denes 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, arm the relationship between the two people, to business.[10]


2 Topics idling behaviour, such as Mmm, or Really?".

The topics of small talk conversations are generally less

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

7 References [19] Cui, X. (2012). How are you? Fine, thanks. How about
you?: A case of problematic social interaction at work be-
tween Chinese and Australians. In C. Gitsaki & R. B. Bal-
[1] How to Master the Art of Small Talk For Dummies
dauf (Eds.), Future directions in applied linguistics: Lo-
cal and global perspectives (pp. 373389). Cambridge
[2] Malinowski, B. (1923) The problem of meaning in prim-
Scholars Publishing.
itive languages, in: Ogden, C. & Richards, I., The Mean-
ing of Meaning, Routledge, London [20] Cui, X. (2014). Getting to the Source: An Instrument
for Examining the Dynamics of Problematic Interactions.
[3] COMPUTER NETWORKS AS SOCIAL NETWORKS: RELC Journal: A Journal of Language Teaching and Re-
Collaborative Work, Telework, and Virtual Community search, 45(2), 197210.
[4] Bickmore, T. (1999) A Computational Model of Small [21] Grzega, J. (2006) EuroLinguistischer Parcours: Kernwis-
Talk, accessed online at media.mit.edu sen europischer Sprachkultur, Frankfurt (Main): IKO.

[5] Laver, J. (1975), Communicative Functions of Phatic [22] Grzega, J. (2008) Elements of Basic European Language
Communion, in: Kendon, A. / Harris, R. / Key, M. (eds.), Guide, Journal for EuroLinguistics 5: pp.118133.
The Organisation of Behaviour in Face-to-Face Interac-
tion, pp.215238, The Hague: Mouton.

[6] Holmes, J. (2000) Doing collegiality and keeping control

8 External links
at work: small talk in government departments, in: J.
Coupland, (ed.) Small Talk, Pearson, Harlow UK. Bibliography by Anne Barron and Klaus-Peter
[7] Joseph Jordania. Times to ght and times to relax:
Singing and humming at the beginning of Human evolu-
tionary history. Kadmos 1, 2009: 272277

[8] Jaworski, A. (2000) Silence and small talk, in: J. Cou-

pland, Small Talk, Pearson, Harlow UK.

[9] Holmes, J. (1998) Don't Under-Rate Small Talk, New

Zealand Business, 12,9.

[10] Holmes, J. & Fillary, R. (2000) Handling Small Talk at

Work: challenges for workers with intellectual disabili-
ties, International Journal of Disability 47,3.

[11] Tracy, K. & Naughton, J. M. (2000) Institutional

identity-work: a better lens, in: J. Coupland, Small Talk,
Pearson, Harlow UK.

[12] Ventola, E. (1979) The Structure of Casual Conversation

in English, Journal of Pragmatics 3: pp.267298.

[13] Schneider, K. (1988) Small Talk: Analysing Phatic Dis-

course, PhD thesis, Philipps-Universitt, Marburg, W.

[14] Grice, H. P. (1975) Logic and Conversation, in: P. Cole

& J. Morgan (eds.) Syntax and Semantics : Speech Acts,
Vol.3, Academic, NY.

[15] Tannen, D. (1992) How men and women use language

dierently in their lives and in the classroom, The Edu-
cation Digest 57,6.

[16] Hofstede, G. (2000) Cultures Consequences, revised edi-

tion, Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

[17] Cui, X. (2012, October 30). Communicating with Chi-

nese colleagues, not just small talk. The Age.

[18] Cui, X. (2013, July 30). Tongue-tied. South China Morn-

ing Post, pp. A11

9 Text and image sources, contributors, and licenses

9.1 Text
Small talk Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_talk?oldid=763928588 Contributors: 6birc, Kowey, Sj, Dave.Dunford, DrMel,
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9.2 Images
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Contributors: Own work Original artist: Rei-artur

9.3 Content license

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