The smallest talk


Exchanging small talk with people we’ve just met may be an unfortunate necessity, but with people we already know, it seems to suggest that they’re people to whom we have nothing to say. And yet if small talk is just talk that’s idle, insignificant and without stated purpose, then surely a substantial portion of the chatter that goes on between couples, friends and (or especially) families must count as small.

That’s Dora Zhang in a recent piece for The Point, digging deep on small talk, a social necessity, if not a linguistic oddity, in everyday social encounters.

But as our talk — from small to significant — moves substantially online when we can’t be co-present, small talk appears in digital expressions as well. Take email. There is:

The non-purposeful opening
  1. I hope you’re well.
  2. I hope this note finds you well.
  3. Hoping you had a great weekend.
  4. Hope you had a good trip.

The openings, so full of hope, that we layer into our email are a kind of linguistic greasing the wheel. While it’s meaningful for people to state social intention, to do some social grooming, these openings may be presumptuous. After all, this past weekend, the goldfish may have died, the car broke down, the game may have been rained out. When opening with small talk, consider how your subtle well wishes may be received. Then there is:

The aspirational closing
  1. Hope you get some rest.
  2. Hope the weather lets up.
  3. Hope to see you soon.
  4. Hoping you have a great weekend.

These aspirational closings help keep our conversations going; they’re necessary social cues that indicate we’re departing from the conversation and bid the person well. When they’re genuine and followed up on next exchange, even better.

The opposite of small talk isn’t big talk, but no talk.” And while we are undergoing an age of big talk, big topics, big data, more, I, for one, am all for more meaning — talk or no talk. Hope you are too.

33 notes





2,427 notes

Just won the award for most hated subway passenger!!

Just won the award for most hated subway passenger!!

0 notes

0 notes

How Journaling Strengthens Willpower and Improves Life

Excerpt from the “Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. 

'In 1992, a British psychologist walked into two of Scotland's busiest orthopedic hospitals and recruited five-dozen patients for an experiment she hoped would explain how to boost the willpower of people exceptionally resistant to change. 

The patients, on average, were sixty-eight years old. Most of them earned less than 10,000 a year and didn’t have more than a high school degree. All of them had recently undergone hip or knee replacement surgeries, but because they were relatively poor and uneducated, many had waited years for their operations. They were retirees, elderly mechanics, and store clerks. They were in life’s final chapters, and most had no desire to pick up a new book. 

Recovering from a hip or knee surgery…[requires immediate painful exercise to make the surgery successful]…

The Scottish study’s participants were the types of people most likely to fail at rehabilitation. The scientist conducting the experiment wanted to see if it was possible to help them harness their willpower. She gave each patient a booklet after their surgeries that detailed their rehab schedule, and in the back were thirteen additional pages - one for each week - with blank spaces and instructions: “My goals for this week are____________? Write down exactly what you are going to do…She compared the recoveries of those who wrote out goals with those of patients who had received the same booklets, but didn’t write anything.

It seems absurd to think that giving people a few pieces of blank paper might make a difference in how quickly they recover from surgery. But when the researcher visited the patients three months later, she found a striking difference between the two groups. The patients who had written plans in their booklets had started walking almost twice as fast as the ones who had not. They [were getting in & out of their chairs three times as fast]..

[ ]. 

As the psychologist scrutinized the booklets, she saw that many of the plans had something in common: They focused on how patients would handle a specific moment of anticipated pain. A man who exercised on the way to the bathroom…knew each time he stood up from the couch, the ache was excruciating. So he wrote out a plan for dealing with it: Automatically take the first step, right away, so he wouldn’t be tempted to sit down again. A patient who met his wife at the bus stop dreaded the afternoons, because that stroll was the longest and most painful each day. So he detailed every obstacle he might confront, and came up with a solution ahead of time. 

The patient’s plan were built around inflection points when they knew their pain - and thus the temptation to quit - would be strongest. The patients were telling themselves how they were going to make it over the hump.’

0 notes