The Importance of Small Talk – Act one, scene one
EXT. CLAPHAM JUNCTION TRAIN STATION, PLATFORM 9, EARLY MORNING
Jayne notices a poster about loneliness. It’s a cartoon image of two people sitting on a bench. In front of them, on the ground, there’s a cute bird. In a speech bubble, one person says to the other, “did you see that?”. The caption suggests that people are missing out on moments of human connection because we’re on our ‘phones all the time and therefore not noticing what’s in front of us.
Jayne smiles knowingly.
Act one, scene two
EXT. A PRETTY KENT GARDEN. AFTERNOON, SAME DAY. JAYNE IS PRESENTING AN AWARDS CEREMONY
In a break from filming, Jayne is sitting next to a stranger (socially distanced). They strike up a conversation about the beautiful garden and the view.
It’s interesting that we’re talking about the view – a thing that we’re both seeing. I saw a poster on the train station about that very issue this morning. And, funnily enough, it’s one of my training topics. Small talk. People often don’t know how to start a conversation with a stranger because they don’t know which subject to pick (since they know nothing about that person). You simply can’t go wrong by commenting on a shared experience. Something you’re seeing or doing or hearing together. Like a cute bird.
Yes, I get that. And I sometimes feel awkward asking a direct question. It feels a bit intrusive. I like the idea of just making a comment like ‘wow what a view’ or, if we were at a conference, it might be ‘I’m really looking forward to this speaker. I’ve never heard her before’.
And that’s what makes small talk so hard in the online world. There are limited shared experiences. We have to fall back on things like the weather or the weekend or our wall paper or book shelves. I’m also noticing that you and I aren’t needing to make eye contact while we chat because we’re both enjoying the view. Online, we’re forced to look at each other and that makes it feel more intense, doesn’t it?
Absolutely. And also, it has to be one big group conversation online rather than a series of smaller groups or pairs. That’s really tough for introverts like me who don’t like being the centre of attention. I find a really good way to get involved in a conversation is to ask a question rather than making a statement. My voice is ‘in the room’ but I haven’t pushed myself forward. I do realise how important small talk is though so I make a real effort. But, roll on more face-to-face contact, that’s what I say.
Agreed. Do you fancy a cup of tea? I think I can see some brownies on that table over there.
END OF SCENE