Casual conversation happens at least a dozen times a
day—on the way into the office, picking up your daughter
from soccer practice, riding the elevator with a colleague,
fielding a phone call from your mother-in-law,
attending an industry meeting, taking a client to lunch,
going to a job interview—the list is endless! Yet for some
of us, these demands for small talk don’t ever make small
talk any easier. If anything, such encounters increase anxiety
and cause some people to dread social events, business
lunches, and chance encounters with neighbors.
Unfortunately, in our preoccupation with our own discomfort,
our neighbors, acquaintances, and associates label
us distant, cold, and reserved.
Remember Thorton Wilder’s play Our Town? On the
morning of his son’s wedding, Frank Gibbs, the neighborly
physician, confesses to his wife that his chief concern
in the early days of their own marriage was how to
make small talk with his bride. “I was afraid,” he tells
her, “we wouldn’t have material for conversation to
last us more than a few weeks.” It seems acquiring
small talk skills is not exclusively a modern-day quest.