0222: "Small Talk"

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unjovial
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Postby unjovial » Thu Mar 01, 2007 11:34 am UTC

It's a pretty minor coincidence, but I was thinking about small talk alot today after running into an old coworker...

... actually, I didn't -run- into her. I mean, we were walking and there was no collision at all.

... And she wasn't 'old' as in 'elderly', but 'old' as in 'from a previous job I had'.

Imagine if I did mean that I charged at an elderly woman today! Your whole impression of me would be different! (Probably!)

Sometimes I worry that I'm giving a different impression to the one I intend to give, but then I remember that it's important for people not to understand me perfectly. The process of creating shared understanding is an interesting part of being a human, I think. All the past set-backs and frustrations of communicating make those fleeting moments of near-perfect, shared understanding seem pretty damn cool.

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hermaj
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Postby hermaj » Thu Mar 01, 2007 11:40 am UTC

What, really? I run into elderly people on a regular basis. I actually increase my walking speed when I see them, just to knock them over more forcefully. :D

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unjovial
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Postby unjovial » Thu Mar 01, 2007 11:52 am UTC

hermaj wrote:What, really? I run into elderly people on a regular basis. I actually increase my walking speed when I see them, just to knock them over more forcefully. :D


Yes, but do you feel as if you've achieved shared understanding?

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Postby damaless » Thu Mar 01, 2007 1:20 pm UTC

Has anyone else found themselves in the habit of adhering to the small talk as conversation-opener tradition and then carrying on to talk about real content?

"Hey, what's up?"
"Not much, you?"
"Not much."
"I applied to a job today, and it's actually looking pretty hopeful."
"Oh yeah? That's cool. Actually, I put in my two weeks notice today and decided to go back to school."

Or something where after appropriately responding that not much is up, you continue to talk about stuff that definitely is up. I think it's kinda funny.

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Phy
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Postby Phy » Thu Mar 01, 2007 4:04 pm UTC

unjovial wrote:
hermaj wrote:What, really? I run into elderly people on a regular basis. I actually increase my walking speed when I see them, just to knock them over more forcefully. :D


Yes, but do you feel as if you've achieved shared understanding?

Possibly they have achieved shared understanding of the momentum equation.

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Akira
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Postby Akira » Thu Mar 01, 2007 10:59 pm UTC

damaless wrote:Has anyone else found themselves in the habit of adhering to the small talk as conversation-opener tradition and then carrying on to talk about real content?

"Hey, what's up?"
"Not much, you?"
"Not much."
"I applied to a job today, and it's actually looking pretty hopeful."
"Oh yeah? That's cool. Actually, I put in my two weeks notice today and decided to go back to school."

Or something where after appropriately responding that not much is up, you continue to talk about stuff that definitely is up. I think it's kinda funny.


It's highly amusing, but honestly, how else are you supposed to identify that a conversation is starting?

Scenaroi:

You walk up to someone you know well. No greetings are exchanged. No casual "was^?". All of the sudden, they launch into this tirade about thier recent divorce, while you begin talking about your new Bose sound system a tthe same time.

This leads to wakward pauses, attempted conversation restarts, and the eventual deterioration of the meeting. You leave the area, felling unsatisfied.

BUT. THe same scenario WITH standard conversation opener:

You walk up to someone you know well.
"Hey, man, what's up?"
"This whole divorce thing has really got me down."
"I'm sorry. Hey, I just got a new sound system, want to check it out? Take your mind off, you know?

See? No awkard pauses or restarts.

It works. <3

In addition, I never respond "nothing". Or I try not to. If there actually is nothing going on, I will respond with some random comment, perhaps on the war in Iraq, or the NASA space program. Observe:

"Hey. Sup?"
"Nothing, you?"
"Well, I just finished Hanadan last night, and I'm working on GTO. Laster, I'm going to pack my lunch for tomorrow and call it a night. You?"
"..."

This has the added bonus of making them feel awkward for having handed out the standard response. It makes them feel like you care and they don't.



...this is an awkwardly long post...

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Postby Hix » Fri Mar 02, 2007 1:21 am UTC

But... in Scenario 1, you're not more likely to start talking simultaneously... in Scenario 2, you're just as likely to say "Wuzzup?" at the same time someone asks you "How are you?", right?

Greetings are one thing, but I'm perfectly capable of identifying the beginning of a conversation without asking or being asked questions that aren't meant to be answered seriously.

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Akira
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Postby Akira » Fri Mar 02, 2007 1:26 am UTC

It's people like you who will lead to the eventual downfall of the casual conversation starters. *pout*

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chan the evoker
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Postby chan the evoker » Wed Mar 07, 2007 9:35 pm UTC

Ever noticed that the syllables don't matter in smalltalk exchanges? One can just slur together a multisyllable word, phrase, or grunt (I like to use Japanese words like teriyaki or toyota) and say it with a rising pitch at the end of the word if one wants to prompt their partner to speak, or in monotone at a slightly lower pitch than normal if one wants to notify their partner of their presence or respond to their partner's token. If this exchange remains content-free after a few rounds, the conversation can be terminated with a token spoken in monotone at a slightly higher pitch than normal. Not only does this eliminate the effort that would normally be involved in selecting appropriate smalltalk tokens from one's vocabulary, it is equally as effective as conventional smalltalk in determining if one's partner has anything to say and in fulfilling one's social needs.

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Postby Clam » Thu Mar 08, 2007 7:18 am UTC

Fiddlemath wrote:So, if members of our culture as a whole doesn't know how to handle speaking to random strangers, then I'm going to start making the tiny changes in my day-to-day life so as to fix it locally. Once I've gotten good at this, a few people might catch on. Social hacking, while improving my own life and the lives of random strangers. Who's with me?


I'm with you, or at least i'll try although i'm really bad at talking to strangers. Live and learn, i guess.

tendays wrote:Sometimes I'm sick or sad or very happy or whatever, and feel like telling other people about it. Somehow it would feel rude to just go to someone else and say that. "Yeah, whatever, I didn't ask you." So when I'm in an unusual mood (good or bad) I wait for my friends to ask me how I'm doing. And that's where I notice that some of my friends never ask me how I am.Or, when I ask how they're doing, they don't include the "and you" I was expecting in the reply. So then we just move on to talk about the weather.

Of course, most of the time when I say I how are you I don't expect the other person to say anything other than "fine" or "okay" or "good" etc. So as a consequence I'm sure I sound very uninterested when I say that. However I try to make sure I don't ask people that if I'm not prepared to listen to an answer.


I'm currently studying in England, and when i first got here, it hit me as a culture shock, how ritualised it was for people to say "y'ait" (are you alright?) and then the other party would respond with "y'ait," and both people would continue walking. This phraseology really emphasised to me that everyone just blindly assumed that the other person was doing fine, while at the same time feigning interest without actually careing. I used to get really upset about this and come up with all sorts of strategies (which have all been listed in this forum) to rebell against it. However, like all places and cultures, England does also feature those few people who do care, which has made me realise to what extent these ritualistic greetings really are just social constructs which serve to bridge those uneasy situations where people really don't care or don't know what to say (as discussed above).

In my opinion, the problem isn't so much in the language or in these ritualised social constructs (although there are some interesting psychological and anthropological studies on the Orwellian idea of how our language can influence the way we think: http://email.eva.mpg.de/~tomas/ and http://www.mpi.nl/Members/StephenLevinson/Publications) but rather in the fact that people don't care. They don't want to know how the other person is doing because that would detract from how they are doing themselves...

In my personal experience, it is very well possible, at least if one of the parties does care, to have such a ritualised greeting and then to move on to more significant topics of discussion, such as the weather, or politics, or how the person really is doing or what really is up in their life. Also, in my experience, almost every person will very gladly embrace the possibility of talking about such things, when they're in the rare situation of talking to someone who will actually listen and care and try to ask the right questions...

I'm not very good at talking to people myself (probably because most people aren't interested in the types of things which i like to/can talk about, i.e. not TV soaps or the latest football match) so i try to make a point of just listening and asking the right questions. If other people aren't going to care about me, then that's not my problem, and i'm not gonna change that by making them feel awkward when they're just following social norms (although it is fun). I figure that the best i can do is to care about other people myself. And indeed, once i have listened to some people for long enough, they will occasionally ask, in a sincere way, "but how are you?"

Oh yeah, and this is my first post, so hello everyone, what's up?

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FiddleMath
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Postby FiddleMath » Thu Mar 08, 2007 9:26 pm UTC

not much. you?

er.

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Re: "Small Talk" discussion

Postby Technocratic » Sun Sep 27, 2009 6:26 pm UTC

My response to alt text:

"You don't owe me anything, Mr. Munroe. And don't call me Shirley."


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