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The Value Of Small Talk

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I don't find any value in making small talk. Is there any? Should I focus on learning how to make small talk to enhance work relationships?

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Hi, I'm Bob. My priest used to rape me with a 2x4 when i was a Choir boy. I think that I tolerated it because it was so similar to how my mother had shown me love. I still cry myself to sleep on nights that I find another splinter. How's your relationship with your mother? -Don't answer that! I'm only kidding of course.

The point is that relationships with other people have a flow to them and to skip "small talk" often makes things pretty uncomfortable. People need to be somewhat familiar with you before they can reasonably be expected to understand your meaning or tolerate your personal idiosyncrasies and beliefs. Even in intellectual subjects, if you lead with, I hate affirmative action, for example, you could quickly be labeled a racist and blocked out of their minds before you even have a chance to provide a principled argument against institutionalized racism.

Of course some people live in a world of ongoing and unstoppable small talk which can be pretty unbearable. I've found that you can get them to open up a bit Socratically, especially if you can find something they're passionate about. That said, if the most important thing in their lives is their miniature poodle, "Weebles" then you're fucked. Avoid them at all costs and find someone with something interesting that they're passionate about.

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^^Agreed. On the other hand, I don't worry too much about first impressions. At a certain point in life, either you make a good one or you don't, and people will figure it out eventually one way or the other -- or, they won't, and who cares? Personally, I give people many "first" impressions until I get what I consider to be a good idea of their character.

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I'd question the teamwork ability of a workplace full of people who don't learn about each other, and the ability of a person without any social skills to move up the ladder. Yes the focus is on work, but you're working with other living people, not robots. You have zero interest in getting to know them? In business, you have to develop relationships with people, and making deals can often hinge on that relationship. If the choice is between an asshole or a friendly guy, and both products are the same, I'd go with the friendly guy because he adds value to the deal.

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If the choice is between an asshole or a friendly guy, and both products are the same, I'd go with the friendly guy because he adds value to the deal.

This is a false dichotomy - someone who is not very talkative is not necessarily an asshole, and I'd rather have a relationship with a capable asshole than an incapable friendly guy.

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It's not a false dichotomy: if the work they do is of the same quality in all measurements, clearly the choice is to go with whoever adds the most value by other means. Asshole or just not sociable (ie shy) doesn't matter (and I'd argue saying you don't find value in learning about your coworkers = asshole) - the obvious choice is to go with the guy with whom you can play a round of golf at the least. That doesn't mean you need to be best friends, and it doesn't mean all sociable people are Peter Keatings, it just means that being sociable adds value to the work you do when compared to not being sociable - especially in team environments such as a business with many employees. It's a hard lesson to learn for some people, and one I only fully grasped a couple years ago.

Hard day or week? Ask a few coworkers to go for a beer to unwind.

Just got in on a Monday? Take a few minutes to ask how a coworker's weekend was.

Crazy weather? Make a comment.

Hear a funny joke? Tell it to a coworker.

Watch the same tv shows? Chat about the story and see where they think it'll go.

It's easy and it builds up the team atmosphere and relaxes people so they can work better.

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It's easy and it builds up the team atmosphere and relaxes people so they can work better.

But there is no such thing as a 'team atmosphere' - that's a floating abstraction, like 'collective rights' and 'collective consciousness'.

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Team atmosphere = knowing that everyone in the organization is on the same page and working toward the same goal. Sports teams, political parties, clubs, and businesses all have goals that must be achieved through the combined effort of individuals doing smaller tasks and achieving smaller goals.

But how about camaraderie? Friendship? Familiarity? Acquaintanceship? Alliance? Company? Squad? Unit? Troupe? League? Are those floating abstractions?

Knowing how others tick makes working together easier and more fluid. Getting to know how others tick is achieved through being social, amiable, friendly, chatty, ie. communicating information about each others life.

Do you have anything of substance to add to your own topic? I find it silly that you would spend approximately 1/3rd of your life with some people and not get to know them. Do you also see no value in small talk with friends and relatives?

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Team atmosphere = knowing that everyone in the organization is on the same page and working toward the same goal. Sports teams, political parties, clubs, and businesses all have goals that must be achieved through the combined effort of individuals doing smaller tasks and achieving smaller goals.

Isn't that obvious (that everyone should be on the same page)? If it's not, then it's the job of the superior to fix any issues with that.

But how about camaraderie? Friendship? Familiarity? Acquaintanceship? Alliance? Company? Squad? Unit? Troupe? League? Are those floating abstractions?

Do your own epistemological figuring out.

Knowing how others tick makes working together easier and more fluid.

That I can agree with.

Getting to know how others tick is achieved through being social, amiable, friendly, chatty, ie. communicating information about each others life.

That I am doubtful about.

Do you have anything of substance to add to your own topic? I find it silly that you would spend approximately 1/3rd of your life with some people and not get to know them.

Well, I won't be spending 1/3rd of my life with them.

Do you also see no value in small talk with friends and relatives?

With relatives, no, but that's because my mind about them is made up - my moral judgment of them is complete - I know exactly what they're thinking and how they're going to deal with (if at all) the problems that will come about, I know their relationship to reality (and how poor it is) - and yes, that applies to almost all of my relatives. (On another note, I loved small talk with my grandma - she was a lot like Rand in many ways - but her fire is dying out quickly, and ever since her husband died, all she seems to be doing is waiting for the end.)

With friends, yes, I do. Friends, however, are a different story from acquaintances from work. Friends are chosen.

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Yeah small talk is pretty dull but on the other hand you can learn more from the exchange if you also think about the person's demeanour and expression and body language. It can indicate whether it'd be worth building your acquaintance until you can launch into more meaningful/interesting conversations.

Just think of it as a necessary 'handshake' protocol

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handshaking

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Speaking of a 'handshake' protocol, I've heard it put that the handshake comes from reaching out to another person with one's weapon hand, without one's weapon of course, as a gesture of openness or friendship, etc., of placing oneself in a trusting and defenseless (somewhat) relationship with the other person. A sign or signal of goodwill.

The same could be said of the bow or bowing in greeting in cultures where bowing is common - by bowing one puts oneself into a vulnerable position as a show of friendship or friendliness and trust. (Not to be confused with bowing to an enemy in submission.)

I don't care much for small talk, but it plays a similar role.

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I'd like to add that I'm good at building one-on-one connections, i.e. I'm good at communicating with individuals when they're not surrounded and observed by other people (it's hard for me to understand why people behave so differently when they consider themselves part of a group vs. when you catch them alone), but I'm not good at building one-to-many connections, i.e. being a "crowd pleaser" - I'm horrible at that.

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I'd like to add that I'm good at building one-on-one connections, ..., but I'm not good at building one-to-many connections, i.e. being a "crowd pleaser" - I'm horrible at that.
I think this is quite common (i.e. finding it easier to communicate when there's just one person. You probably know one or two people who are really good communicating when they're in a group. As an exercise, have you ever tried to observe what exactly they do that is different from what you do?

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"my mind about them is made up - my moral judgment of them is complete - I know exactly what they're thinking and how they're going to deal with (if at all) the problems that will come about, I know their relationship to reality (and how poor it is) - and yes, that applies to almost all of my relatives"

Omniscient, eh? I didn't know mere humans had such infallible abilities....

I would agree with much of what Chris S. had to say. You asked if you should learn how to make small talk to enhance work relationships, and I would say yes -- think of small talk as a kind of social "grease" (and like grease, too much is not a good thing). If something enhances your work relationships, then why not?

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I think this is quite common (i.e. finding it easier to communicate when there's just one person. You probably know one or two people who are really good communicating when they're in a group. As an exercise, have you ever tried to observe what exactly they do that is different from what you do?

They become obnoxiously loud. They're good at finding "common denominator values" - i.e. topics that everyone can say something about - but those are usually so bland and uninteresting that I zone out when they become a topic of discussion. Usually it's about badmouthing another person or group, i.e. gossip. Every single thing they say is a bromide. I cringe on the inside when I hear stuff like 'you should lie all the time to women to keep them with you'. I get the impression that in order to be a successful group talker (in MY particular group), you have to throw out all rationality.

Well, that's not going to happen, so they can stick their objections with me up where the sun doesn't shine.

Edited by ppw

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"my mind about them is made up - my moral judgment of them is complete - I know exactly what they're thinking and how they're going to deal with (if at all) the problems that will come about, I know their relationship to reality (and how poor it is) - and yes, that applies to almost all of my relatives"

Omniscient, eh? I didn't know mere humans had such infallible abilities....

Not omniscient. Certain. Figuring people out is hard. People you've known your whole life, however, you can be a little more certain about.

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"Usually it's about badmouthing another person or group, i.e. gossip. Every single thing they say is a bromide. I cringe on the inside when I hear stuff like 'you should lie all the time to women to keep them with you'."

The term "small talk" usually means chatting about trivial items such as the weather, sports teams, and the like. What you're describing is gossip, which is entirely different matter -- it can be destructive and should not be engaged in, especially in the work place. Keeping oneself out of gossipy conversations is a real plus, and something that can actually advance your position.

"People you've known your whole life, however, you can be a little more certain about."

More certain, yes. Completely certain, no. I'm always amazed at how people I have known for most of my life (spouse, parents, siblings) can still surprise me with facets of their personality or information about themselves that I didn't know. People are deeper than you think (well, some are).

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"People you've known your whole life, however, you can be a little more certain about."

More certain, yes. Completely certain, no. I'm always amazed at how people I have known for most of my life (spouse, parents, siblings) can still surprise me with facets of their personality or information about themselves that I didn't know. People are deeper than you think (well, some are).

If you hold omniscience as the standard, then you can never be certain about anything. Certainty is not a matter of degree, but of context. (I was using the term 'a little more' jokingly, but you latched on to it like a true skeptic would.)

I can be contextually certain; completely, absolutely certain--within my context of knowledge.

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I don't find any value in making small talk. Is there any? Should I focus on learning how to make small talk to enhance work relationships?

No, you should focus on making your interactions with others as fun and pleasant as possible. Especially for yourself.

I don't think plain small talk (being banal and impersonal) is going to accomplish that though. You should instead test the limits of every interaction, both with humor that is near the edge of what is appropriate, and serious topics of conversation which are near the edge of what is natural (natural conversation, I mean).

Just making an effort to be interesting is soooo much better than acting like you're too cool for a conversation with somebody. Silence, or conversation you're not putting any effort into, is a form of communication, and in most contexts it communicates a lack of interest in the other person. Anything is better than silence or banal, meaningless small talk. Even if you're pulling jokes or topics out of a hat, throwing them out for no apparent reason, or asking questions that have nothing to do with you or the situation because you can't think of anything that fits naturally into the conversation, it's way better than silence or banalities.

Edited by Nicky

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P.S. Trying hard, even if you're not good at it, is fine. If you're trying, that communicates your interest. In a business environment, that's what matters, not how good you are at socializing. No one cares that some guy is the funniest person in the office, when it comes time for a key assignment or a leadership role. They just care about giving it to someone who is interested in other people and competent in his job.

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Just making an effort to be interesting is soooo much better than acting like you're too cool for a conversation with somebody. Silence, or conversation you're not putting any effort into, is a form of communication, and in most contexts it communicates a lack of interest in the other person. Anything is better than silence or banal, meaningless small talk. Even if you're pulling jokes or topics out of a hat, throwing them out for no apparent reason, or asking questions that have nothing to do with you or the situation because you can't think of anything that fits naturally into the conversation, it's way better than silence or banalities. [emphasis mine]

I'd like to know the exact meaning of that phrase, because there is one major issue with it as I understand it. For something (or someone) to be interesting, there needs to be an interested party. The question is then: interesting to whom? When you're dealing with a group, you're dealing with a multitude of individuals, all of which have differing values and interests. But that doesn't really delve into the heart of the issue, which is: what if their interests don't fall in line with your own? Do you force yourself to study football to have something to talk about to fit in better with the group?

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I'd like to know the exact meaning of that phrase, because there is one major issue with it as I understand it. For something (or someone) to be interesting, there needs to be an interested party. The question is then: interesting to whom? When you're dealing with a group, you're dealing with a multitude of individuals, all of which have differing values and interests. But that doesn't really delve into the heart of the issue, which is: what if their interests don't fall in line with your own? Do you force yourself to study football to have something to talk about to fit in better with the group?

Interesting to everyone involved, ideally. But just "interesting to you and hopefully to others" is fine too, as long as you're moving in the right direction.

As for the football thing, if everyone around you is interested in football, then why not learn about football? What's the harm in that? Or even better, learn just enough to be able to crack jokes about how stupid it is. Now you're communicating honestly, and about a subject people are interested in.

Either of those two things is better than saying "we don't have any common interests, so we should just keep interactions to a minimum".

Edited by Nicky

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Interesting to whomever you're trying to talk to.

If everyone around you is interested in football, then why not learn about football? What's the harm in that? Or even better, learn just enough to be able to crack jokes about how stupid it is. Now you're communicating honestly, and about a subject people are interested in.

Either of those two things is better than saying "we don't have any common interests, so we should just keep interactions to a minimum".

Am I not then putting social connections above my own values?

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If someone makes use of small talk, I'd want to know their motive.

Is it because they need friendliness from me in order to put themselves at ease? Is it because they think it is an act of benevolence to put me at ease? Or is it to obtain a favourable judgement of their character (i.e. Keating's interest in 'porcelain')

In the first case, I would normally engage in small talk, as an act of benevolence. In the second, I would be disinterested in small talk and steer away from it - as I have a healthy level of self-esteem. If I detected it in the third case, I'd develop a thorough distrust of the person.

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Am I not then putting social connections above my own values?

Not unless you value the absence of social connections for some reason.

Selfishness isn't doing whatever you feel like, it's doing what is good for you. And having social connections is good for you.

Edited by Nicky

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