Archive for May 11th, 2015

May 11, 2015

Small Talk

Linda Richman by allison krumwiede

Small talk is an informal type of discourse that does not cover any functional topics of conversation or any transactions that need to be addressed. Small talk is conversation for its own sake. The phenomenon of small talk was initially studied in 1923 by Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, who coined the term ‘phatic communication’ to describe it. For example: ‘You’re welcome’ is not intended to convey the message that the hearer is welcome; it is a phatic response to being thanked, which in turn is a phatic whose function is to acknowledge the receipt of a benefit. The ability to conduct small talk is a social skill; hence, small talk is part of social communication.

While seeming to have little useful purpose, small talk is a bonding ritual and a strategy for managing interpersonal distance. It serves many functions in helping to define the relationships between friends, work colleagues, and new acquaintances. In particular, it helps new acquaintances to explore and categorize each other’s social position. Small talk is closely related to the need for people to maintain positive face — to feel approved-of by those who are listening to them. It lubricates social interactions in a very flexible way, although the desired function is often dependent on the point in the conversation at which the small talk occurs (e.g. conversation openers are very different than closers).

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