Tips for Mastering the Art of American Small Talk

Updated: Jan 13, 2020


American Small Talk

Small talk.

Some people love it, and some people loathe it. In America, it’s a fact of life. What is it, and why is it so important in America? Small talk is discussion about safe and light topics at the beginning of a conversation, and it’s a powerful way to build connection and trust with another person.

I'm going to explore small talk further in this article by offering examples and tips in order to build your confidence in social settings.

The Variables at Play


I've learned over the years that some people aren’t used to engaging in small talk. It can be due to an individual’s personality or culture, a combination of the two, or other factors.

Culture


Several of my clients come from what they describe as more direct cultures and tend to use more straightforward language when asking questions and giving opinions. In America, on the other hand, when meeting new people or having a conversation with someone we haven’t seen in a while, we tend to use small talk first before we move into deeper topics.

We don’t generally do this to be manipulative or purposefully evasive; we do it because we care what you think, and we want to be certain that we don’t offend you. Most of the time, small talk comes from this mindset.

Personality


Some people are more introverted than extroverted. Extroverted people feel more energy when they are engaging with others, while introverts feel more energized when they are allowed “down-time” by themselves. But, even extroverts have days when they are less likely to be talkative.

That’s because few people are 100% extroverted or 100% introverted. But these categories can help us to understand why small talk can be easier for some who genuinely love being around people, while it’s more difficult for others.

These are two examples of factors that might influence a person's desire or lack of desire for small talk. Of course, many other variables may be at play (maybe the person is running late, isn't comfortable with English, or has had bad experiences talking to strangers; we can never truly know what motivates another) but this gives you an idea of two possibilities at play.

Example Conversation