Smalltalk gets a bad name. As an Englishman living in Germany, I often experience a lack of smalltalk – it really seems to be perceived as something redundant. Why say anything if you don’t have anything pertinent to the subject in hand to say?

People often feel smalltalk is inauthentic and, at its worst, it is. Take Australia’s “How are ya?” question that every cashier always asks. They’ll freak out if you actually give a genuine answer.

But smalltalk is also a tool of psychological safety for many – can I say this? Is this a person I can trust? And, of course, of power – are you worth my time talking to? What can you do for me?

But try considering smalltalk as improv instead. It’s the casual back and forth warm up for the game of conversational tennis. You build on the other person’s comment until you find enough common ground to build a full scene and a relationship.

(It’s also a programming language with a remarkable pedigree).

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