Trading Small Talk for Big Talk And A Meaningful Conversation

Trading Small Talk for Big Talk And A Meaningful Conversation

This week we have the pleasure of a guest post from author Kathy Gottberg, from SMART living 365.com Enjoy!

Even though I am a writer by trade, I still like to talk. And although I believe that my writing represents my best form of communication, good conversation with interesting people is one of my greatest joys. Put me together in a room with people who are discussing new possibilities, transforming their part of the world, or passionately involved in subjects I find intriguing and you won’t be able to shut me up. On the flip side, invite me to a cocktail party where people are focused on what they look like, who they know, and what they own, and I have little to say. That or start a conversation with me and then stop the minute your cell phone rings to answer, and I’ll likely just walk away. Conversation often means different things to different people, but for me, big talk and meaningful conversations are what really matters.

​What do I mean by big talk? First it’s important to note that big talk isn’t talking big. A “big talker” who monopolizes the conversation with their accomplishments and acquisitions is arrogant. Instead, I take my definition from a story told by psychologist and author Gay Hendricks in his book, Five Wishes.

​Hendricks tells the story of going to a cocktail party to please his soon to be new wife, Kathlyn. Normally Hendricks did his best to avoid most social events. In this case, he went to the party to nurture his relationship. After a very brief time of meeting and greeting, he began exploring on his own the rooms of the home he was visiting. One room was a library stuffed full of rows of books and a roaring fire in an elaborate stone fireplace. Not until he approached the fire did he notice a man sitting in a chair in the corner of the room.

The man said, “Don’t like parties much do you?

“No, I actually don’t.”

“Me neither,” returned the man. “Hate the small talk.”

“I hate small talk too,” Hendricks quickly answered.

The man smiled and asked, “Wanna have some big talk?”

The resulting conversation led to not only a deep and meaningful evening, but a lifelong friendship as well. Even better, Hendricks used what he learned about himself during the conversation to go on to overcome many of the hurdles holding him back in life. Instead of the often-mindless entertainment that comes from small talk, big talk opens the door for new opportunity, transformation and more rewarding relationships.

So why don’t we do it all the time? A new and growing problem is technology. Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, and author of the book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age offers her advice. Turkle believes that while technology connects us by computer and phone in fantastic ways, it hinders real conversation. She explains, “We are too busy connecting to have conversations that count.” The conversations she believes are most advantageous are those where we give our full attention, allow ideas to develop, and open ourselves to be vulnerable. Those kinds of conversations foster intimacy, empathy, collaboration, and allow creativity to grow and thrive.

In other words, chatting on Facebook or texting back and forth might provide us with a form of connection, but it is not a conversation. In fact, a study done at the University of Essex in the UK shows that just putting a phone on the table during any form of get-together like lunch or a date, hinders conversation. When a cell phone is sitting nearby, conversations veer toward the more trivial and that lessons the empathetic connection between those present. Even worse, Turkle says, “Our phones offer us gifts as though from a benevolent genie: that we will never again be alone, that we can put our attention wherever we want it, that we can always be heard, that we can present ourselves as we wish to be seen, that we can avoid difficult confrontations, and that we never have to be bored.” Yes, but at what cost?

In many ways, our constant attention and focus on technology are little more than the latest version of small talk. Tweets, Facebook posts, Pinterest and many blog posts are similar to cocktail party banter that can sometimes be amusing—but easily forgettable within minutes. For example, people often accuse me of writing blog posts that are too long because they can take up to 15 minutes to read. Even those who enjoy digging deeper into subjects often prefer to watch a news story or documentary on YouTube or television than read a book or long article on the internet. Has our attention span become so condensed that no one has time for a big conversation or to thoroughly explore ideas that matter? I hope not.

Fortunately, some people realize the importance of a rewarding, meaningful and big conversation. One such organization is called, “The World Café.” With a book, website and international online resources, the organization works to promote and facilitate conversations that matter. By offering a simple and dialogic process for people to connect, cross-pollinate ideas, and access the collective intelligence between participants, The World Café does its best to encourage conversation. They recently celebrated over 20 years of transformative work.

What about the rest of us? Where can most of us reduce small talk and find conversations that matter? It’s critical to remember that a big conversation is our responsibility—both to start it and keep it headed in that direction. Here are eight suggestions:

  • Make the effort to get together with others in settings that encourage conversation.
  • Put your cell phone away and encourage others to do the same.
  • Don’t run and grab the computer to either prove or make a point to others.
  • Ask questions that dig deeper about things that matter to you.
  • Spend at least as much time listening as you do speaking.
  • Avoid interrupting or trying to one-up the last bit of information shared.
  • Look people in the eye when talking.
  • If the people you are talking to don’t want to follow you towards a meaningful conversation, find another group.

Of course, a major key to finding a big conversation that matters to any one of us is recognizing that we are all different with subjects we find important and worthy of discussing. Plus, like so many other things in life, it is always SMART to remember that quality conversations begin with intention and focus. Equally important is the awareness that we each craft meaningful conversations by the alchemy of people coming together with common interests and concerns, to connect, create and transform together. So, are you ready to include some big talk in your life today?

Kathy Gottberg has been a published author and writer for over 30 years. Kathy’s current passion is blogging at SMART Living 365.com where she shares ideas and experiences that lead to a happier, peaceful and more meaningful life. Her most recent work is entitled RightSizing * A SMART Living 365 Guide to Reinventing Retirement. Kathy lives in La Quinta, California with her husband Thom of 40 years and her dog Kloe. Ultimately, Kathy strives to live life fearlessly and full-out….and to remember, that each of us get to make it up!

About the Author Susan Malone

Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.

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42 comments
Tamuria says May 24, 2017

Crazy to think that a communication device is actually destroying the art of conversation but I see it all the time. I actually get a little depressed when friends feel the need to put their phones on the table while we are out at lunch. We’re all over 50 – surely they remember the days when they couldn’t be contacted 24/7. “We are too busy connecting to have conversations that count.” – sad but true.

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Scott says May 24, 2017

You make a great point about social media ruining conversations. Everything on there is small talk – I can’t remember the last time I had a deeper conversation with someone not in my family!

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    Susan Malone says May 25, 2017

    It’s the way conversations are going, aren’t they, Scott. Which is why I so love sitting down and visiting!

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Jolleen says May 24, 2017

I love this. Small talk is something I DREAD. It is more work to find nonsense to talk about than it is to talk about meaningful stuff, at least for me anyways. I love having meaningful talks.. Good for the soul 🙂

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    Susan Malone says May 25, 2017

    Meaningful talks really are good for the soul, aren’t they, Jolleen!

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Cathy Sykora says May 24, 2017

This reminded me of my sister in law. Every time I talk to her, and I’ve known her about 35 years, I feel like I’ve been drawn into the most intimate conversation and I tell her things I normally don’t even think about. It’s a gift. It would wear me out to talk like that too often though.

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Mona McGinnis says May 25, 2017

I’ve heard trivial conversation referred to as Tupperware talk”. My 21 yr. old cousin has been living with me. Often she has her ipod connected with ear buds to her head, her cellphone in one hand and the tv remote in the other. I am very aware of the disconnect between those present.

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Vatsala Shukla says May 25, 2017

I often joke with my friends that I know what’s going on with them via Facebook even though we are in the same city and can meet up for coffee at the very least. I understand the addiction to being online all the time but the need to post every ache, pain and angst? Still figuring that out.

I take regular social media hibernation to get my head space back Susan, and it works wonders. I do miss the real conversations though. Thank God my sister is not on Facebook and we have real chats over the phone. 🙂

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    Susan Malone says May 25, 2017

    Laughing, Vatsala! I have a FB friend who posts everything from a root canal to toenail fungus! We all just laugh.
    I take social media breaks too. Works wonders1

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Kathy Gottberg says May 25, 2017

Hey Tamura! Yes isn’t it crazy about how cell phones have dominated so many people. Ever since I read that statistic about just putting your phone on the table and what it does to conversation I stopped doing it myself. But as a person who takes walks every day I am amazed at how many people I see walking around holding their phone in front of them like a “guide” and completely ignoring the world around them (not to mention any other people!) When I see that I just say to myself–“never, ever let me be like that!” ~Kathy

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Kathy Gottberg says May 25, 2017

Hi Everyone (and Susan of course!) I tried to leave individual replies but for some reason I’m getting an error message saying I need a “java script” so I’ll just have to check in here in bulk. I love that expression that Mona offered about “tupperware talk.” Doesn’t that just sound so supperficial? That or a “networking party” where everyone just shoves a business card in your hand and moves on to the next. Ugh! I really dislike those. And I get what Cathy said about sometimes these conversations being “intense” but again, they don’t happen all the time so having them show up is usually a gift. And I’m also pretty aware that too much intimacy and revealing on the part of one person doesn’t necessarily mean the conversation is big–to me a BIG conversation means we are all equally engaged mentally and verbally. Nearly always I am more energized coming from one of those experiences than anything else. And Vatsala, thank you for bringing up how easy it is for us to settle for online connections rather than the real thing. It’s so easy to feel like we are “keeping up with each other” on FB and other media–or even the phone–but let’s never forget that connecting face-to-face has such incredible value to our psyche. Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting. It’s fun meeting some of Susan’s friends because I so value her blog and all her ideas. I’m looking forward to the time when I get to meet her face-to-face and we have some of those BIG conversations I know we will. ~Kathy

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    Susan Malone says May 25, 2017

    Eeek! Don’t know what’s going on with that, Kathy, but I’ll check! Your response to Tamuria did post, so no clue why the others didn’t! Technology.

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      Kathy says May 26, 2017

      Hey Susan! The comments seem to be working perfectly today. But then I saw you disabled comment luv….I had to do it on my site as well. It was not being updated and started to cause problems. As far as I can tell, the comments are working great today.

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        Susan Malone says May 29, 2017

        We think it was the Comment Luv. We found that the company is no longer in business! That’s what was mucking up the works.

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          Kathy Gottberg says May 30, 2017

          Yes…my comment luv started acting wiggy about a month ago and I couldn’t’ figure out the problem. Then I googled the author of the program and saw he has MS and is just holding on….sort of put things into perspective. it was a good one while it lasted.

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          Susan Malone says May 31, 2017

          It was good while it lasted. Hopefully he’ll get better or someone will take that back over.

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Reba Linker says May 25, 2017

I love Sherry Turkle’s comment, “We are too busy connecting to have conversations that count.” Nothing is as soul satisfying as a good conversation! I see it in families, too, where each individual runs to their own separate screen. We are really missing out on real communication!

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    Susan Malone says May 25, 2017

    Oh, I so agree, Reba! Good conversation really does satisfy the soul . . .

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Annemarie LeBlanc says May 25, 2017

I hate to see families in the mall or restaurants with heads bowed tapping away on their smartphones. I think the art of conversation is about to die a natural death unless we do something about it.

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    Susan Malone says May 25, 2017

    And it’s an epidemic, isn’t it, Annemarie. I seldom see families talking to one another at the table . . .

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    Kathy Gottberg says May 26, 2017

    Hi Annemarie…Kathy here….I so agree with that. My husband Thom and I always joke about pulling out our phone and taking a photo of them and then send it to them…but then, we’d be just as guilty using our phone as entertainment instead of interacting. It’s difficult to pull ourselves away but we really do need to make the time for quality conversations.

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Sue Kearney says May 25, 2017

I love the tips. I’d expand on this one, though, like so: “Look people in the eye when talking, and definitely do not be looking over the person you’re talking to’s shoulder to see who else might be more interesting.”

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    Susan Malone says May 25, 2017

    Isn’t it funny how often folks do exactly that, Sue–look over someone’s shoulder to see who’s more interesting!

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    Kathy Gottberg says May 26, 2017

    Hi Sue….Kathy here….oh yes! Isn’t that the worst when you are at a “networking party?” You can see their eyes scanning the crowd for someone more “advantageous” that you and it drives me crazy as well. It’s almost as bad as trying to talk to a teenager in a crowd of young people–you are NOT someone they really want to engage with. I think it so important that we find our own “tribe” of people who like talking about many of the same values and issues that we do. And the more curious and open we are, the better.

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Jonita D'souza says May 26, 2017

Loved this story and also the 8 points. I myself keep reminding myself not to loose eye contacts during these big talks ..

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Candess M Campbell says May 26, 2017

I love social psychology and it is interesting to watch how we are responding to the “information age.” Some are overloaded and overwhelmed and others are alive with connection. It seems a quick text is manageable for most and leaves others longing. Great food for thought. This weekend I think I’ll find a couple of friends and dive deep!

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    Susan Malone says May 29, 2017

    Oh, I love social psychology as well, Candess! But I love diving deep with friends most of all 🙂

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Katrina gehman says May 28, 2017

I live to talk but small talk gets me too. I do love to text and email. Maybe that’s because it’s right to the point. I do like to put my phone away at parties and think it’s not the place for them. Instead interact more.

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    Susan Malone says May 29, 2017

    I so agree, Katrina–each venue has it’s place. Just not all at once 🙂

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Sonya Kolodziejska says May 28, 2017

Absolutely fantastic. A little off course, but recently went on a few dates and the guy just wanted to message all the time… i hated it! What ever happened to just picking up the phone at the end of the day and chatting? I miss those days.

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    Susan Malone says May 29, 2017

    That’s what I still do, Sonya–pick up the phone at the end of the day and chat 🙂 That’s my relaxation time!

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      Kathy Gottberg says May 30, 2017

      I can’t imagine starting out a new relationship that just wants to text and message…I think it’s okay to save time when you’re in a hurry and just want to say hi or ask a quick question…but when you’re getting to know someone???? And I personally am not a phone chatter…..I need to see the whites of people’s eyes! hahahaha….

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        Susan Malone says May 31, 2017

        Oh, I do too, Kathy! Texts are great for quick interaction, and I love phone chats. But in person is so much more meaningful!

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Kristen Wilson says May 28, 2017

Tis true.. big talk opens us up… makes a deeper connection… and makes us dive deeper… this is so much different than small talk… so true.

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thrivetheme says May 29, 2017

These days I feel like I am terrible at conversation. I keep Googling how to do it better. Thank for this perfectly timed post.

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    Susan Malone says May 29, 2017

    Well, I would disagree entirely, Renee! You’re a great conversationalist!

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    Kathy Gottberg says May 30, 2017

    I don’t know you Renee but I’ll bet you don’t have any trouble talking about things that are important and really matter to you. What you might not be good at is “small talk” about superficial things. I feel the same way. When I am bored with the “conversation” and/or I can see the other person is too…I either need to find something we both care deeply about or move on….

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