The Music of Small Talk

Or What About Nieeeeeeeetzsche?!

Back in the days I really hated small talk. You could even say I looked down on it as uninteresting things people say, when they have nothing else to say. But something within me changed the last year or two and I started to grasp that small talk is more a game of harmony than an exchange of important information. In other words it’s a game similar to music. The goal? Uncertain… I mean why do you listen to music?! And I assume you do. With small talk Likewise with small talk.
Sometimes you really just need to beat some time, but the goal could also be to lead up to more interesting conversations. I mean you can’t start talking about Nietzsche with a complete stranger1. Similar to complicated music genres like Progressive Rock or Jazz you first need an introduction that opens up the possibility for more complicated stuff later on.

The Melody Of Everyday Life In The Form Of Small Talk

I really started noticing this, when I stopped listening to music in the bus and instead started observing my surroundings. I don’t eavesdrop on whole conversations, but I witnessed that conversations have patterns, that are somewhat melodic. At least the good ones! There are always patterns that are repeated. Like for example one topic or sometimes even just one word to which the conversation leads back again and again. And sometimes it even feels like people are playing different instruments… One plays an instruments that supplements the conversation with additional information. Another one plays in a manner of speaking the lead guitar.
Recently I started listen to book “How to Talk to Anyone”2as an audiobook and by what the author describes I see my observations confirmed. That’s why I came up with the idea of writing this short post

A Short Computer Scientist Perspective On Gut Feeling

I’m still more akin to big talk to be honest… On the other side I also have to admit that it just feels wrong to start a conversation with certain topics. Even disregarding the potential interests of your conversation partners, you still should adjust what you’re saying to the general mood. If a friend is already nervous you probably shouldn’t be bothering him with even more with plans for the future.And if someone is tired it’s probably a bad idea to confront the person with a difficult mathematical riddle.
I don’t say that you have to calculate every sentence and word your say3, but rather to trust your gut feeling about what would fit in a given situation. Social situations are really complicated Mathematics… So complicated that it is only feasible to approximately solve them with a good heuristic. I’m speaking of your gut feeling! It is your personal heuristic. And if you do so you will find out, that probably more people than you thought want to talk about the big topics and you just need a good build-up to get there! And then you’re finally good to go to talk about Nietzsche ot whatever else you want.

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  1. Just imagine a stranger on the street walking up to you and asking you: What about Nieeetzsche?!
  2. How to talk to anyone : 92 little tricks for big success in relationships, Leil Lowndes, Grand Haven MI : Brilliance Audio, 2015,
  3. You can’t.

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