Thursday, July 7, 2016

Small Talk and Big Talker

How many people really care about David Roberts? You might want to know who David Roberts is and why he has chosen to expose one of his social failings on a site called Vox? In that way you will better be able to answer whether anyone does or should care about Roberts.

As it happens Roberts is dismally bad at small talk. Already this tells you why so few people really care about Roberts and his problems. The better part of valor would have told him to keep it to himself and to try to learn how to relate to human beings. If you had expected as much, you would have been disappointed.

One understands-- because one is less na├»ve that it appears--that a journalist writing a long form essay might feel compelled to personalize the topic-- the better to help you to relate to it-- even if he ends up making himself look like a jerk. One also understands that the personal touch can be useful, but only as long as it does not drown the topic in the author's self-absorbed plaintive wail.

If you are thrown into a nearly phobic anguish by the prospect of small talk, how about showing us how you are trying to overcome your infirmity. Surely, it would have been better than writing about the value of small talk and then doubling down on your failure by refusing to learn how to do it.

You see, Roberts fashions himself a big talker, a master of deep thinking and of intensely soulful revelations. He does not understand that a considerate soul would have learned, before he reached adulthood, to keep such things to himself, but, alas, he has not.

Unfortunately, this self-branded big thinker is not very good at thinking, big or small. Or else, he is too self-absorbed to apply any of the lessons he gleans from his research to himself.

In fact, Roberts has done some research into the general theory of small talk, from Malinowski to the psycho researchers. Unthinkingly, he even includes a few feminist rants on the topic. So he understands that some people dismiss small talk as beneath their dignity. Had he done a little more research he would have discovered that famed Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger was also a sworn enemy of small talk, criticizing what he called idle chatter. A champion of authenticity-- especially the kind that the Storm Troopers were practicing-- Heidegger had no real use for the niceties and proprieties that make up polite society. He could not have adhered to Nazism and still loved his neighbor.

People who are vulgar and boorish do not easily engage in small talk. They are so full of themselves that they feel compelled to impose their tedious beings on anyone who falls within the purview. At best, they engage in constant public drama. At worst, they bully people.

Now, Roberts has done enough research to know that small talk is a good thing. It is even therapeutic. Want to get rid of your sense of isolation and your fear of other people? One good way of doing so is learning the art of small talk. Learn to establish a connection with other human beings by talking about the weather and sports and the markets. It's not that difficult, but it does take practice.

Otherwise you will be following Roberts down a lonesome road and will continue to insist that you are as you are and that you cannot change... besides you prefer big talk. Because you are a big talker.

It takes a special warp of mind to recognize the virtue and the value of small talk-- which is a conversational handshake-- and then to think that it's beneath you. Who do you think you are, a Nietzschean superman?

When you engage in small talk you are taking things slowly. You are getting to know the person before you drop your pants-- a novel notion all by itself. I recognize that this is more the exception than the rule, but still, you are not obligated to follow every trendy bad habit.

When you are meeting someone for the first time or even greeting a friend you have not seen for a while, you do better not to blurt out the latest news about your hemorrhoids. Nor should you declaim about how strongly you feel about gun control... as though strong feelings make you necessarily right. When you indulge those big talker habits you are being a moral exhibitionist, and effectively putting yourself outside of the world of human commerce. Surely, you are seeking attention, but this kind of opening gambit rarely leads to anything good.

If you indulge in big talk without having laid the groundwork with small talk you cannot have established, through a series of other exchanges, that your interlocutor is trustworthy. So, you are engaging in public drama. But you are also trusting someone without knowing that you can trust him. And that makes you a fool. One understands that many people believe that the best way to open a conversation is to offer up a detail of  your life that is highly personal-- that is, to expose yourself. But, if you do so you will merely be demonstrating that you have a defective sense of shame.

In so doing you are declaring yourself to be untrustworthy. If you are willing to expose information that embarrasses you to just anyone, why should anyone imagine that you will be any less careless or negligent with information that he confides in you?

Then again, once you overshare, you are likely to drive other people away. They will be faced with the choice between oversharing in return or turning away from you. The more intelligent ones will easily opt for the latter choice.

If perchance you suffer from the same problem as Roberts, you ought to consult a therapist. Then again, Roberts seems to be the kind of individual who has done too much therapy and who sees all human interactions as a form of therapy. In his case it has been highly ineffective.





6 comments:

Anonymous said...

http://www.today.com/news/heartbreaking-dallas-police-shooting-victim-brent-thompson-recently-married-t100636

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: Unthinkingly, he even includes a few feminist rants on the topic.

i.e. Scholar Justine Coupland writes: What primarily emerges from feminist critiques is the fact that western societies have whole-heartedly accepted that communication is in fact value-gradable, on a scale from most-to-least authentic, or most-to-least valid. ... Whether or not "real talk" has been held to be a man's exclusive domain is, from this perspective, less significant than the fact that an evaluative public conception of communication itself is strongly in place. Real talk is talk that "gets stuff done," where "stuff" does not include "relational stuff."

Is that really a rant?

It does seem related to Deborah Tannen's work, separating "report" vs "rapport" talk, the first being informational and the second relational. And in her 1990 book Tannen said men tend to talk more informationally and woman more relationally.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You_Just_Don%27t_Understand
-------
Tannen writes that, from childhood, boys and girls learn different approaches to language and communication—Tannen calls these different approaches "genderlects." Females engage in "rapport-talk" — a communication style meant to promote social affiliation and emotional connection, while men engage in "report-talk" — a style focused on exchanging information with little emotional import. The differences in metamessages, Tannen shows, result in misunderstandings between men and women.

Tannen's chapters, broken up into short titled sections of two or three pages, start by distinguishing what men and women seek from conversations: independence and intimacy respectively.

For most women, the language of conversation is primarily a language of rapport: a way of establishing connections and negotiating relationships ... For most men, talk is primarily a means to preserve independence and negotiate and maintain status in a hierarchical social order.

This leads to conversations at cross-purposes, since both parties may miss the other's metamessages, with attendant misunderstandings—for example, a woman complaining about the lingering effects of a medical procedure, who may merely be seeking empathy from female friends by doing so, becomes angry at her husband when he suggests a solution involving further surgery.
-------

It might be this relational division is orthogonal to small-talk big-talk divide, if we assume many women see relational talk AS big-talk, and many men see informational talk AS big-talk. Then the problem is people are just interested in different things, and if you're only talking about what you're interested in, then you're probably not doing small talk.

So we might say there are two different sorts of small talk - one informational, like the weather or home town sports, and one personal or relational, where you're building up context, reminding yourself what you know about another person, and then using this to make that person more comfortable.

Overall this suggests to me that I don't know what people mean by "big talk" except "what I'm interested in at this moment." And in inferior situations, one person ends up dominating with their interests, and so the more interested you are, perhaps the less sensitive you are when others are not.

Besides interest, if we must define "small talk" it perhaps would be safe to say it is about avoiding confrontation, avoiding judgement, avoiding opinions, anything that points out differences between us. And that's why sex, religion, and politics are off topic, because they threaten to divide people into tribal camps, and unnecessarily since we all have common interests behind our preferences.

AesopFan said...

Ares: "It might be this relational division is orthogonal to small-talk big-talk divide, if we assume many women see relational talk AS big-talk, and many men see informational talk AS big-talk. Then the problem is people are just interested in different things, and if you're only talking about what you're interested in, then you're probably not doing small talk.

So we might say there are two different sorts of small talk - one informational, like the weather or home town sports, and one personal or relational, where you're building up context, reminding yourself what you know about another person, and then using this to make that person more comfortable.

Overall this suggests to me that I don't know what people mean by "big talk" except "what I'm interested in at this moment." And in inferior situations, one person ends up dominating with their interests, and so the more interested you are, perhaps the less sensitive you are when others are not.

Besides interest, if we must define "small talk" it perhaps would be safe to say it is about avoiding confrontation, avoiding judgement, avoiding opinions, anything that points out differences between us. And that's why sex, religion, and politics are off topic, because they threaten to divide people into tribal camps, and unnecessarily since we all have common interests behind our preferences."

A very useful distinction (I have read most of Tannen's books and have always profited from her insights). When we run into someone you described in the bolded section, we either class them as a genius (Churchill, Einstein, etc) or a bore.

David Foster said...

""report" vs "rapport" talk"

Actually, among men at least, there are huge regional differences. Southerners are more likely to engage in "rapport" talk than are Northerners, for example.

There are also probably differences driven by the type of work a person does. Supermarket checkout clerks, for example, generally seem to enjoy customer interactions of the small-talk variety; air traffic controllers, whether male or female, not so much (unless things are very slow)

Did Tannen also look at these sorts of other variables, or did her hypothesis lead her only in the gender direction.

Sam L. said...

So, Stuart, how's the world treating you today?

Anonymous said...

Arab world

https://www.facebook.com/2mohamedrahoma/videos/345908438866782/