10 things I hate about small talk


Is there anything worse than someone asking you about the weather? Especially when you’re itching to tell someone about your uber cool project or the next big idea you’ve had after drawing inspiration from a bearded man on a train.

I can’t stand it.

Yes, it’s raining outside, but I happen to spend my days inside writing at a desk, and when I’m not, I’m standing, indoors, at an event – the rain is inconsequential and so is your conversation.

Shouldn’t we try and wring out moments to give us droplets of insight? I think so. Anything but inane how are yous when the questioner doesn’t really care and the respondent doesn’t really want to share.

Let’s ask questions we want the answers to. Or, hold the front page; engage in meaningful conversation at the water cooler.

Don’t ask me:

  1. About the weather – you may feel that we have covered this off. But in fact, there’s more to say on the topic. I like clouds, leaves on the floor, wind (of the easterly kind), heat and fog. You won’t get a good answer out of me, whatever your weather question.
  2. “How are you?” Unless you really want to know the answer. I’m afraid I enjoy sharing my latest woe. At the moment, it’s a fractured finger.

The fractured finger in question

I’m clumsy by nature, so there’s always something to share. Your bewildered face after my (long) monologue answer to “how are you?” which includes A&E trips, splints and index finger bilateral nerve pain – is caused by only one thing, your choice of question, not my answer.

  1. “What do you do?” Are we defined by our jobs? It depends. If you are a writer, then, a little, yes. If you’re a data analyst, with passions for adventure and you’re climbing Mount Everest next week, then no. In fact, read this post by Knowledge at Wharton for more on this alone.
  2. “Do you have children?” It’s none of your business at this stage, is it?
  3. “How old are you?” As above.
  4. “What did you do before the job you’ve got now?” See point three.
  5. “Where do you live?” Are you a stalker? Are you trying to figure out how much I earn? I certainly don’t have a spare bedroom.
  6. “Do you have a big family?” If the answer is no, and in fact quite the opposite, we’ve got off to a bad start haven’t we. So I’ll let you rethink the question.
  7. “What’s your political stance?” Private, until further notice.
  8. “How’s your health?” As mentioned, typically there is something to share about my health. So unless you want the gory details on the stitch accidently left in my foot after an NHS nursing error, in which the skin grew over and then had to be dug out by a nice orthopaedic surgeon chap, just don’t ask.

Instead, ask me:

  1. “What are you interested in at the moment?” Ah. An open-ended question with meaning. It will allow me to talk for two to three minutes about a topic of my choice. Absolute bliss!
  2. “What are your plans for the summer?” Whatever the month at the time of asking, the answer is loaded with adventure, fun, hopes and dreams. Plus, you can tell a lot about a person from the summer they have planned.
  3. “What’s your industry like at the moment?” We’ve just met. You don’t know what industry I work in. Clever. You are covering off, “What do you do?” “How’s business?” and “What are the economic challenges facing your business?” “Is work stable?” as well as “Are you likely to get laid off?” “Is there any freelance work there?” All without the intrusion of asking these things.

What do you like to be asked? Tell me and I’m happy to oblige. Just make sure it’s not about the weather, please.

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