If you are a human being (I assume that if you’re reading this you probably are) you will most likely have to engage in small talk on a regular basis with fellow humans that you come across. You feel obliged to speak to them, even though you can think of a long list of things you’d rather do, like brushing your teeth with a cactus, or timing yourself to see how long you can stare at a blank, white wall and count the individual flecks of paint before you go insane. If this is the case, you will probably recognise some of the following phrases, normally heard bouncing between colleagues in the work place.

1. “How was your weekend?”
2. “I can’t believe this rain!”
3. “Did you enjoy your lunch?”
4. “Wow, I can’t believe its Thursday already!”
5. And perhaps worst of all for reasons that will be made clear: “How are you?”

Just a few recognisable questions there that can be used to make idle conversation, and here’s why each one is as dead and redundant as the air they are trying to fill.

1. You already know how their weekend was as you’ve just overheard them telling seven other people in the office, plus your Facebook newsfeed was plastered with so many of their photos from Saturday night that if you printed them off in order, stapled them together and flicked through them very quickly you could actually make a short documentary of the entire evening.

2. We live in England.

3. Of course they enjoyed it. They escaped the oppressive monotony of the office for an hour and they were eating sandwiches. What’s not to enjoy?

4. This should come as no surprise, it was Wednesday yesterday.

5. This is the most standard, but probably the most inane way to simmer up some small talk, as this never gets answered properly. When does anyone say how they really are? I spend a lot of my time at work on the phone to various clients, none of whom I’ve ever met. Each conversation usually begins with me asking how they are. They say they’re fine, thanks. They will never, ever, say anything else in response to that question, so I often wonder why I bother. Now, although I may not seem it, I can be quite a compassionate person, so I am always glad the person attached to the voice on the other end of the phone isn’t dead. But I can tell that already from the fact that they are talking to me. By the tone of their voice I can usually deduct that they’re not in insufferable agony, or conversely in the throes of ecstasy, and can usually assume without having to ask that they’re somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Or in other words “Not too bad, thank you.”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enquiring after someone’s wellbeing, or about their summer holiday plans or what colour socks they have on that day if you’re genuinely interested in what they might have to say, but why try to muster up conversation just to make noise?

Do I ever find myself making small talk to avoid an uncomfortable silence? Sure I do. Because I’m a dirty hypocrite. I often find myself standing in the kitchen at work with a colleague, with nothing for us to listen to other than the whirr of the toaster and the deafening noise of our own embarrassment. Inevitably, we start talking about which fruit teas we like, or where on earth that brown stain on the ceiling could have come from, or the weather. I think to myself: “You’re not enjoying this, I’m not enjoying this, we should just stop.” But do we? No. We carry on talking about how it’s really hot outside even though this isn’t really worth mentioning seeing as it’s fucking August.

Let’s face it, no one really enjoys small talk and there’s nothing wrong with a good, healthy silence. Silence just got known for being ‘awkward.’ Well bring back the awkward silence I say, but let’s make it cool. Dye its hair, give it a tattoo, put a funky belt on it and get it out there amongst the people. And if that doesn’t work, maybe I’ll just pretend I’m mental. If asking people if they’ve seen my grandma whilst clutching an old, frayed photograph of a Yorkshire terrier doesn’t put people off vacantly telling me how slow their week’s been and that they can’t wait ‘til Friday, then I don’t know what will.

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