Opinion: Small talk doesn’t have to stay shallow

Small talk is stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. Especially when people crave depth in conversation over it.


Roman Slabach

The Old Capital from the roof of UIHC in Iowa City, Iowa on March 25, 2019.

Taylor Newby, Columnist

I made a lot of friends this summer while studying abroad, including a Canadian who studied abroad in England who had made friends with Australians, and was standing at a concert outside of a castle in Malahide, Ireland, with her Australian friends and boyfriend.

By the end of the night, we’d exchanged information, taken a photo of the seven of us, and promised to keep in touch. The reason: small talk.

We were sloshing around in mud, elbowing our way closer to the concert gate, and prompting questions of experience and adventure. I had been with two of my friends, both University of Iowa students, and we were waiting impatiently for folk-rock band Mumford & Sons to take the stage when we met University of Victoria student Jodi Bot and her friends.

They were seasoned travelers, committed fans, and our fastest friends. Our conversations moved swiftly from where home is for each of us and what we were doing in Ireland to stories of first loves, hope in heartbreak, and the countries that had changed our hearts.

It was one of my favorite stories I brought home with me, if not my favorite. Unknowingly, the seven of us standing in mud, being shoved around by horse ranchers and Dublin locals alike, experienced this grand intersection of story — merely because we were standing too close to one another to avoid small talk.

“Small talk rocks,” Bot said. “That’s how you meet new people, like how we met.”

But small talk can sometimes feel safer when you’re immersed in a new place and overwhelmed with the mindset of travel and adventure. Within the security of Iowa City, I’m learning that small talk can feel a bit different when it’s in lecture halls, coffee shops, and other places around campus.

“I’m a fan of small talk,” UI junior Mary Grace Henderson said. “Mostly because I’m uncomfortable with silence.”

Henderson is not alone. While small talk serves as a helpful building block for broader conversation and silence-fillers, different students across different campuses have more ideas around small talk.

“Small talk is so good in the beginning of relationships,” UI sophomore Bailee Meyer said. “But past that, deep is so good.”

Drake University senior Mykaela Cole echoed what Meyer said — relating to the desire for depth in place of small-talk conversations: Which is more commonly consistent of questions centered around where a person is from, what they do for a living, or what they’re studying and how they’re doing.

“I avoid small talk if at all possible [and] dive right into more personal topics,” Cole said.

Similarly, UI alum Savannah Kannapel shared her own thoughts on small talk versus conversations crafted with depth and connection.

“Small talk is my hardest social subject,” Kannapel said. “I can talk deep with anyone, but small talk is hard.”

And while perspectives differ from person to person, especially within a college campus, one thing remains fairly consistent — sometimes, people would rather talk about home, values, and ideas than sit in silence, stewing over social-media posts or bent over phone screens.

Small talk isn’t something to run from and avoid, but something to be embraced.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.