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24 Types of Small Talk

Small talk is a conversation designed to be social as opposed to informative or engaging. This can be done when you want to acknowledge someone's presence without committing to a long conversation. Alternatively, it can be an short conversation used to initialize social connections and build relationships. The following are common types of small talk.


Routine conversations based on familiar patterns such as "hello, how are you?"


In some cultures, such as Japanese culture, talking about the weather is a common form of small talk. The weather changes every day and is therefore more dynamic feeling than boilerplate.

Conversation Opener

An initial line used to open up a conversation with a stranger. Highly social people may regularly engage strangers in conversation. This can be good practice and builds social status as it tends to lead to a large network of people who you regularly greet.

Rhetorical Question

A question that isn't designed to be answered. This can minimize the risk the person won't reply or allow you to talk about something mundane without making a big conversation out of it. For example, "will this rain ever stop?"

Tag Question

An ending question that demands a response to a statement. For example, "it's wonderful, isn't it?"

Close-Ended Question

A question that requires a short response such that it is easy to answer. For example, "I heard you went to Yale?" An open-ended question such as "how do you feel about nature?" isn't considered small talk because it seeks an expansive answer.

Conversational Narcissism

Talking about yourself without much regard to your conversation partners. For example, telling people about how glamorous your weekend was without inquiring about them.

Empathetic Communication

Tuning into the emotions of others. For example, "you look like you're having a bad day, is everything all right?"


Conversation designed to communicate your social status such as wealth, popularity and intelligence.


Demonstrating your strength by communicating negative information about yourself. This includes presenting positive information as if it were negative such as "I only went to Yale so those Harvard guys would never hire me." Countersignaling can also involve self-deprecating humor that shows you are brave enough to reveal real faults.

Social Categorization

Questions designed to explore the social status or social position of an individual such as their wealth, position or authority. For example, in Tokyo a common topic of small talk is where in town people live. This may be designed to discover commonalities. However, it also communicates information about wealth as some neighborhoods are far more expensive than others. Neighborhood can also communicate information about personality such as a person who lives in a lively neighborhood known for its music scene as opposed to a conservative neighborhood known for quiet security.


In a business setting small talk may focus on organizational or industry topics. For example, "did you here that our competitor across the street fired their entire commodities team?"

Safe Ground

Small talk is typically designed to explore common ground that is unlikely to offend. As such, topics that are likely to lead to disagreement such as politics are avoided.


People are interested in people. If you want to be interesting, talking about people works better than the weather. For example, "Do you guys have a new team member? What's his name?"


The ability to be funny is a prized social skill that shows you're good with people. In the context of small talk, humor is kept light.

Inside Jokes

Humor that relies on the inside information of friends, team members or some other commonality such as people in the same profession. Inside jokes are socially bonding as they demonstrate your shared position and knowledge. For example, an IT manager who is always full of nerdy humor about technology.


Commenting on the current situation. For example, humor that pokes fun at an elevator that is obviously malfunctioning.

Current Events

Current events that establish a shared experience. For example, people in an elevator who talk about a transit strike that has inconvenienced many people in the area.


Culture, subculture and super culture are shared experiences that give people things in common. For example, asking "did you watch the game last night?" after a major sporting event.

Cold Shoulder

Indicating that you are uninterested in talking with curt responses and other methods such as a lack of eye contact.

Put Downs

Small talk that is used to attack the other person such as a passive aggressive criticism.

Trash Talk

Insults designed to throw the other side off in a competitive situation such as sports.

Cheap Talk

Meaningless conversation during a competitive situation that may nonetheless change outcomes. For example, a conversation about sports during a poker game. On the surface, this has no relation to the game but may be used to hide or discover emotions to gauge the other side's cards.


The playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks. This demonstrates trust and confidence as it shows you can take a mild joke at your expense.
Overview: Small Talk
A conversation designed to be social as opposed to informative or engaging.
Related Concepts


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Positive Criticism
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Rhetorical Question
Self Monitoring
Hypothetical Question
Informal Comm.
Information Design
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Media Studies
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Open-Ended Question
Shared Meaning
Small Talk
Social Comm.
Social Cues
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Tag Question
Target Audience
Thought Experiment
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View From Nowhere
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