Small talk a necessary skill, vital to DePauw education


It is Sunday morning. I sit down at a table full of people and ask: So, what did you do last night? Where did you go? Who did what? Yes, they are superficial questions, and yes, the conversation is light-but so what?
It's called striking up a conversation. It's called hey-I-know-you-but-not-really. It's called small talk. I could sit down, give a passionate speech about the ways to long-lasting happiness and acclaim Professor Propsom and her awesome Happiness class. Or I could talk about the tragic terrorist attack at the Kunming Railway Station in China-my sincere condolences to all those affected- and ask people for their opinion. But I don't. I don't because maybe someone on the table is sensitive about terrorist attacks or issues regarding China. Maybe someone took a class by Professor Propsom and didn't do so well. The nature of our heavy course load and extracurricular activities make relaxing even harder. Small talk is just small talk.
DePauw strives "to provide the intellectual setting for those who enter its community to become wise and humane persons; and to prepare them for a lifetime of service to the wider human community." We put much emphasis on the former, but not enough on the latter. "A life time of service" means the real world, the business world, the social world. We don't pay $50k tuition just for a top-notch education, but to prepare us for the world after college. Getting a job, working with colleagues, meeting new clients, sealing deals, maintaining existing clients-they all require small talk.
When meeting a stranger or someone you barely know, small talk can reduce the awkwardness and help find common interests. Debra Fine, a conversation expert, a world-renowned spokesperson and author of the bestselling book "The Fine Art of Small Talk" says, "in the world of social affairs, effective small talk is often a prelude to deeper conversations that can lead to friendships or business relationships."
Small talk could also make you smarter. A recent study in social psychology by Ybarra, et all (2010) found that friendly, social interaction, such as small talk, can boost our capability in problem solving. Ybarra says these interactions "induce people to try to read others' minds and take their perspective on things." The research also found that when the interaction was less social and had a competitive component, the cognitive performance did not spark.
Lastly, let's be honest; it's fun. So what if we indulge a little in the "DePauw Bubble?" So what if we have some shallow conversations every so often? It is a way to interact, and it is a way to connect. We are social beings, and connecting with our fellow human beings is important-Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg, who is worth $30 billion, thought so, and look where it got him.

- Lee is an English writing major from Jinja, Uganda.