The workplace - Small talk (Haven't seen you for ages!)

9 important questions on The workplace - Small talk (Haven't seen you for ages!)

What is small talk?

It is originally defined as 'phatic communication', i.e. the language used in free, aimless social intercourse. Nowadays it refers to non-task-oriented conversation in which speakers have no explicit transactional goals in comparison with core business talk.

What is the sequence of small talk?

Question > answer + reverse question > answer + further question/comments. It can go on over several turns or it can be brief or formulaic.

When does small talk between work colleagues usually occur?

At the boundaries of working days as well as at boundaries of interaction.

Why is small talk useful?

It helps with consensus-building, since small talk warms people up socially, oils the interpersonal wheels and gets talk started on a positive note. Towards the end of or during task-oriented interaction, it helps to tone down the transactional nature of the interaction and address addressee's positive face needs, i.e. the needs to be liked by others.

In what does small talk not play a small part?

In the successful completion of the task in hand in settings such as healthcare contexts where it is preferable or obligatory to address social or psychological needs of patients, thus blurring and reconciling relational and transactional goals of the talk.

When is small talk also a site for displaying and negotiating power between superiors and subordinates in the workplace?

While subordinates can negotiate the direction of conversation, it is very often the case that superiors decide the extent to which small talk can be elaborated upon and whether to include personal topics in small talk through their response or their control of turns.

When can small talk serve as a discourse strategy of time-filling to avoid undesirable silence while people are waiting?

It is flexible in its length, topic and degree of elaboration. Considerable cross-cultural variation exists here, because the threshold allowable silence in conversation differs.

Where do cross-cultural differences also exist?

In the extent of weighting of small talk as well as appropriateness of topics to small talk.

Which three types of topics in small talk exist?

  1. Topics related to the immediate situation
  2. Topics related to external situations
  3. Topics about conversation partners such as their hobbies, family and career.

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