I am, admittedly, awkward at small talk. Never been good at it. Never been comfortable. Bronisław Malinowski, in his 1923 essay “The Problem of Meaning in Primitive Languages,” stated that small talk is “purposeless expressions of preference or aversions, accounts of irrelevant happenings, [and] comments on what is perfectly obvious.” Sounds accurate to me. Unfortunately (for me and for Malinowski), he was mostly wrong.
As a person of action, I prefer to communicate for the sake of doing and getting things done (this kind of communication is known as semantic content). But, of course, I understand that much of talking serves to establish bonds and relationships (social function). Perhaps that’s why I am bad at it?
Here’s David Roberts’s terrific article, “Why Small Talk is So Excruciating,” on Vox.