'How's it going?' and other important questions: the case for small talk

Tapestry listener Nikki Reklitis thinks small talk gets a bad rap. She says casual conversations with neighbours and strangers, have gotten her through some very rough times.
Nikki Reklitis said interactions with strangers helped her fight burnout, and build new relationships in her community. (Nikki Reklitis/ submitted)

When Tapestry listener Nikki Reklitis first moved to Hamilton, Ont. for medical school, she said it was the conversations she had with friends and neighbours that got her through some of the difficulties that came with juggling all of her responsibilities.

Between an intense training program at school and taking care of a seven-year-old on her own, it wasn't long before burnout set in and she had to take some time off.

According to Reklitis, small talk with neighbours, friends and strangers was vital to her healing process. 

She said those casual conversations freed her from the burden of having to constantly engage with or talk about the difficulties she was going through at the time. 

"There were times during my recovery when I didn't really want to get into the thick of it," she said. "I didn't want to get into the heavier discussions that come along with experiencing burnout and recovering from that."

When she was having these chats, Reklitis explained, she wasn't a medical student or a parent. She was just a person, having a conversation about travel or the weather. 

She said those interactions also helped her build new relationships in her community.

"So there is a corner store that is a pillar in my community, and there is a couple that works at the corner store, and they're known for the best cinnamon buns around," she said. 

"I would go in in the morning [to] get a paper and just chat with them about their grandchildren, life in the old country, and that was a lovely part of the morning."

This kind of genuine interaction is also why Reklitis takes exception to the notion that small talk is trivial, or that people should favour supposedly deeper, more meaningful ways of connecting.

"I think that for a lot of folks, small talk is the first step in reaching out to others and creating community," she said.

The benefits of casual interaction are something she saw growing up as well. A second-generation Canadian, Reklitis saw how important small talk was in helping her immigrant parents establish meaningful relationships in their new community. 

"My parents immigrated to Montreal in the 1950s, and I know that for them and for their peers, small talk was a way that they connected and got to know neighbours. But more than that, it was a way that they settled and became integrated into the new community around them."

So don't be shy to say hello to the person behind the counter or strike up a conversation with the stranger at the bus stop. 

Nikki Reklitis says it could do you a world of good.