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4 Personal Questions People Seem to Think Are Small Talk

Small talk gets a bad rap, most people assuming it's an activity reserved for boring assholes with a passionate interest in weather.

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"We are having weather today."
"Correct."

And it looks particularly inane when we compare it to the sparkling and insightful conversations we have with our friends.

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"We are having weather today."
"Word."

But we're not always able to talk to friends, and whether it's business acquaintances, friends of friends, or the mirror, we often have to chat with someone we don't know well enough to have a hilarious and meaningful conversation with. Sometimes this is just to politely kill time, but for the sort of socially capable people who manage small talk well, they often find that it reveals something they have in common with this stranger, which leads to more interesting conversations and possibly a new friend.

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"That was a fun chat."
"Correct."
"I was wondering if you'd like to move in together."

But for someone who's a bit less socially capable, small talk is a never-ending disaster, a tired old man falling down an up escalator. Every word spoken is an accidental insult or a massive overstep of personal boundaries, conversations filled with intrusive questions and awkward, minutes-long silences.

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"We are having weather today."
-awkward, minutes-long silence-
"You monstrous, gaping asshole."

Here, then, presented with absolutely no judgment on what type of social skills a Cracked reader is likely to possess, are four of the worst examples of intrusive questions people ask without realizing it.

#4. "How Did You Get That Scar?"

At its heart, small talk is just a series of questions you ask each other. "Who do you know at this party?" "Did you see that movie?" "Where'd you get those shoes?" These sorts of questions reveal small things about the person you're talking to, and if you trade enough of them back and forth, you'll often find something you have in common or want to explore deeper. At which point, bam! You've navigated small talk successfully!

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Welcome to serious conversation land.

Really, the only tricky aspect of small talk is coming up with the questions to ask. This is where "How about that weather?" gets its bad reputation; aside from being a cliche, it's just about the dullest, least imaginative question possible, with no hope of starting an interesting conversation. Asking about mutual friends, some current event, or the other person's background should lead to far more fruitful conversational fields.

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"How about you? How did you get into this field?"

On that basis, "How did you get that scar?" sounds almost reasonable. It's original, and it will likely reveal something interesting about the person you're talking to. Like how they got that scar. That's kind of the problem, because if you know anything about scars, you know they don't often come from fun times. Accidents, fires, and physical attacks are likely origin stories for that scar, and by asking this question, you'll almost certainly force this person to recall something unpleasant that happened to them.

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"This? It was 1996, and the Macarena ... -breaks down sobbing-"

Really, there are a whole family of these intrusive questions I could have put in here, the defining feature of all of them being that something obviously painful has happened to someone, which you're now asking about, like some kind of idiot. "How did your father die?" "Why'd you lose your job?" "Why are you so good at the Macarena?" If you find yourself about to ask one of those, maybe just punch yourself in the beak instead, and give the other guy something awkward that he can't ask about.

#3. "How's [Some Co-worker's] Health?"

When a friend is sick, asking a relative or mutual friend about their health is a very reasonable thing to do. So if you've been in that situation and done that, don't worry, that's not too intrusive. And if you haven't, what the fuck is wrong with you, robot?

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"I express concern."

It seems like the same rules should apply when dealing with our co-workers, many of whom are more or less friends. So when a co-worker is away from work for health reasons, it's only natural to ask the manager for updates on how they're doing or why they've been off work, questions which, if answered, are almost certainly a violation of the privacy rights that person has as an employee.

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"Also, seeing as he's not here, how much money does he make?"

Managers often have to be informed of certain details relating to an employee's health, to know when they'll be back to work or to adjust work duties to accommodate temporary or permanent injuries. So when someone is out sick for an extended period, yes, the manager almost certainly knows why, and roughly how they're doing. But sharing anything more than a "getting better" or "should be back in a week" could get that manager in big, big trouble.

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"Don't answer. Just cough once if it's cancer."

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Chris Bucholz

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