If You’re Sick Of Small Talk, You Should Try Medium Talk

In a season eight episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David’s character makes a quip about “elevating small talk to medium talk,” by asking a colleague (who’d just delightfully revealed he thinks he’s forgotten how to write cursive) about his marriage and his sex life. It’s a quick throwaway bit we often see on Larry David shows, like Curb‘s chat-and-cut or Seinfeld‘s close talker. But is there actually something to medium talk?

Everybody knows small talk is awkward. It’s the conversation rut for people who don’t know each other very well. It usually consists of chit-chat about the weather, work or current events, but never really diving deeper than the polite surface. It’s weird nonsense that never ventures outside of banal territory. So a solution to this tedious treadmill might just lie in the art of medium talk.

You’d categorise medium talk as an elevated step up from the usual ‘so what do you do?’ and ‘gee, the weather’s been a bit nuts lately, hey?’ conversations. The types of questions to ask, however, are possibly the hardest part of grasping medium talk.

The term entered the lexicon recently in an AskReddit post titled: “What kind of questions would you ask to make medium talk, instead of small talk?” There were the standard Reddit responses, but it also offered some real insight into the #AskHerMore world we live in.

The top-rated response is “What’s something you like that most people don’t?”. Another says you should ask about guilty pleasures: “What is counter to this person’s image? If they’re a health nut, do they have chocolate binges? Do they secretly like Seal? Are they a pro wrestling fan?”

Another poster ventured into comic book territory with “If Batman died, would the Joker be happy?” – a question a lot of people apparently have feelings about.

The real winner came from redditor SecularPaladin who gave some insight into these so-called layers of conversation.

“The thing about conversation with strangers is that there are layers of intimacy. Small talk is the top layer: impersonal chatter about your surroundings, superficial personal details; hobbies, interests etc…

Medium talk: you’ve gleaned some surface insights into their personality, now you explore these in detail. You begin to hear personal stories and understand some motivations.

Big talk: Serious and meaningful shit. Deeply personal shit. Hopes and dreams, worries and doubts. Stuff you only discuss with close-ones.”


Interestingly, a study by the University of Arizona and Washington University found that a happy life is related to having less small talk and more substantial conversations. The report used an observation study to investigate whether happy and unhappy people differ in the amount of small talk and substantive conversations they have. After four days of tracking the conversations of students, researchers found the happiest participants spent less time alone and had twice as many meaningful conversations as the unhappiest.

Maybe something we can glean from this is that life’s too short to waste time on BS chit-chat. Let’s get into that second layer and start some real conversations.

Rebecca Russo is a freelance writer, editor, community radio dabbler, occasional hiker and celebrity autobiography enthusiast. She has written for online publications including Junkee, AWOL, Fashion Journal and Tone Deaf. Find her online here.

Lead image: HBO