September 28th, 2009 @ 1:15 am  by: Marc

How Small Talk Can Save Your Life

Make Small Talk

This guest post was written by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, authors of THE POWER OF SMALL.

In today’s deadline driven, digital world, taking the time to ‘shoot the breeze’ with a coworker, neighbor, or passing stranger can seem like a waste of time.  But, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.  Whether you’re a Washington politician or a barista at a local coffee shop, every one of us has the unique ability to inspire change in our lives and in the lives of others around us.  And small talk is the key.

When we were writing our book, THE POWER OF SMALL: Why Little Things Make All the Difference, we discovered a truly amazing story that brought our attention to the unexpected ways in which ‘small talk’ can change and save lives.  In this case, it all started with a cup of coffee and a simple conversation.

The Story of Annamarie and Sandie

Every morning, when Annamarie Ausnes would head to her local Starbucks to pick-up her usual coffee, she looked forward to making a bit of small talk with the barista, Sandie Anderson, but she never imagined that those little conversations would one day save her life.

Over time, what had begun as a casual, “How’s your morning?” or “Nice weather, huh?” eventually grew into more personal exchanges about their grandkids, weekend plans, and holiday traditions, until one day Sandie noticed something wasn’t quite right with her “short-drip double-cupped” customer. And instead of ignoring it, she decided to trust her instincts and asked one simple question: “Are you okay?”

At first, Annamarie was reluctant to confide in her barista buddy, but with a little prodding, she opened up.

“Actually, I’m not doing so well,” she sighed.  “I was just placed on the national kidney transplant list and I’m getting ready to go on dialysis.”

To her shock, Sandie would discover that her friendly customer faced a bleak future.  Distraught and determined to help, Sandie announced that she would get tested to see if she could become a donor.

As luck would have it, Sandie turned out to be a match and donated a kidney to Annamarie. Today Annamarie is not only alive and well, the two women are dear friends.  And it all started with a cup of coffee and a little small talk.

Of course, not all of us have the ability or courage to make the huge gesture Sandie made by donating her kidney to a virtual stranger, but by simply making small talk, we open ourselves up to new people, new experiences, and new opportunities.  As children, we make friends easily.  We ask for each other’s names, we join in and play with one another.  But as we grow older, we tend to close ourselves off, shield ourselves with technology, and forget to acknowledge the people who are right in front of us.

So put away the iPhone for a minute, look up from your laptop, and take the first step by saying hello to the stranger sitting next to you.  You never know, they just might be the hero you’ve been hoping for.

In Their Own Words

Here’s a short video clip of Annamarie and Sandie sharing their story in their own words:

Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval are co-authors of the national bestseller THE POWER OF SMALL: Why Little Things Make All the Difference, which debuted on the best seller lists of the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The Washington Post.

Photo by: polandeze

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  • This is a great post. As it is said here, all of us may not be capable of making loving gestures like Sadie; but we can indeed make a lot of difference in others lives by small friendly gestures and talks :)

  • Hi Linda, nice post. I agree with you that small talk with people can make the difference in people’s lives. By building rapport with a stranger, we never know what kind of resources and value we can draw from them, as well as what we can offer them in return.

  • This is right on point. The value in talking with random individuals is much higher than we first assume. We might think we are only in one category and that others are not likely to have relevant information for us, but we are quickly surprised when we talk to them. They might have tips, or related information, or motivate us, etc.

    Small talk with new people is fully worthwhile, while small talk with people we know well is not as useful.

    Thanks for this post on this point.

  • That’s a really amazing story - I’m shocked that she would just a total stranger her kidney

  • Wow, this is great. I’m not a big fan of talking to anyone I don’t really know OR engaging in small talk with strangers, but every time I do, I notice a change in energy in the world. There’s something positive that happens when I happen to be in an extra good mood and I make a small comment to someone else. Small talk provides a way for us to connect with others (something I often avoid) and it really can make a much bigger difference in our lives and the lives of others than we even realize. Thanks for bringing up this great topic. It’s important and not written about nearly enough!

  • Awesome story!

    Small talk is almost non-existent in Japan. Neighbors frequently put their head down and try to avoid eye contact at all costs.

    People are frequently surprised that I actually say hello. In some other countries, it can be a completely different experience. It is so refreshing to have people start talking to each other in supermarket lines or in a park.

    This was an inspiring post. I will definitely make more effort to talk to people around me.

  • Great inspiring story. I guess talking to strangers is going to be my new hobby. Im going outside right now and find someone to talk too. Glad is tumbled on your blog today!

  • Great post and a reminder of the importance of not being so distracted by what is running through our minds or going on around us that we end up missing the experience of what is directly in front of us. I can’t tell you the number of times I have run into Starbucks and been on my cell phone or focusing on my blackberry, or the thoughts of what I needed to do that I barely even realized who took my order. I realize though that we have to make a concerted effort to have small talk and really notice the people and things that are right in front of us. We have to take advantage of every encounter and experience with another person that we can because there is always a reason. It will not always be something as big as getting a kidney, but there will always be some purpose. Perhaps it is just about having a good conversation, or learning a new piece of information, or having a good laugh with a stranger and starting your day off right. Whatever the case is, realizing there are reasons for every situation and being open to truly experience them is important and has made me more willing to take advantage of those small talk opportunities. Great topic and video.

  • Great story! Taking the time to inquire as to the needs of others and understand their lives is something we should focus on more often. You never know how much a small gesture may impact the other person.


  • Very good post, looks very familiar to this… :)

    In any case, a very awesome post as usual!


  • When I first read about this lady in other news post, I felt same way, that small talk and trusting someone worked out for them and so happy for her.
    great story.

  • “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.” -Ben Franklin

    This is one of Franklin’s famous 13 virtues but it’s not a very good one in my opinion. We never really know what will be considered “important” or “helpful” to others. Often enough, just engaging in polite small talk can do wonders for someone who needs the interaction (even if that someone is us).

    Thanks for the post, Linda and Robin…


  • That’s a truly powerful story!!!!

  • It’s a sad fact that we forget that we are all connected. It actually takes a simple gesture to make a connection. :-)

  • What a incredible story about the power of connection. And how opening ourselves to the beingness of another person can “take” no time at all.

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