Small Talk vs. The Rundown

“Small talk is the conversation you’re supposed to be having. And The Rundown is the conversation you want to be having.” – Starlee Kine on a segment of This American Life

Ever find yourself in a situation like this scene from 30 Rock?:


Look, small talk has its place. It’s important to make sure people feel comfortable for the first few minutes of conversation to ensure they want to be engaged in conversation. But you don’t want to be talking about weather and your city of origin forever. In reality, people are much happier when they have deeper conversations and talk about things that are meaningful to them. Everyone wants to leave small talk eventually. The Rundown is how you get there.

The concept is this: Every sentence someone offers up opens a myriad of different follow up questions we can ask. The small talk habit makes you go for the easiest, blandest, most generic part of the sentence for a follow up. The Rundown says to fight that habit, and go for the most interesting part. Here’s Starlee Kine’s example:

“I went to a movie. And there’s a ticket guy selling tickets. And I just started talking to him. So it can be done on anyone.

Ticket Guy: I had ramen noodles for breakfast.

Starlee Kine: The $.25 ones or the fancy ones?

Ticket Guy: I didn’t pay for them. My girlfriend bought them.

Starlee Kine: OK. So if you’re thinking small talk, you’re going to go after the ramen noodles, right? Like what kind of ramen noodles, hot water, meat, something like that. But if you’re doing The Rundown, you just seize on the most interesting part of the conversation. And so he did give me a very, very valuable clue. He gave me this wonderful girlfriend character to work with. From that, you can proceed to–

Starlee Kine: Are you in love?

Ticket Guy: I love her.

Starlee Kine: But you don’t know if– you’re not in love?

Ticket Guy: Oh, well, I think yeah. I am definitely in love.”


So next time you find yourself in a boring conversation, start looking at your own habits. Fight your small talk urges and try the Rundown. Don’t go for the ramen noodles when you can go for love!


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