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40% think small talk is ‘pointless’ (and many more comfortable online than in person)

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Millions of Brits now prefer to ‘keep themselves to themselves’, and as many as one in five have not spoken to a stranger for over six months, it has emerged. A study into the average person’s social confidence and communication found small talk is fast becoming a thing of the past – as a surge in online communication takes over.

Many of the 2,000 studied said small talk was ‘unimportant’, with four in ten going as far as to describe actions such as talking about the weather or asking if someone had a good journey as pointless or awkward.

And around one fifth of people now believe the ability to chat face to face with those we’re unfamiliar with is no longer essential.

The research, commissioned by mutual healthcare provider benenden health, also found one third of people are distinctly uncomfortable having to talk to anyone they don’t already know.

Paul Keenan, Head of Communications at benenden health said:

”Our study shows a spiralling decline in face-to-face communication with over a third of people describing friendly small talk as a chore.

”Meanwhile, a significant proportion of people are completely shying away altogether from making small talk or interacting with people they don’t know.

”To an extent, the rapid rise and ever-changing concept of online communication is naturally replacing traditional face-to-face contact. Whilst this is bringing people closer together online and speeding up communication over long distances, the potential effect this may have on social skills whilst out and about should not be underestimated.”

The study also found one in four people will only talk to someone they don’t know as a very last resort and often if they need help – that’s after they’ve searched on their phone or called a friend with no success.

The most turned-to topics for excruciating filler conversation or pleasantries were the weather, public transport performance and holidays.

The research uncovered a host of throw-away phrases the average person uses on autopilot – ‘thank you’ ‘have a good day’ and ‘nice to see you’ were the phrases people confessed to using most without meaning it.

And a determined one in four workers said they prefer to get straight down to business rather than have to make personal chit-chat.

In fact, half of the 2,000 people studied feel they have a much reduced need to communicate in person because of the amount they can do online.

More than half the study admitted they go to some lengths to try to deter people they don’t know from talking to them – pretending to look at their phone, using a book or putting headphones in were the most common ways of trying to look unapproachable.

Three in ten people said their first thought if someone approached them to talk in the street was usually that the person must be ‘dodgy’ and the same number felt stressed at the thought of talking to someone new.

One third of people say the bulk of their communication is done online or by electronic means rather than face to face.

In fact, 43% stated they are now much more comfortable interacting with people online than they are in person.

The decline in social skills proved clear – one quarter of people actually rely on the internet to reduce their need for face to face interaction.

More than half the study felt they weren’t as strong at talking to people as they should be and, similarly, 53% said they get uncomfortable at talking to someone they don’t know well on the phone or in person.

While 47% were more comfortable in turning to online communities and felt they participate more here than they do in their offline existence.

Also 21% of people said that if they saw a stranger in need of help in their local area, they would not step in and try to help them.

Paul Keenan added:

”It is staggering that nearly half of us are becoming more comfortable interacting with people online than in person and this demonstrates both the positive and negative impact of online communities.
”We’re closer together – especially when friends and family live in different countries – but we shouldn’t lose sight of our social skills in talking ‘over the shop counter’.

”And finally, the fact that ultimately our research still shows that three quarters of people would help a stranger if they saw they were in need is encouraging and demonstrates that there is still a place for community spirit in society.”

”Looking at the positives, despite the evolution of the way we communicate, communities both offline and online are still in abundance. For example, our own community at Benenden Health with a membership of more than 900,000 people across the UK.

”The ethos of mutuality which is central to benenden health firmly rests on individuals coming together to assist others when they need help the most. This is something which we actively promote and believe still has a place in modern society.”


1.Have a good day
2. Thank you
3. Please
4. Nice to see you
5. That sounds good
6. Hope you’re well
7. Catch up soon
8. You look well
9. I’ll call you
10. How’s the wife/partner/kids?