You know the situation. You're in a room or walking with somebody you don't know too well and to be polite or break the silent awkwardness, one of you says something. It usually goes something like, "How was the traffic?" or "It's a nice day isn't it?" or "How about the (insert sports team here)?" Both people know the asker doesn't really care what the other person has to say in response, but it doesn't matter. Somebody has to do something. Somebody has to start the small talk. It's annoying, but we all oblige like zombies.
Small talk can get even worse once you get to know somebody better but not to the point that the person is your friend. That's when comments like, "Staying out of trouble?" get spoken. Since I work in marketing, I hear these comments way more often than I would like to, but I just grin and bear it. What bothers me more is that the chuckles and laughter in response to cliché comments seem to be consistently high. (This is especially true when the person speaking has the highest position in the room). The others in the room act like the joke is fresh and unexpected even though they have heard the joke many times before.
I've tried to talk about different small talk topics using my unusual sense of humor, but that doesn't work very often. It throws people out of their comfort zone. Sometimes the other person doesn't get my joke, or just doesn't think it's even half as funny as I do.
So I understand why people use small talk. It is an annoying necessity, but if you're going to do it, at least throw some twists of originality in it. It can't be sincere if it's repeated the exact same way with every person. That's like getting a form letter email addressed only to you but sent to thirty others. Until we demand more in the way of small talk by not reacting so positively to the stalest of small talk, it's never going to change. Small talk will remain small in its contribution to making our work days less bland.