Small talk is no small thing

Small talk is no small thing

Published 23 February 2024 | Average read time
4 min read
Stories Railway safety

We’re working with Samaritans charity, British Transport Police and the wider rail industry to remind the public that small talk can be lifesaving as part of Samaritans’ Small Talk Saves Lives campaign.

Data from Samaritans shows almost half of British adults avoid engaging with someone they don’t know to avoid small talk – and more than one in five are worried they would say the wrong thing when engaging with someone.

But small talk is no small thing and we are all better at it than we think. A total of 94% of people say they don’t have a go-to question to start small talk. But 80% have used small talk in their personal lives over the past month and over half often or always use small talk in their professional lives, too.  

Small Talk Saves Lives empowers the public to trust their instincts and start a conversation if they think someone needs help in railway stations and other public settings. 

The campaign reassures the public that a little small talk like ‘Do you know where I can grab a cuppa?’ can be all it takes to interrupt someone’s suicidal thoughts and could help set them on the journey to recovery. People might worry that they will say the wrong thing, but saying something is better than saying nothing.

Samaritans hosted the Small Talk Salon at London King’s Cross station to launch the campaign. We know two in five of us use small talk at the hairdressers so the salon with a twist – running for one day only – invited guests to drop in for a quick treatment and a chat. 

The charity hoped it would give people the chance to practice their small talk with the masters of small talk – hairdressers, barbers and nail technicians.

Bessie Matthews knows how powerful small talk can be. She spotted someone in need of help while working as a train guard.

She said: “Just that one little bit of positive small talk can go so far. They caught my eye because it was a lot of flitting around, looking around, looking at their phone. Deep down you’ve got all that adrenaline going and you’re thinking, ‘what should I say?’ 

“I had found something about what they were wearing, and it was a case of just going over and saying, ‘Oh, my goodness, I absolutely love what you’re wearing. Where have you got that from?’ It was just a short, sharp answer of ‘I don’t know.’ 

“That’s when you can kind of edge your way in to say, ‘Are you okay?’ Just that one little bit of small talk and it can go so far. It was a positive outcome. Take that chance because it is the most important and pivotal thing you could do.”

Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, said: “The Small Talk Saves Lives campaign has shown us how we each have the skills to genuinely help someone in distress. I am ever so proud of our relationship with Samaritans and British Transport Police and hope this next stage of the campaign continues to help educate and inform people that small talk can be lifesaving.”

Julie Bentley, chief executive of Samaritans, said: “Every day, there are people across Great Britain who are in distress and need support. Our Small Talk Saves Lives campaign empowers people to trust their instincts and have the confidence to act in a way that could save a life.” 

Paul Furnell, assistant chief constable at British Transport Police, said: “We remain committed to protecting vulnerable people across the network. Our experience tells us that engaging in conversation at the right time can make all the difference. This campaign continues to encourage us all to try a little small talk, but if you don’t feel comfortable or safe to intervene, tell a member of rail staff or a police officer. You can text British Transport Police on 61016 or call 999.”

For more information and tips, visit or join the conversation on social media using #SmallTalkSavesLives

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