I am heading to a social gathering today. One that I am looking forward to, actually. A gender reveal party. The only thing I am not anticipating is the small talk. I have been trying to prepare myself for it. How was your week? “I don’t know, I can’t quite remember.” Is that an acceptable response? It’s a true response, but is it acceptable? I do not want to lie. I am transparent, after all. I suppose I can just say, “It went well, how was yours?” More socially acceptable, I suppose (but I really don’t remember). I suppose it was a decent week…
When someone, who doesn’t really know you, asks about your week, do they really want to know? Or is it just, small talk? Why do we do that? Why do we don a superficial mask, just skimming the surface, never really getting to know anyone? I, for one, am terrible at small talk! I refuse to ask, or answer, a question that I don’t really want to know, and the other party doesn’t really want to know the answer.
I recall going on a couple blind dates – many moons ago – I learned then: to never go for coffee or food as a first date, it forces you to chat with someone you don’t know, about topics neither of you really care about – yet, any way. Why do we do that? We sit, at a table, with a complete stranger and ask, “How was your day?” Well, honestly Bob, it was a wonderful day! I made the best omelette for the first time ever, then there was no traffic on the way to work. I received my annual review and it turns out I am not a crappy employee – I thought my supervisor hated me, but she gave me an outstanding review and I received an 8% pay increase. Now, I’m here having dinner with you.” *Blinks eyes* Buahaha! Or: *Becomes tearful* “It wasn’t my best day. My boss wrote me up for the third time this week for being late. One more time and that’s my job. But, the sitter didn’t show up on time.” I mean, can you imagine if people were honest about their days before they really got to know one another, or actually cared to know about one another’s day? (None of the above stories are factual, *smile*) If I ask you about your day or week, I truly care and want to hear all about it!
Working in a helping profession, I watch and listen, both on and off the clock. I try to ask questions, not so that I can allow myself an opportunity to speak, but to listen. This often happens, and we have to be intentional and careful that we are actively listening to hear, not just respond or have our turn to speak.
I went to dinner the other the day with a gal, she works in the healthcare profession. “I’m just not good with small talk,” she stated, “my colleague is great! But, with me, there is just dead space. I can do better.” I have pondered her words. In the psychology world, we are taught to be comfortable with the silence. However, in a client-centered, more customer service oriented role, silence can be harmful, if not damaging. So, how can we take small talk and reform it into meaningful conversation? (I think this is my challenge with small talk, the ingenuousness.) I value my time and my words. I also value your time. Therefore, let’s not waste each other’s time with idle conversation.
The weather. Who speaks about the weather? This girl, depending. I know that the weather has been dubbed “water cooler” conversation, also, small talk. However, it can also spark genuine conversation! “How are you enjoying this heat?” Or, “I hear the weather’s cooling down soon.” If you are skilled in the conversation arena, it can lead to where a person is from, vacation plans, places they have visited, etc… Weather talk is not just small talk folks!
Come to think of it, I can maneuver any conversation that is not focused on my day or my week. Maybe these topics are a tad personal. Perhaps it’s me. Maybe those are just details too intimate to share with any old Joe with whom I am not that close… But then, I’m not so great initiating small talk either… I think the rule of thumb is to point out something that you recognize about the individual, and go from there? When all else fails, talk about the weather! Haha!
Wish me luck today! What are your small talk tricks? Do you love it, hate it, live for it, avoid it (can anyone avoid it)?