Being an introvert of the slightly extreme variety, I can find this “small talk” stuff a tiring process. It’s also a pretty hard thing to explain to people unless they’ve been through the same thing themselves.
My relationship with small talk has been a long and harrowing road. Though I think I’m better at this social world skill than before, there are occasions where I just think to myself “Wow. I really don’t know how to be a person, do I?”
My journey crossed over three significant stages. And what better way to describe these than a Street Fighter / Tekken Style fighting match… between me and Small Talk!
Round 1: Please Talk First. I Don’t Know What To Say
Ah yes. The beginnings of my career in “small talking.” It was not the best. Awkward, confused, unknowing of what to say next – that was me in all of life’s small talk situations.
At this point, I had no real experience of truly interacting with people socially, outside of my own close circle. When it came to strangers, I was at a loss. I mean… How do you talk to people?!
In these situations, I would hope endlessly that the other person (let’s call them Person A) would talk first. Preferably in question form. You might think, wouldn’t I prefer to avoid small talk altogether? Although I’m not one for small talk, I still like getting to know new people and I admit small talk is a good way for start things off. Besides… it’d be impolite for me to just run away from you, for no apparent reason.
This could go either one of three ways.
Outcome 1: Person A would continually speak, whilst I listen and respond every so often. I kind of like this outcome because it means I don’t have to do much. And hopefully Person A doesn’t notice I’m not saying much. I feel some people get a little unnerved when I stay quiet or take a while to respond (which actually makes me more nervous). In this scenario, I can relax a little because Person A has decided to take lead and has accepted I’m not much of a talker. Thank you, Person A.
Outcome 2: Person A would ask a lot of questions. This is potentially a good outcome. If Person A asks a question, this gives me source material for what to respond with and in turn, I can add further input of my own – successfully enhancing the conversation. This is the most ideal route for me, because Person A might have acknowledged I’m not a big talker so is helping me along. I feel much better this way because I’m actually adding input and it’s not a one-sided conversation for them. Thank you again, Person A, for dealing with my inadequate social skills.
However, things can also turn the other way. Maybe Person A has asked me a question that I have no idea about. Maybe I end up taking too long mulling over my response. Maybe they ask too many questions! This makes a little uncomfortable because it feels too unnatural. Like an interrogation more than a conversation. Or another things that happens is, I answer the question but nothing more comes after it. Back to square one. I wish I knew what to say next.
Outcome 3: Person A thinks I’m either bored or I don’t want to talk to them. No, no, no, no, no! In my head, I’m screaming It’s not that I’m uninterested, I just really don’t know how to act in these situations, I’m sorry! I would say this out loud too but would that seem a little weird? Try as I might to redeem myself, think of something good to say, I usually end up with zilch. Then what follows is a long moment of awkward silence. I glance around, looking for something to talk about. If I’m lucky, I find something. Otherwise… nada.
Ultimately, Small Talk usually wins this one. I’m so bad at conversing!
But alas, these were my very early days of small talking when I wasn’t even aware of how socially inept I really was. Next week, I’ll be posting Round 2 where I adopt an entirely new approach.