I went to a Derby Gala last night for my son's school. I went with a friend, who also brought along a few friends I didn't know. I was surprised, too, to see the room full of people I'd never met, from the community and the church.
Anyway, as I wandered around by myself, I felt that familiar feeling of awkwardness that happens when you're at a party, with a drink in hand, suddenly alone, and you're trying to look at everybody and nobody at the same time, praying that someone will approach you and rescue you with a witty comment.
To make matters worse, all the seats were taken, and though I hovered around a table I suspected was mine, nobody offered to move their stuff or offered me a seat.
I chatted briefly with a few people but readers: it was so awkward.
How do people regularly make small talk and not feel as if you might break out into hives?
The strange thing, however, is that I can sit and talk for hours about in-depth subjects, serious subjects, social issues, whatever. But for the life of me, I cannot make small talk.
Not only do I not know what to say or how to engage in small talk, I frankly don't really care. I know that sounds rancid and annoying. I see that other people not only make small talk with ease but seem to enjoy it. In fact, my husband loves small talk. He hates getting hit up for serious conversations when he just wants to comment on the weather, maybe toss around sports tallies or discuss (I don't know) yard work? Honestly, he can attend a three-hour party and say no more than two in-depth sentences throughout the entire night and be perfectly happy.
Then I'm in a chair, having taken someone hostage at our dinner table, discussing world hunger or something.
So, I dug around online to see if I could find any tips.
Over at GOOP, they've got an article that hits the nail on the head: 8 Ways to Make Meaningful Small Talk by Manhattan psychiatrist Samantha Boardman.
"Does the thought of making small talk fill you with dread? You’re not alone. Most people dislike idle chitchat because it feels fake and like a waste of time. We can all agree that talking about the weather is not interesting unless you are speaking to a meteorologist and a hurricane is on the way."
So, what do we do?
Boardman suggests various ways to basically engage the other person rather than ourselves, meaning that we ask them questions about themselves, seek advice or ask open-ended questions that require more than a one-word answer.
For example, instead of asking, "How are your kids?"
One might ask, "So, which sports are your kids playing this season?"
But my favorite of Boardman's advice is this:
"Avoid your favorite topic. It’s counterintuitive but makes sense—whether it’s opera or your Shih Tzu—because you will probably end up talking too much and not listening enough."
That is great advice, and it's so on-point. Once I get onto a topic I love, it's curtains for the other person. Sometimes I avoid certain subjects due to their nature (human trafficking, for example), but this applies to just about any subject we might dominate once we get on a roll. There is a time to talk about passions, but perhaps a cocktail party isn't one of them.
Also, the article recommends not talking for longer than 20 seconds at a time.
"But unless you are an extremely gifted raconteur, people who talk for more than roughly half-minute at a time are boring and often perceived as too chatty."
I've definitely fallen victim to that one - on both ends. I've been the chatty-Cathy and I've been stuck in a corner with someone who wants to talk boating for an hour.
Both are uncomfortable.
The main gist is to ask questions, don't talk too much (especially about oneself) and try to find little interesting tidbits to discuss rather than the usual suspects: the weather, the kids or the yard.
I'll say one more thing about last night: I got to have some great, in-depth conversations once we were seated at dinner. I sat beside a woman who looked like she might be pushing 60. Turns out, she is about to turn 80!
I was thrilled. I asked a few questions about her life, and as she spoke she gave me some solid life advice including:
1. Spend the money now! She and her husband lost half their life savings in the recession, and she wishes they'd traveled sooner, when they had the money, and enjoyed it more then. "It's gone now anyway, and we could have had fun along the way," she said.
2. Pray for your children to find good spouses. "I didn't think about that," she said. "I just took for granted God would provide, but there's nothing harder than seeing your kids in relationships in which they aren't loved and cherished."
To my left was an Army doctor who'd deployed for three lengthy deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He was chock-full of fascinating thoughts, reflections and opinions.
I love people, and I love their stories.
Does anyone else struggle with social small talk or social situations in general? I come from a family of intense talkers, so what feels normal to me isn't always appropriate for the situation. Tips and thoughts are appreciated if anyone has mastered the art of keeping small talk cool, casual and engaging.
I'm nursing the hint of a migraine, so today will be low-key around here. I blame the weather. It's gone all overcast on me.