Lost in a world full of small talk


I’m awestruck by my wife.

We’ll walk into a room together. It could be a room full of friends and family or full of strangers. I’ll go to hang up our coats, to the restroom, or simply turn my back for a minute and I’ll return to find her in the middle of a large group of people deep in conversation.

The topic of conversation could be the most recent presidential election, how late our son’s school bus driver is every day, or even the winner of last year’s Super Bowl. It doesn’t matter. In short, she’s a people person. She shrugs it off, but in reality she loves chit-chatting and talking with people.

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I’m a friendly enough person. I thrive in one-on-one conversations. And I don’t lack for confidence. I’ve presented to CEOs and spoken in front of hundreds. I just have very little tolerance for the normal chitchat and small talk that takes up so much of our lives and much of these type of settings or events.

I hate the throw-away small talk we all use in everyday conversation:  “Yea, how about that weather? Are we supposed to get more snow this weekend?” or “how about that football game last night?”

Wow, really riveting stuff.

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I struggle with these conversations. For others though like my wife, small talk seems come as natural as breathing. She’s able to piece together a few bits of information here, another bit there, and before you know it, she’s off to the races in a deep, heart-felt conversation. Me? In the same amount of time, I’m still stuck in the early stages of “hey, how’s it going?”

So yes, I‘m awestruck by the ease my wife and others like her seem to have shifting from conversation to conversation. We went to a party recently where I knew just a few people and I watched my wife and a few other friends mix and mingle. I tried to do the same thing and, for me, I felt like I was speaking a foreign language. I had a great time but I still felt like I was speaking Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, or Spanish to their English.

Yes, I know small talk is a necessary part of life. You need it to catch up with close friends and family, meet new friends, network and make new business connections. I get it, I get it, but that doesn’t make the chitchat any easier.

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Besides sports and work, my tried-and-true fall back is to ask a lot of questions. I get in what my wife secretly calls my “reporter” mode. “So Mary, tell me what’s it like to be an engineer? I always thought engineering would be an interesting career choice. Are you working on any interesting projects? What’s a typical day like for you?”

Yea, laugh at me, but it’s helped me survive more than a few social events and gatherings. And I don’t come across looking like a complete jerk. (I probably come across as a bit too nosey for my own good, but certainly not a jerk.)

Now if I could just keep better tabs on my wife at these events before she runs off talking a-mile-a-minute.

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