Last week, I wrote about how bad I am at small talk. That’s only half true. While I doubt I will ever enjoy chatting about topics like the weather if I don’t get any practical information out of it, I generally like the listening and learning element of any conversation. And, if I’m in a social situation with the duck, I don’t have to worry about ever having to do anything but listen.
Articles about improving your small talk skills mention having a list of topics and questions (memorized) that you can fall back on in a small talk situation. I love lists, but I don’t love all of the most commonly suggested small talk phrases. A lot of them would sound too rehearsed and impersonal to me. So, I asked my favorite small talk partner to help me compose a list of duck-approved topics to supplement the general questions everybody’s asking. Here it is:
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I’m bad at small talk. When I meet new people, I’m decent at exchanging names (just to forget them immediately and then avoid any topic that might call for them) and other information relevant to the situation. I might throw in an “I like your T-shirt” or “what’s your dog’s name?” if that’s my genuine opinion/interest. That’s as far as my skills go. Don’t get me wrong. I like chatting about unimportant topics if I have anything to add to the conversation, be it an additional piece of information, a firm opinion, or a bad joke I can’t keep in. But is that even considered small talk, then?
When I meet someone I know, I usually utter the customary “how are you?”, maybe even an additional “how is your work/school/family/pet alligator/chocolate you’ve been keeping under your mattress?”. Then I wait for the actual conversation to begin or the encounter to end. Any further small talk becomes a challenge to produce polysyllabic answers while brainstorming questions without looking too uncomfortable. Even when I talk to people I’ve known for a while, I don’t always ask basic questions. Sometimes, I forget because I’m rude. Sometimes, I’m too embarrassed to ask them. Have you ever felt like it’s too late to ask about something you should know by now? I certainly have. So, because of my terrible past and present small talk skills, I avoid questions that might put me on the spot. If I ask: “how’s Al?” but don’t know for sure who Al is because I’ve only ever heard the name but never asked for details, things could get embarrassing. Let’s say I presume Al is an alligator because that’s the mental image I have every time I hear about this mysterious family member. Well, what if Al is a raccoon who has been part of the family for decades? In fact, at this very moment, Al’s grandchildren could be baking a fruit and nut cake in the family kitchen to celebrate Al’s 30th birthday because not only is Al not an Alligator, but Al is also the oldest raccoon alive. How embarrassing that would be! So, I add “pet alligator or raccoon?” to the list of conversation topics to avoid right below “my friend’s name” (clearly, I should be more embarrassed by my lousy jokes).
I’m pretty sure most people don’t care if you ask them about such things a few years too late, and often I still do. Nonetheless, I should probably try to get better at small talk if I want to shorten my list of topics to avoid… though I really don’t like exchanging irrelevant thoughts about the weather. Because what’s an acceptable response to “it’s been rainy recently, hasn’t it?” if you don’t have an anecdote/bad joke about the death of your umbrella to share?
I’m open to suggestions!