Posted by: DD | December 18, 2007

no. 564 – Small Talk

The other day I was in the cafeteria when the cashier noticed the unusual buttons on the sweater I was wearing. I felt inclined to allow her closer examination. She then asked where did I get the sweater from and I answered, Old Navy. She responded, "I love those commercials and wish I had a wardrobe like that!"

I just flashed her a smile and stepped out of the way for the next person in line. In my head I thought, "Really? An Old Navy wardrobe would make you happy? Why not GAP, or hell, why not think big and think Banana Republic?!"

What I realize is that discussing clothing decisions wasn’t the cashier’s intent. She was making small talk.

I suck at small talk. Seriously – I SUCK!

I’ll give you another example: yesterday I headed to the post office to mail out the last of the cards for the Card Exchange. As I stood in the line that snaked out into the lobby, I called Mr. DD to pass the time. We chatted briefly about nothing and then he instructed me to do something later in the day. I responded with, "Yes, sir." and said goodbye. Yes, I actually do say "yes, sir" or "no, sir" when talking to my husband. That’s for another post.

Anyhow, there was an elderly lady behind me and once I put my phone away, she said to me, "Yes, sir? Was that your husband?" Yes, I told her, it was. "Sounds like me and my husband." Oh? I responded. "He died last year." Sorry to hear that, was all I could say in response.

Ack!

Mr. DD, on the other hand, can small-talk it up with anyone, anywhere. It’s not unusual for me to roll my eyes at him when we go out to eat because he has to chat it up with the waiter. The eye-roll is usually followed by an apologetic look at the waiter for my dinner date’s crappy jokes and for keeping him from his other customers.

How many times have you read that if you are at a social gathering and you have nothing else to say, bring up the topic of the weather. No way and no how am I going to discuss the weather. That just pegs me as the dork who doesn’t know what to say and that I take my advice from a fashion magazine.

So are you a good small-talker? What makes one "good"?

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Responses

  1. Joe took Maggie to New York City yesterday for the annual “CHRISTMAS EXTRAVAGANZA!!!” I couldn’t get the day off, so it was just Daddy-Daughter-Day. When they got home, Joe turns and says to me “When you go anywhere with Mag you have to be prepared huh?” Prepared for what, exactly? I asked. “To make new friends. This kid will talk to anybody!! She made friends with the little old ladies at the ice-skating rink in Bryant Park, the carriage driver, the lady we sat next to at lunch, the train conductor, the woman on the train who shared her sugar snap peas with her, the waitress at O’Lunney’s, the street vendor who GAVE her a scarf because she was admiring them so much…she is definately MY child!”
    Joe can talk to anyone. Me, not so much. I will talk to strangers, but mostly generalities. The weather, sports etc….

    I think a good small-talker is someone who can get you to open up & listens well so they are able to draw you out more.

  2. Umm . . . what were we talking about?

    OK, I suck at small talk AND humor!

    I get all squirmy when strangers try to make small talk in a line or whatever.

    I get really bored when people I know make small talk with me. I’ve been know (well only my husband really catches me at it) to lose track of a small talk interaction because the real talk at the next table is more interesting. I am a big eavesdropper.

    I like to save my energy for ‘real’ conversations.

    I do wish I were a better small talker, it’s a handy social skill which I am lacking.

  3. No – I am LAME!!!! Most of the time, I’m pretty happy to just observe.

    My husband used to be very shy but now he’s a great small talker. He said the key is to ask people questions, to get them to talk about themselves.

    So…. how about those Mets? ; )

  4. My ability to small talk depends on the situation and my mood. Random small talk in a line? I’m not so good at. But honestly, the woman saying her hubby died last year – that is a small talk convo killer.

  5. I think I am pretty good at small talk. For me, small talk puts me at ease. I hate awkward silence. And I like people in general, so small talk makes me happy because sometimes you walk away from a random conversation with someone you didn’t know with a ‘spring in your step’, so to speak. Sometimes it breaks the ice in some really odd situations.

    I know that sounds crazy.

    By the way, I don’t do small talk on airplanes… that is too much of a commitment and if the person is a dud, well… I’m stuck talking to them for the length of the flight.

  6. I’m a pretty mediocre small-talker.

    My father, however. Jesus God. That man can be best friends with anyone within about 14 seconds. His favorite thing to do when we went on road trips was scout out the other folks with Minnesota plates at rest areas. Within 2 minutes he’s sussed out where they’re going, what city they’re from, how much gas mileage their car gets, and he’s most likely found at least one person that they both know. “Oh, you’re from Pipestone, eh? You know I have a buddy from college who moved there, Bruce Johnson . . . ”

  7. I’m not great at small talk. I usually do 1 of 2 things: find some inane topic and talk way to fast about it or just smile and nod. Most of the time it’s the 2nd one.

  8. I am actually awesome at small talk. It was one of the few traits I inherited from my father. Like Molly, it must be an MN thing.

    The trick to small talk is KISS & to keep the focus on the other person. If they come back at you with a question, answer them with a question directed back at them. Find humor in what they are saying – it is quite entertaining.

  9. My husband is very chatty. Me, not so much. I was shy as a kid and I still don’t warm up to strangers very quickly, so for me, small talk is a skill I have had to develop consciously. There are two things I do, depending on if the situation will be over in seconds or may last minutes.

    1- Reflection (over in seconds)
    For example, I held the door for this lady at See’s Candies this morning who had just bought $400 (!) worth of candy.
    Me: You got it?
    Her: Yes, thank you.
    Her: These bags are heavy!
    Me: That’s a lot of candy!
    [basically I repeated what she just said with the same level of enthusiasm]

    2- Interview (over in minutes)
    Ask people a lot of questions about themselves as if you were interviewing them for a human interest piece, or as if you were actually interested in their lives.

    For instance, with your old lady in the post office, you could have said, “Sorry to hear that. How long were you married?” Then she would have told you and you could have asked her about kids or grandkids and then maybe holidays plans or shopping.

  10. I suck at small talk. I take it way too seriously. I can’t even discuss the weather without really getting into it. Sigh.

  11. I was thinking the same thing Peeved Michelle said. I suck at general small talk, but for some reason will pounce on sympathy and problem-solving. When being chatted up about weather, sports, or politics, I usually end up with my back against the wall, not having enough information to keep the convo going, and looking like an idiot.

  12. I think I’m usually pretty good with small talk, actually… probably means I don’t have a whole lot of ‘big’ things to talk about. Hmmmm.

  13. I rock at small talk. I am the one who usually starts it. My husband just laughs at how I do it so well. I find it really fun!

  14. I’m not a people person and really have no use for small talk. I get rather annoyed when the cashier or someone in line wants to talk to me about inane things. I have on very few ocassions found myself engaging someone else in small talk first and walk away hating myself. So I don’t really do small talk well because my goal is to get the person to stop talking to me.
    However, if it’s a social setting and the small talk has the potential to lead to a real conversation, then I’m more than willing to play the game. Though I do tend to talk more about myself and have to actively remember to ask a question about them. That’s something I’m actually trying to work on as I meet someone new almost every week with my park group.

  15. Hey I got my card in the mail yesterday! Very cool shot. I like the mysterious element. Definitely an impish characteristic runs in the family.

    P.S. I’m no good at small talk either.

  16. I’m terrible at small talk, completely awful in fact.

    I don’t know if it’s my ADD, or what, but I am completely serious at all times and not able to do that kind of chit-chat. Unless I take my meds, and rehearse some stuff. Then I can fake it.

  17. I abhor small talk.


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