It may come as a surprise to some of the people I’ve met recently (in the last year or so, that is) but for most of my life, I’ve been reduced by most social situations to a silent, trembling blob of jelly. This was because I can’t relate to most people on an intellectual or emotional level. I still can’t. I have, however, learned to relate to people on more banal levels. A.k.a. Small Talk. This is much more crucial than it sounds because it prevents me from death by social isolation.
Here are some pointers I’ve gathered for Small Talk. I’ve dispensed with my usual “you should…” format because I’m assuming most people who’ll run across this are not as terrified of casual social interaction as I was:
- graceful Introductions and Goodbyes are paramount because, for many people I encounter in my life, this will be the first and the last time they will ever hear of my silly face. I always say “Hi,”and give them a natural smile while looking them in the eye. If it is a group numbering more than three, I make everyone repeat their names if I don’t catch them the first time. I think this makes people feel like I give a shit what their names are. Sometimes I actually do, sometimes I don’t. On parting, I usually say something other than “Bye” such asking how they are getting home, or saying Take Care, or I’ll Send You the Thing / Add You / Message You, Nice To Meet You, or See You On [Next Time I Am Most Likely To See Them].
- It is actually very amusing to note how entirely self-absorbed people are. I can keep a conversation going indefinitely by bringing up a topic that the other person is interested in. Sometimes the other person will not even notice that I have nothing at all to say to them, so entranced they are by the sound of their own voice and the lucidity of their thoughts. A well-placed interjection, “But what about…” “I’ve heard that…” “Well, what happens when…” can keep the ball rolling with very little effort on my part. I do not allow my eyes to glaze over, and I don’t stare at them. I do nod from time to time. When this type of conversation occurs with someone, I can be almost sure that the person will want to see me again.
- Now it has started to sound like I am completely faking it, which isn’t the case. I am a very curious person. I am curious about some people, and not curious at all about others; however, upon the first meetings I usually treat all people as if I were curious about them. So, I guess sometimes I’m faking it and sometimes I’m not.
- There are many things going on in the world. I don’t understand / don’t care about most of them; I only know of them tangentially. Unbeknownst to most people terrified of casual conversation, shallow knowledge of many things – not deep understanding – facilitates better conversation, because the other person has a chance to feel like they’re educating you (whether or not they actually are; admittedly there is something to learn from almost everyone even if you don’t like them). This will make them feel good about themselves. Then they’ll have a positive association with you.