For me, “small talk” is analogous to cola. People all over the world dig these fizzy, sweet drinks. It makes their day, sometimes repeatedly, all day long. Every now and then I will re-sample some Coca-cola or Pepsi. Yeup, I still hate cola. I am not fond of carbonation, it is too sweet, and the flavor I simply cannot enjoy. Why do people love this stuff? They even enjoy the caffeine-free or sugar-free sorts, so that cannot be it. I have no idea.
So there I am stuck in some social occasion, with my tea or water-no-ice-please, or the hard to find ginger ale, holding it with an occasional swirl, hoping it quickly goes flat. I have those dire mental questions about this conversational dance:
Is it my turn to contribute something?
What would be appropriate to say?
Am I talking too much or not enough?
Don’t forget to make a little eye contact.
Are they really done talking? Whoops no they weren’t, oh dear.
Okay, that IS a pause … now it is a very long pause; am I supposed to say something, and if so, what about?
Are we done with small talking?
Should we move apart?
What kind of transitional comment am I supposed to make then?
The very-small talk of passing and greeting in the hallway, or waiting for a turn at the microwave, or for the coffeepot to finish brewing, is not so hard. One acquires a battery of general phrases to adapt to the particular day.
The big talk — actual conversation as exchange-of-information with persons whom you know or with whom you have things in common — during lunch time or at a meeting is okay.
It is the middle-size talk, the chit-chat, that is difficult. This is the sort one finds at dreaded office parties, dinners with fellow convention attendees, mixers with guests visiting the department, weddings, and such. These people often have some thin connection to one’s self, but for a topic of discussion it is too meager, and if we are near the end of the day there is nothing new to add, and besides by then people want to chit-chat about something else.
If you are standing or seated next to the spouse or “significant other” of the actual attendee, then you have nothing in common, at least nothing than can be perceived in a couple of minutes. Now, it may be that both of you have visited the same place, or have a passing interest in some obscure topic, but without some kind of handy visual “Index Of Interests” pinned to the lapel like military ribbons, who is to know? Perhaps in an hour’s time you will have discovered that spider-thread of connection, but meanwhile, there are countless bits of the dreaded small-talk to pick one’s way through.
And of course, there is the trap of somebody accidentally mentioning something that is a special interest of mine, and unless I am being especially self-aware, I am likely to data-bomb them with more information than they wanted. And of course, I usually cannot tell when “enough is enough already”. ::sigh::
Of course, my additional problem is that I have super-acute hearing for all the accessory noises in the environment, yet sometimes have difficulty understanding what people are saying. Or near the end of the day I am so over-stimulated with sensory input that I am beginning to blank out. The edges of my brain have the sparkle and wit of a bowl of oatmeal; there is the nearly overwhelming urge to crawl under the table drapes, or find a solitary chair and stare out the window at the clouds, or just put on my headphones and rock. And yet, this is the part of the event when I am supposed to be both engaged and engaging.
Chit-chat is deadly!