“So what would make it better for you?”

Ah, the dreaded “small talk”! Learning scripts to use for small regular transactions isn’t hard (e.g. waiting for coffee to brew or cashier transactions, as described in this post).

It’s the chit-chatting with coworkers and strangers that’s hard.

I like this page because it gives concrete details on how to successfully initiate and participate in chit-chat — not just a bunch of fluffy vagueness. People who understand the fluffy vagueness already know how to chit-chat!

“How to Break Through Small Talk and Turn Strangers into Friends”
http://puttylike.com/small-talk/

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Reasoning for a good cause

“Same thing,” she said, waving off the comment and walking off toward the time-clock to punch out.

“But– no, it’s not …” I protested, and then stopped talking as I saw her leaving not only the the doorway where I stood, but our conversation as well.

If you could call it a conversation; I’ve had longer dialogs with fellow elevator riders.

It was hard to stop my rebuttal. I so wanted to explain, and having to force myself to stop in mid-sentence (hell, mid-mini-monologue) is hardly my style. But I diligently keep practicing social skills, including noticing when others have quit a topic.

Having already clocked out, I gave up, left the building, and even waited to get into my car before expressing my complaints aloud to no one — except a fruit fly uselessly orbiting the fragrant-but-empty lunch bag I had just tossed onto the floor.

And a fruit fly doesn’t give a gnat’s ass about the seemingly subtle difference between reason and cause. No, it is not mere semantics, and they are not exact synonyms.

“So how was your trip?” she had asked as we met in the hallway. We had not yet crossed paths that day, delaying the obligatory Monday morning chit-chat.

“Oh it was lovely, except for missing a connecting flight, so I was only there two days,” I began. And I was proud that I had even mindfully planned ahead to next ask her if she’d ever been to Boston, thus fulfilling my offering volley in the chit-chat process — when she gave me that totally unexpected, inexplicable response:

“Well you know, ‘Everything happens for a Reason’ !” She chirped, nodding sagely.

“You mean a cause,” I began.

“Same thing,” she said, waving off the comment and walking off toward the time-clock to punch out.

“But– no, it’s not …” I protested.* Read the rest of this entry »

Choose from the handy menu.

“A not-so-subtle clue that your coworker isn’t interested in cubicle small talk”.

My caption for the image from passive-aggressive notes.com site: 

A bulleted list pinned to the corner of a generic grey cubicle says:

  • YES THIS IS MY NEW HOME (FOR NOW)
  • YES THE SPACE IS SMALLER
  • YES IT’S A LONGER WALK TO THE COPIER
  • YEST IT’S A SHORTER WALK TO THE BATHROOM
  • NO I’M NOT SETTLED IN
  • NO I HAVEN’T ADJUSTED YET
  • NO IT’S NOT QUIETER
  • NO I DON’T KNOW WHY

I can SO sympathize!

~#~

When I’m stocking groceries, I’m also supposed to help customers find things “with a smile!”.  Sometimes it’s pretty obvious that someone can’t find an item because they wander back and forth (the toothpicks take up a small “footprint” of shelf space, and are set up relatively high on the back wall), or are squinting at the aisle signs.

But sometimes people are just thinking about what they need to get, or any number of other things.  Plus, there are some men who don’t want to ask where something is, or will ask but certainly don’t want you to to them to it (our preferred store policy ). I have trouble reading people’s nonverbal cues, and will at times err to either ignoring those in need (once in a while I don’t even notice there are people there until they, “Excuse me-“), or will go too far the other way and over-inform (what I call “data-bombing”), “The plastic bags and boxes are in aisle 8, but the cling wrap, foil, wax paper and such are in the baking aisle 4.  The zipper-baggies on the right side of the aisle, to the front of the store, near the top.  Is there anything else for which you are looking?”

In my highly-visual mind, I imagine this cartoon also hung in the aisles:

To our patrons:  please mark your Thought Balloon so we may assist you promptly.

  • Where is the _____ ?
  • I’m just waiting for a slow spouse.
  • I’m figuring out what to cook next.
  • I haven’t a clue why I came down this aisle.
  • I’m delaying my return home to the rest of the family.
  • I’m comparing products.
  • I’m keeping out of the weather.
  • I just come here to try the food samples.

________

Related posts:

Small Talk

Role-Playing

Role-Playing

I’ve role-played in various capacities over the years, from the “acting-out student” in a staff safety seminar, to the novice thief in a D&D game.  But the other week I was asked to try out a far different rôle:

“If you were Melba Toast, where would you be hiding?”

Melba Toast … gee, were I a small box of cardboardy toast slivers, where would I be hiding?  Hmn …

Such queries fill chunks of my life now, as I am working two and three jobs for 65-70 hours a week, which should explain the general lack of bloggery.  It’s not a lack of interest, nor a lack of subjects worthy of blathering about.  (The sad part is that I still have plants sitting around in pots that I bought back in June. That, and another goal is to finish my grandson’s quilt before winter sets in; he’s nearly three months old already!)

These oddball encounters always hit me out of the blue, when I’m otherwise preoccupied with squinting at the shelf tag UPCs to figure out which peg the -48699 fancy chandelier light bulbs should hang upon, or am trying to line up a stack of shiny toothpaste boxes without knocking over its companion rows.  (Why do we have to stack all those wobbly boxes three tiers high?  Because the boss like them that way, that’s why.  But hell if I’m going to try stacking up some of those styles of maxipads, because even single packs don’t want to stand upright.)

Melba Toast … The problem of course, is that every store has a set of random products that are difficult for customers to find.  So there we are, grocery stocker blinking and trying to remember to smile and make eye contact and parse the unexpected conversation from the background noise, and customer trying to find the right person for help.

“Do you work here?”

[No,] says the tired-and-cranky part of my brain, [I just like standing around the local market wearing a dress shirt with the corporate logo, knee pads, compression gloves for my arthritis & Raynaud’s, and a box knife holstered to my waistband.  I sure as hell better work here, because I’m getting so nearly OCD about “facing” groceries that I’m starting to pull forward and straighten out merchandise even when I’m just shopping for my own groceries.]  Working two shifts a day doesn’t make me as cranky as going two weeks at a stretch without a full day off.  Damnit, I want a life.

Savvy customers ask me, “Do you work for the store?” because they’ve learned that the burly guy stocking cola works for the cola-distribution company, or the little old lady giving out food samples works for a food conglomerate or a temp agency, and neither of these people knows where our market stocks the sun-dried tomatoes, oat bran, or tiki-torch oil. Actually, we don’t stock tiki-torch oil, which is why that customer couldn’t find it.  You’re shocked, I’m sure.  Or maybe not; we get all kinds of crazy-ass seasonal shit to sell.  Maybe we did have tiki-torch oil once-upon-a-time.  By my 13th work-hour of the day, tiki-torch oil sounds perfectly reasonable, and I can just about hallucinate bottles of sunset-gold tiki-torch oil by the tins of cigarette-lighter butane or the blister packs of Tropical Paradise air freshener candles.  Blarrrg.

Sometimes the senseless placements are simply accidents of history, like the display of snack cakes that migrated inward from and aisle “end cap” and are now juxtaposed to the tinned soups for no particular reason other than some space existed there once, and no one’s since bothered to move them over to the sweets aisle.

Sometimes the senseless placements are just that, like the forlorn bags of barley that are slumped against the soup powders, instead of with the rest of the dry grains and beans. (Well yeah, people put barley in soup, but people put damn near everything else in soups, too; so what?)

Customers are usually so apologetic when they can’t find something;  they don’t want to “be a bother”. 

“Oh, now I’m messing up your nice display,” frets the gentleman as he fumbles to remove two packs of liquorices.

“No, no, that’s okay!  If you don’t buy it, then I can’t re-stock it, and what would I do for a job?  You’re keeping the economy running!”  Seriously.

They worry that I’m going to think less of them because they can’t find something that’s staring right back at both of us, which is also silly, because sometimes we’re both staring at the shelf, leaving me mumbling,

“I know I saw it right around here the other day, unless it got moved the day I was off …” 

“Oh, here it is!” exclaims the customer, who actually has a “search image” for a product, unlike this store employee who neither stocks the item nor buys it.

“Ayup, I remembered seeing it around here … is there anything else for which you are looking?”

Of course, there’s the person stalking up and down an aisle because they too have that feeling of it’s-right-in-front-of-me, and they finally break down to ask me as I’m passing by with a trolley artfully crammed full of cartons of chocolate bars and thirteen flavors and sizes of toothpaste, or a handtruck heaped high with bags of charcoal. (Nothing says, “Working Hard” like having coal schmutz on your cheek.)

“Um, have you seen the — Oh!  Here it is.  Sorry,”

“No worries — we do that at home all the time:  ‘Hey Mom, where’s-the-nevermind’.”

My canned joke, with its carefully-honed wee bit of wry camaraderie, usually prompts a reciprocating expression of familiarity.  Small talk is hard for me, so after I’ve had the same type of experience a few times, I make myself up some scripts to add to my standard lists of “Grocery Stocker Small Talk” or “Grocery Cashier Small Talk”.

But of course, there’s the inevitable ad-libbing.

“Melba Toast … you know, I don’t think I’ve ever role-played bread before,” I replied.  Fortunately, my off-beat attempt at levity worked, which bought me some time as I stood there, staring up into space to access my mental store map.  “Well, let’s go check Aisle 5,”

We get there, cruising past the peanut butter and jelly selections, in our grocery manager’s dual homage to cheap sandwiches and suggestive product placement.  “I already looked in the bread aisle,” volunteers the customer, but we’re both familiar with scenario of missing something right in front of us, so we give it a look-through just to be sure.

“Okay, another likely place would be in the cracker aisle,” I offer, as we pass the end-cap display for the other brand of snack cakes (located in another part of the store, naturally) and make a U-turn to cruise fruitlessly past the chips and crackers.  Before my customer gets too dispirited (or embarrassed),  I offer an explanation, “The problem is, there are some things for which there are several perfectly logical places to keep them … and every store has its quirks.  Well, if it’s not down here, we’ll look in the Import Foods section by the Dutch rusks,”

“I already checked there,” says the unusually diligent shopper.

“Wow, most people usually miss — ah-HA!  Here they are, next to cereal and the toaster pastries.”  Hooray, this mystery is solved, and I can go back to fighting with the Halloween bags of Twizzlers candies, which are refusing to stack neatly and have taken to suddenly slumping off the shelf and slithering onto the floor as I get halfway down the aisle.  It would take no less than five episodes of this before I finally got the heaps stabilised.  Such repeated incidents of fruit-carting would be funny later, but there are only so many ways you can stack and re-stack and re-stack and re-stack and re-stack bags of individually-wrapped cherry-flavored twists before getting utterly twisted, too.

Mental Menus

(WARNING: This is one of those posts that starts off tangentially. Sometimes that’s the way communication works.)

If you peruse the books in the travel sections of stores and libraries, you can find pocket-size volumes of useful phrases in different languages. While pantomiming works well for some situations*, there are times when having the actual word is best for all concerned. (For example, being able to ask a shopkeeper, “Tampons?”)

* I believe it was travel writer Rick Steves who noted that one does not always need a phrase book — merely pointing at your injured foot and screaming does get the point across just fine.

Sure, there are plenty of little words of politeness that are great to memorise, please, thank-you, excuse me, and the rest. But these little bits do not a conversation make. And anyway, phrase books are always of limited use; anyone who has tried such can explain the inherent problems that result by being about to make statements or ask questions, but not being able to understand the answers, or know what you are to do with the other person’s reply.

And that’s where we sometimes end up when wandering through the awkward territory of small talk. As I have blogged on before (“Small and Medium-size Talk”), the big sorts of talk, those that are the exchange of real information on subjects of mutual interest are generally rather easy — it’s the medium-size talk that is the social dance of chit-chat which is fraught with difficulties.

But there are days when the very-small talk of passing through and exchanging greetings seems to be a strain. Read the rest of this entry »