The barber spread the gown over top of me. I braced myself. I had already said hello and told him how I wanted my hair to be cut. We had gotten the basics out of the way. Still, I knew what was coming.
“How about this warm weather?” he said waving a crooked finger toward the window.
And there it was.
Someone else would take the comment as a simple pleasantry. A nice conversation starter. A preemptive hello. For me, the comment went over like a lead balloon.
I hate the simple small talk that we all engage in every day. You see it getting a haircut, talking to an acquaintance on the elevator, networking with a peer, riding the bus, or even waiting in line at the convenience store. I hate it because I’m so horrible at it.
Here’s what I mean. The barber was just looking to pass the time, help make his day go faster. Me? I told him that I had heard on the radio that the temperature spike would be short-lived and would be gone in a few hours. In a day or two, the temps would dive back into the single digits. When I told the barber, you would have thought I had just told him that the jury had come back with a guilty verdict. He was crestfallen.
Talk, talk, talk . . . that goes nowhere
I stink at small talk. Some people have a way with simple chit-chat, they can rise and fall with the conversation. They’re like a Boy Scout starting a fire with flint and steel or even two pieces of wood, they know when to use friction and went to let up and let the kindling work for you. I flail and stumble, killing a conversation before it ever gets off the ground.
Words that matter
Now if we’re in a conversation that matters, I’m fine. I can give and take with the best of them, but when it comes to small talk my comments more often than not come up empty. When I was young, my mother used to call me shy. I’m not sure that’s true. I just hate useless conversation that fails to get anywhere. I crave deep conversations, learning something new, and figuring how what makes another person tick. I hate anything like chit-chat that gets in the way.
While I stink at chit-chat, I have learned a few tricks of the trade:
–I ask open-ended questions. When two people begin to share real ideas, instead of mindless tropes, you never know what you might learn; you often times stumble across something meaningful in the process.
–I try to stay rational and positive, especially in networking situations. I try to make a game of the conversation, questioning what’s the worse that can happen? If someone doesn’t like me, then they don’t like me, so what?
–I remind myself to be authentic. When I worry less about playing a certain role and simply be myself, the conversation flows more freely. At least on my end.
–I make it a goal of learning one simple thing from every conversation, could be big or small, just something new.
–I remind myself that much good comes when we all talk less and listen more.
Oh, I still fumble for words, but two words bring two more and two more, until you look up and see that you’ve moved past small talk and are in the middle of real life, meaning of life conversation.