as i mentioned in my last post, i went to a concert last night. i always run into old friends when i go to shows… it’s inevitable. there was a lot of small talk going on. that’s also inevitable when you see people that you haven’t seen in months—or even years! what do you get?
you know the run-ins i am referring to. those people who you used to run in the same circle with and see multiple times a week but then life happened and you slowly drifted apart.. you were always great friends, but not great enough to make the effort to see each other anymore. this happens.. A LOT. i have many, many friends like this. an ex-boyfriend’s best friends.. your old roommate’s sister.. a co-worker that now lives on the opposite side of town. it is sad, but it’s a fact of life. i miss those friendships often, but i also remind myself to smile because they happened rather than cry because they are over. it’s not like there was a falling out with these kind of folks. you just take different paths when there is a fork in the road!
so, set the scene.. you bump into one of those old friends. you haven’t seen this person recently enough to actually talk about current events that relate to both of your lives, but you also know them well enough and were good friends with them at one time, meaning you know it is possible to carry on a quality conversation. because of your once-was-there friendship, you want to avoid asking meaningless questions, but you also aren’t sure what things to discuss to connect on a level even remotely close to the one you were once on with them.
soo.. of course, last night, i asked some of those dumb, empty small talk questions i typically want to avoid (and that i cringe at when i am asked them—so why was i asking them?!) and then i did manage to dig a little deeper have better than sub-par conversation with some really, really old friends. of course, right when things were getting good with our catch up session, the music started and the small talk was over. sadly, i will probably not see those people for another year or two. such is life. at least i got to see their smiling faces!
after my small talk shenanigans were over, i got to thinking about small talk in general. for the most part, i could do without it. most people would agree, i think. how many of you see an old friend or acquaintance at the grocery store and spend the rest of your shopping trip strategically navigating the aisles so you don’t bump into them? you know you are guilty! it’s because you want to avoid that cringe-worthy small talk. it’s usually full of useless information and neither party engaging in the small talk really has much interest in the exchange. half the time their answers aren’t even true. when was the last time someone asked how you were doing and you were having a shitty day and your answer was, “horrible, thanks!”? yeah.. that’s what i thought.
with small talk we are bombarded with boring questions with an easy out—it leads to a dead end conversation or, even worse, an awkward one you just want to get out of. the reason for this? the wrong questions are being asked!
1. “how’s life?” (or, if you are recently married, “how’s married life?”)
oh. it pains me to even think of what i say to this question. i get the “married life” one the most, even though i have been married for over two years. my answer is usually, “the same as unmarried life except we live together and share a bank account now.” i mean, what do you say to that?
if i ask someone how life is (guilty as charged) i always get answers like “pretty good!” or “not bad, hanging in there.” or some other generic ho-hum answer that leads to a dead end conversation. it’s too general and people typically aren’t willing to get specific unless you ask them specifics.
2. “what’s new?” OR “what have you been up to?”
guess what you are going to get as an answer? “not much.” or, “the usual.” maybe, “the same old stuff… you know…”
this question is an easy out. people are not going to dive into telling you every last, little detail of what they have been up to. they probably won’t even tell you any of the BIG things they have been up to.. like buying a house, winning the lottery, or curing cancer. a person’s typical reply to this question is just as general as the question itself. sad, but true.
3. “can you believe the (insert anything about weather, politics, or a mix of the two here)?”
come on. you can come up with something better than that. if it snows, all the small talk is about how we can’t believe it snowed in whatever unseasonable month it may be. if it is summer and it is hot, we chat about just how damn hot it really is. and i know you can all agree with me that small talk about the election has GOT TO GO.
so, there are a few of the DON’Ts for small talk. i could go on, but i won’t. how about we shift gears and talk about the DOs?
you know i am a big fan of answering questions. i fill out surveys like it’s my job (i sure wish it was!) and i always ask you guys questions at the end of my posts. i just love Q & A! i am a fan. i know most people are not. i decided to think of a few “replacer” questions to ask when you run into an old friend… these may seem silly and oddly specific, but at least they will generate an answer that has more content than, “oh, nothing much…”
1. “what was the best thing that happened to you today?”
it’s specific. it’s regarding something that’s fresh on their mind. it requires a real answer. it makes them think. people don’t want to answer a broad question regarding what’s new since the last time you saw them sixteen months ago… that’s too much to think about. but if you ask them about their day? simple! they will give you an answer and you can get the ball rolling from there. just don’t let them say nothing good happened. OR.. if it really was just a super shitty day.. they may say so and you can generate some content from that!
2. “what are you doing here right now?”
again, this question addresses the here and now and does not involve racking your brain for answers from yesteryear. you cannot expect people to recap everything they have been doing since the last time you spoke, so just ask them what they are up to NOW instead of what they HAVE been up to.
you run into them at a grocery store.. what are you shopping for? a party? just a weekly grocery run? what are you making for dinner?
you run into them at a concert.. is this your first time seeing the band? how about the venue, do you like it?
you run into them at school.. what class are you on your way to? or did you just come from?
you run into them at the bar.. what brings you here tonight? special occasion or you just needed some booze?
you get the idea… right? right. just ask people about the here and now, it will generate a more specific answer and you can feed off that to ask more questions that are relevant to the situation!
3. “what’s something you are looking forward to?”
EVERYONE is looking forward to SOMETHING. whether it’s something in the far off future or right around the corner, i know that everyone has at least one little thing they think about and it puts a smile on their face.
your job is to get that one little thing out of them.. and create a conversation about whatever that thing may be. might as well converse about the future than rehash the past, right?
SO.. those are my suggestions for small talk questions. i know there are a zillion more, but these serve as a jumping off point. think about your small talk before it takes a turn for the boring!
i should also point out that your ATTITUDE can totally make or break your small talk session. if you go into it rolling your eyes and dreading it—as most do—you will not get anything out of it. if you strike up a small talk convo with a smile on your face, use some body language, and really engage yourself, chances are you will walk away feeling happy that you bumped into your old friend or acquaintance.
it’s funny that i got to thinking so much about small talk at the concert last night, because i got into another conversation about small talk at work today! my friend is on match.com—AKA the mecca of awkward small talkin’ shenanigans! it’s funny to read what her potential suitors (haha) have to say via email. most ask awkward and/or boring questions, although i will give some of them props for coming up with worthwhile content that has warranted a reply from my friend.
i know this post was a little off the beaten path of meals & moves standard.. but it was on my mind so i thought i would share! i would love for you to chime in with your thoughts.
1. small talk: love it or loathe it?
2. what are some small talk questions you LOVE and/or HATE?
3. ‘fess up: have you ever purposely avoided someone you know so you didn’t have to engage in small talk?
xo. janetha g.