Last week I wrote about some of the benefits of Small Talk, and this week I want to focus on some of the Small Talk mistakes. Believe me, I’ve made a pile of them!
Ronnie was a nice boy that lived up the street from me, and who eventually worked his way into my sister’s heart. Somehow he survived the “orientation” we gave every boyfriend or girlfriend of the family to be big sis’s boyfriend for almost a year – one of the longest relationships on record at our home.
Although Ronnie was finally accepted into our group, he had some serious social flaws, and unfortunately we laugh about his odd ways to this day.
He would walk up to people, and after a few seconds of awkward silence, he would stammer a greeting of some sort, and then, to get conversation going, ask some obscure question like, “Was this stereo in the car, or did you put it in?” (Never mind that there was no such thing as aftermarket stereos in that day) or “So how much does your car weigh?” He tried so hard to be friendly that people actually walked away rolling their eyes.
Poor Ronnie. He was eventually dumped by my sister and replaced by some other victem of our “orientation.”
As for me, I didn’t start out life being shy. In fact, as the youngest of 5 children, I was the family’s “entertainment,” perpetually goofing off, saying silly things, and basically enjoying life. But something happened in my early adult life, and I discovered that I was a social dunderhead, and I figured it was safer to sit down and shut up. So for the past 25 years or so, I’ve been a fairly shy person.
For me to reach out to people is not in my comfort zone. I can be goofy if I feel comfortable, but to make small talk to engage someone in a conversation is pretty difficult for me. Perhaps it’s my odd sense of humor that prevents me from connecting with normal people, but I have a hard time with small talk.
But as a Pastor’s wife I can’t spend my time hoping I never have to talk to anyone. I’ve realized that I need to work on engaging people in small talk, so eventually we can move onto deeper subjects.
It’s something I’ve been working on, and I’ve learned a few things along the way.
Here are some Small Talk No-Nos:
1. Politics – This is not a comfortable subject, so it’s best to avoid politics until you get to know the individual better. In fact, I try to let them steer the conversation, and eventually bring it up if they want to talk about it.
2. “Religion” – Notice the quotes! Generally speaking, people dislike the topic of religion, unless they feel comfortable with you. Starting with small talk before telling them what Jesus has done for me works very well.
3. Weight/Defects, etc – Children are famous for this! One of my kids, when they were very little, pointed out a large wart on a church member’s nose and exclaimed, “Ball!” This may be funny for little kids, but it’s not smart for big people.
4. Deep, probing questions – I love deep, heart-to-heart discussions, and so I will tend to get right into feelings or deep thoughts I have about subjects. I’ve been working on trying to engage people in normal topics for awhile first.
5. Questions about previous relationships, or relationship status – We may want to hear the latest scoop on Katrina’s courtship, but we could be in for a surprise if Katrina bursts into tears at the mention of her former fiance.
Ronnie was a great guy, but his awkward questions had a way of making people think, “What’s the matter with this guy?” That’s NOT what I want people to think of me!
Question: Can you think of any other things we need to avoid as we talk to people we meet?