It was probably by the fifth conversation that my eyes starting rolling into the back of my head and I had sudden and uncharacteristic urge to throw my wine on the floor and go home.
I had found myself at a party where I knew a few people, and of the few I did, I hadn’t seen in quite a while. Small talk, I soon realised with a sense of foreboding dread, would be the theme of the night.
It’s not that small talk and I don’t get along. We usually get along just fine, actually. Our relationship is helped by the fact I’m rarely feigning interest in conversation; most of the time because I feel the person I’m talking to is exponentially more interesting than myself. (“What have you been doing with yourself?” is always a fun question to answer when the only thing you have been doing with yourself is going out for coffee a lot.)
The sense of dread was born from a sense of familiarity: so often in the last few months I have been caught in conversation where, after half an hour of talking, I’ve felt stumped.
I’ve literally asked you every question I have in my bank, I think. And if you don’t actually ask me a question soon, this conversation is going to die and my soul might go along with it.
Listen: The new small talk question you should ask. (Post continues…)
You see, I had navigated myself through five different conversations with five different people. I had made my way from travel to work to spearfishing and all the way back to travel, skirting around the edges of relationships and hobbies and plans and realised over a period of three hours, not a single person had asked me a question.
It’s not that I relish talking about myself or that I think I have things to say that are worthy of their attention and their thought. (Just ask my friends and family – I rarely shed insight. Just a lot of bullshit.)
Instead, I just want help. I want help to ensure this conversation that I have carefully kept afloat will not find itself falling victim to an awkward silence. Because if there’s one thing more painful than actually listening to me answer a question, it’s watching me sweat in a moment of silence.
It shouldn’t be an acquired skill, the art of asking someone a question. We should be naturally interested in asking people what makes them tick, what they like doing, who they like being.