The Remedy to Small-Talk: Experimental Communication and Getting Weird

I’ve never been a proponent of small talk.  Despite being reasonably good at it, it has always felt so forced and scripted to me.  Most people don’t like when you break from the script either, it makes them uncomfortable.  You’re not supposed to tell a total stranger the sordid details of your bachelorette party or how you cannot stop thinking about the odd desire to touch the corpse at the funeral you just attended.  Most people are not mentally equipped to deal with that out of the context of who you are as a person.  They want to get to know you and feel like they can trust you first before you cram something like that down their ear hole and into their mind.

Honestly, I’d rather just skip it and go straight into the heavier discussions and bizarre stories but societal norms dictate otherwise.  We’re supposed to engage in a series of semi-trivial chats that reveal things like our profession, relationship status and hometown.  Then we are supposed to act like these details have given us enough insight to pass judgement on a person’s worth when they really haven’t.  If you try to avoid small talk, it is considered rude.  If  you try to circumvent it and have conversations that require some mental or emotional involvement, you’ll be deemed abnormal.

I love interacting with people and I don’t want to waste time putting forth a false version of myself when I meet them.  However, small talk remains useful so that we can ease into communication with those who are not quite so exuberant about discourse.  Then again, there are those times where you find yourself wondering why you’re even speaking to a person you will never see again about a topic you care nothing about.  My friend, this is your time to shine.  The next time a person starts a conversation with you that you can tell neither of you really wants to have, this is your opportunity to communicate experimentally.  Get weird and see what happens or be so blunt and honest that they’ll have to commit to a real conversation.  I’ve actually made some really interesting friends this way.

Here are a few examples of what I am talking about:

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As obvious as it should be, we often forget that all we really have is each other.  Make the time you spend talking count and enjoy it whenever possible.

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About You Monsters Are People

Wisdom, wonderment and weird for everyone.
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49 Responses to The Remedy to Small-Talk: Experimental Communication and Getting Weird

  1. cindy says:

    bwahaha, I find this tactic especially useful when dealing with those unsolicited calls from telesales people; yes, they are just doing their job, but it is extremely intrusive, especially if they catch you at suppertime or that particular time of the morning when all you want to do is contemplate the ceiling in the smallest room of the house.

    I long ago devised a way of getting these poor commission-earners to end the call very quickly. I engage with them …

    Caller: Hello Ma’m, it is Michael from Metropolitan Funeral Services, how are you?

    Me: Oh hello Michael! How nice of you to call, I was feeling so lonely and glum; I just thought to myself nobody has phoned me to ask how I am for such a long time. And you know Michael, if my friends knew what I’ve been through in the last while, oy!, they would just platz!. On Tuesday I woke up with the worst squirty botty in the whole world, that on top of the pain I had from tripping over the hose pipe on Monday was just beyond words. I phoned the chemist to see if she would give me something for the pain and of course she said I had to see the doctor first. Hello, R500 later I had a script for Panado and some Enos! In the middle of this my dog Fritzl has got Phoebe (the Yorkie next door) pregnant and my neighbour wants to sue me. Like what? With tears in my violet blue eyes; did I ask the little tart to just stand there and be humped? And then the washing machine pipe burst and the whole bloody house was flooded, I had to use all the towels I own to mop it up and I couldn’t hang them out because of the rain, so the house smells like a jock strap. My other phone is ringing now, but it is so nice talking to you I shall ignore it. Probably the husband wanting to know what’s for supper. I think I’ll do something with mince tonight, what are your ideas? I heard that a packet of Knorr Onion Soup makes a fine sauce for pasta, have you tried it?

    Dial tone …

  2. cindy says:

    Gosh, sorry about that long comment …

    • Posky says:

      It was well worth the read but I do think you just inched over a few feet closer into crazy-town.

      No worries though, as this is not a problem for me.

  3. Small Talk: dear mr. polivscaronisky. although we did find your cartoons witty and entertaining, we are sorry to relate that they do not fit into the dynamic of our publication. Best of luck, The editors.

    BIG TALK: DEAR MR. POSKY: YOU HAD US ROARING ON THE FLOOR AND WETTING OUR PANTS WITH YOUR LATEST BATCH OF SUBMISSIONS. IT IS PROBABLE THAT THE NEW YORKER HAS OFFERED YOU $750 PER CARTOON. WE WILL DOUBLE THAT AND COMMISSION ONE CARTOON A WEEK FOR THE NEXT 75 YEARS IF YOU WOULD BE SO GENEROUS AS TO CONSIDER OUR PUBLICATION. WE WOULD CERTAINLY BE ELATED WITH YOUR ASSOCIATION WITH US. SINCERELY, THE EDITORS.

  4. James Taylor says:

    Recently someone asked if I was THE James Taylor when they saw my name badge at the Hilton I manage. I giggled and said yes. I mean, I’m clearly 30, Greek and not the real James Taylor. So, I said yes and talked about life on the road, et cetera, and how I manage this small-town Hilton to keep out of the lime-lite.

    Man Mr. Posky, you’re a real-doodler.

  5. lunargirl says:

    Hahahahaha!

    Yes, I hate the “small talk” and I think I shall employ your ideas the next chance I get!

  6. Not a bad idea–but do you think there is a difference in rules between the real world and virtual world. Because on FB it seems to be OK to talk about weird stuff to strangers.

    • nrhatch says:

      I laughed outloud at your comment.

      People on FB share EVERYTHING . . . They discuss eating, grooming, and shopping habits. They provide menus for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and between meal snacks. They discuss what they are watching on TV . . . while they are watching it. They not only share the title of books on their night stands, they post regular page updates ~ allowing us to read along with them (except, of course, if we don’t have the book . . . I never do).

      To read the rest of the article . . .

      http://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2010/07/11/the-facebook-strobe-light/

      • Great post. And don’t get me started on Twitter.

      • James Taylor says:

        It’s communication theory in practice. Most people do not have real social interactions often in public, so sharing information on the internet, where it requires less effort to “speak” to people you don’t know is more appealing.

        Twitter exists so people feel important, posting trivial information (and, is easier to write on than a proper blog); having “friends” on Facebook is easier than friends in real life; digital interactions with people you do not know are easier than analogue interactions with people you do not know.

        Because I work behind a front desk, I’ve gotten used to it over the years, the awkwardness of people. Small talk IS my job.

      • nrhatch says:

        And now we have HootSuite . . . yet another layer of technology to keep track of all the other layers of technology that separate us from living in the real world.

      • Posky says:

        I have my own feelings on twitter and online “small talk” but it’s different than face to face near-annonomoty and triviality.

        My advice to everyone on twitter:
        1. Moderation
        2. Consistency
        3. Relevance

        Thank you.

      • Thomas Wayne says:

        I can get so bored with most Facebook & Twitter updates, but there are a few people who occasionally put such random stuff there that it’s worth the time wasted. (I try to add some randomness to mine occasionally, to make everyone’s day more surreal.)

        One thing I saw on Facebook one time (by someone I don’t know):

        “someone pooped on the sales floor at work today… Reluctantly, as usual, I went to clean it up and someone had stepped in it. WHO are these people!?”

        I think it’s sometimes better to not know any more details…

      • Posky says:

        There is another half a story in there somewhere if that that person is every ready to share it and, more importantly, if we are ever truly prepared to understand it.

  7. I’m actually very good at small talk. I enjoy talking about small things: carnies, kittens, Skittles, my glass animal menagerie, etc. It just takes practice.

  8. justincaynon says:

    Some of these might just get someone slapped.

  9. thysleroux says:

    I personally can’t stand the variety of insipid small talk that some people utilize to establish their boundaries as being “superior beings” at any social gathering. Normally they herd the topics towards scenarios where they can divulge information about their new cars, lear jets or cosmetic surgery.
    Joe: “Hey, I saw a lovely restored Jaguar on the highway …”
    Jack : “I love the NEW Jaguar”
    Joe: “Now would you believe the amazing coincidence, I just happened to purchase mine a week ago … and blah blah blah”

  10. eunjoopaek says:

    I love people who deviate from the regulation standard small talk, that’s how I met most of my very close friends! :)

  11. Artswebshow says:

    lol. i couldn’t agree more.
    That’s why people think i’m abnormal. lol

  12. Pingback: The Remedy to Small-Talk: Experimental Communication and Getting Weird (via Posky's Blog) « the girl in the sea

  13. suzicate says:

    Hmmmm…I’m thinking this is going to make for a very interesting week…going to a memorial for a family member. I will be seeing people I only see very few years, so let’s just cut to the chase! Seriously, maybe I will see where I can go with this. And Cindy cracks me up…I will try her approach with the next annoying sales call!

  14. ian michael burnt umber says:

    Small talk tires me, but as a bartender, it’s impossible to avoid.

  15. Agreed! divulging the strange and intimate workings of ones’ brain can conceal the fact that the person is no good at carrying on meaningless, fruitless, superficial conversations. better yet, it can double as an interesting social experiment

  16. Well-stated (and well-drawn).

    My pet peeve: Trying to have a conversation with someone that just turns into a series of stories about ourselves, without them intersecting into a dialogue. Example:

    Me: Did you have a nice weekend?
    Co-worker: I did! I totally saw that new vampire movie. It was sooo good.
    Me: I didn’t have time to watch a movie, but I did some gardening. That was kind of nice.
    Co-worker: Ohmygod I really want my next apartment to have a little garden on the patio. That would be sooo cool.
    Me: I had a few plants on the patio of my old apartment. I did worry about cats knocking the over, though.
    Co-worker: Ohmygod, I have a funny story about my cat on the patio…

    (That was usually the point where I realized I was just as bad as the other person, so I conceded and just let her talk nonstop about herself.)

    This is why I dislike Facebook and, to a much larger extent, Twitter (even though I use both) — they can easily become just a series of I statements. Me, me, me. Here’s what I had for breakfast. Here’s what I think about your status update. Ohmygod here’s a story about meee that’s only marginal to your conversation.

    And yes, I realize that this whole blog comment pretty much makes me guilty of this exact flaw. Sorry.

    That being said: More angry racist duck drawings, please. That guy’s got serious comic potential.

  17. thysleroux says:

    I’ve been reading through some of your older posts. “Here’s how it is”, to quote Captain Malcolm Reynolds, your writing is meticulous and so crammed with humor it takes quite a while for some of it to filter down to the processing section of my CPU.

    I particularly enjoyed the one about emoticons ((It IS a baby girl .. yeah … ;) Indeed it could be :p)

    • Posky says:

      I’m glad to see that it seems like you enjoy my writing style and comics. I just wish I could commit to doing this full time.

      It’s about time that I did my regular catch-up on all the blogs I frequent and enjoy. Sundays are usually my day to read the blogs and comics that I enjoy and I have been WAY behind since getting sick. I may just hit up yours first.

  18. Lis says:

    Today I made small talk about the weather with a very disgruntled-looking woman leaving the office building at the same time as me, and she suddenly took me aside in the parking lot (a complete stranger) and started telling me how awful her boss is. Mind you, she’s only had her job for two days, after being out of work for two years…and here I am still hoping to get hired at my own temp job in the same office building….anyway, next think you know she’s confided in me that she thought she’d done the right thing in regards to sending out that Fed Ex but then she’d really rather be working and living on Long Island with her boyfriend, but no one will hire her there, and her boyfriend won’t move up here, and god she hates commuting either way.

    And I wanted to ask her if she has considered therapy but then I figured maybe she just needed a really stiff drink. So I settled on suggesting she go home tonight and enjoy a nice glass of wine, and that idea seemed to appeal to her. She didn’t say, “Well red wine gives me a headache and white wine is too dry and….”

    So it’s my hope I gave her some Zen-like advice for the time being. Either that or I just reminded her of all the happy times she’s had at happy hour at the local bar and tomorrow morning I’ll find her in the elevator wearing sunglasses and the same clothes she had on today, only more disheveled.

    Who knows.

    Remember this, folks, next time you’re tempted to turn small talk into EVERYTHING talk.

    Then again, I hate small talk and love bigger conversations, for the most part. Except in this case. As the case may be.

    Thanks for the discussion, Posky. Nice talking with you. ;)

  19. Funny, Mr Bevins looks the most intelligent conversationalist of the bunch (your facsimile excluded, P :)

  20. Do you have any idea of what can happen if you engage one of those poor cold calling telephone people in real conversation? Yeah, you can drive them bonkers with inanity. But if you take pity on them and start a real conversation — well, there seems to be no limit to the material a writer can collect regarding human nature in such scenarios. One upside is if you discover a shared sense of humor–then you can both laugh like lunatics as you feed each other’s comic addictions.

  21. It’s fun to interject Real Speak into Small Talk and see peoples’ reactions. Mostly, they sort of start spilling their guts out. And, on another topic, I have actually asked those telemarketing people a lot of questions. At first they get really excited, then they get confused. Then they hang up on me.

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  23. Heart says:

    I am laughing my head off with this one.. I am glad that you posted it with your new post, this one is truly one of your best.. He he he.. Raining cats and dogs.. Smart and great pun ;)
    Stopping by to wish a very very Happy New Year! Hope to read your new ones coming up soon!
    Rachana.

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