I remember seeing them through the window and feeling a few seconds of anxiety before they opened the door.
If there’s on thing I HATE it’s small talk. It’s not that I don’t like talking to people, I just get anxious when I don’t know what to say.
People had just started arriving for my High School graduation party. This meant huge amounts of mingling and conversation with people I haven’t seen in awhile. I even had a brilliant idea to ease this process. I was going to print a t-shirt with answers to all the common questions on it, thus avoiding these topics.
The front of the t-shirt would say:
School: University of Kentucky
“Yes I’m excited about college”
“No I don’t know my roommate”
Distant relatives would come up to me and I’d smile and let them read the shirt and say “nice chatting with you!” and run off for more food.
It was high probability I'd get embarrassed at an event like this. Mostly for no good reason. My face would get REALLY red when this would happen. When your face turns red, at least one person in the room will say, “wow your face is really red,” which only furthers the intensity of the disease.
Getting easily embarrassed was the first of many diseases I had been self-diagnosed with.
At one point during my childhood I convinced myself something was wrong with my hearing. Whenever I ate cereal I could hear the crunching echoing in my head. I couldn’t even hear what my mom was saying at the breakfast table it was so loud. ll I heard were noises like the teachers from Charlie Brown. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.
The doctor told me, “Kid, everyone can hear themselves crunch.”
Ok fine, but maybe diseases are like animal species, we are always finding new ones, right?
Is dreading small talk a disease? Sometimes it can feel like one.
Life is tough for everyone in different ways, even in situations that shouldn’t be tough. Like public speaking, getting anxious in groups, or feeling self conscious about your health.
Life is tough for everyone in these ways. Not tough like no-food tough, but still mentally draining.
Understanding this fact has cured my small talk problem. It's something we can all connect on.
Now when I talk with people whatever problems they mention I answer with,
“wow… that must be tough.”
I learned this from a writer, Paul Ford, when speaking about having good manners. What’s amazing is people are always surprised with my understanding of their situation when I say this.
Fake it till you make it also works with empathy.
I started feeling more empathetic after saying that phrase, “Wow, that must be tough.” I found myself asking deeper questions, and focusing on one conversation at a time. In one conversation in which I barely spoke, someone said to me “Wow you’ve really inspired me after talking about this.”
Now I see these conversations as empowering. I’ve found a cure for my small talk problem.
Good news friends! You can put down the ice bucket you were going to dump for me...