Initial Thoughts: Socially Awkward? Learning the Art of Conversation
I am an introvert.
Often, I feel socially awkward. I do not like small talk. When someone asks me if it is hot or cold enough for me, I just stare at them, because I think it is one of the most stupid things you can say. I do not want to engage in pointless conversations. And I have a tough time jumping into conversations. In meetings, you have some extroverts who like to be the life of the party, so they monopolize conversations, making it very difficult for introverts like me to contribute. I have not fully mastered the art of conversation.
A few years ago, I mentioned to a friend, who is a facilitator, the difficulty I sometimes have jumping into conversations, and she responded by saying that in meetings, she calls on everyone, so they can speak. That does not work for me. I am not in high school, I do not want anyone to call on me. So, what is an introvert to do?
My usual response when extroverts monopolize meetings and other conversations, is that I stay silent because I cannot be bothered with fighting to getting in my two-cents worth. My thinking is that it is not a big deal. But someone pointed out to me that it is important, and that it was selfish of me not to contribute my thoughts and ideas, so that others can benefit from them. I did not think it was worth the effort to work so hard to get my point across.
The Art of Conversation
Recently, I read the book, Impulse Interrupted. The book outlines a technique to replace unwanted behaviors and awkward situations with more positive ones. The book also has exercises to do. As an active reader, I did the exercises. The behavior I wanted to replace, is not speaking up in meetings.
Have you read?
Here is an excerpt from the blog post.
I thought that it was important for me to do the exercises because an organization I am involved in invited me to take part in a round table discussion. I knew that it was a safe environment for me, which made it the ideal testing ground for my new behavior of speaking up more. To many people, they would not consider speaking up in meeting as an unwanted behavior or awkward situation. But not speaking up in meetings can be career limiting because you do not voice your thoughts and ideas, which could be game changing for an organization, or even for yourself. Being quiet sometimes gives the impression to others that you do not have anything notable or important to say, which is not necessarily true.
The round table discussions came and went, and I feel comfortable with the way that I spoke up. It so happens that this was al all-female meeting. But over the past few months, I have been paying close attention to how people who I know, like, and trust, interact with others. I saw how a good friend interacted with her adult son, and how my niece interacted with her mother. I noticed that some of the things that they talk about are not things that I would ever talk about or even think of. I realized that talking about the mundane is part of becoming fully human.
That floored me. I mentioned a couple of things to a friend, and she told her son because she thought it was worth talking about, and I thought, “Interesting.” I am a great listener and observer, and these skills are teaching me the art of conversation. I see and hear things that others often miss. I have always paid attention to people, but this is first time that I was intentional about how people communicate with those close to them, and what they actually say. I realized that there are times when I am silent that there are things that I can say. The mundane is not necessarily boring.
When you are serious about making changes in your life, you will do what it takes. I am serious about speaking up more in meetings, so I am doing so in a way that is comfortable to me. And I am making a lot of progress. If you ask me if it is hot or cold enough for me, I will still ignore you because that is so banal. You may think I am rude, but that is simply pointless conversation to me, and I refuse to engage. Since I have been observing people who are related, to see how they make small talk to each other, and what they say, I discovered that there is the mundane and the pointless when it comes to these types of conversations.
I am learning to talk about the mundane, and I am surprised to see how interested people are to hear what I have to say. For example, I booked one night to stay in a hotel in New York City. When I arrived at what I thought was a hotel, I learned that it was a hostel and that was not advertised. I am already in a bad mood because there was a problem with the train. So, I am exhausted and thinking that sharing a room with one person for one night will not kill me, and perhaps there is a story there somewhere for me to later write about. That was a big motivator for me.
I go up to the room only to discover that there are six of us staying in the room. Remember, I was already upset, then I discover I am on the top of a bunk bed. I have never slept in bunk bed before. I am over 40, do you seriously think I would know how to climb up the bed. I slept in the chair. Talk about false advertising. That is mundane conversation, and people were interested, and could relate to what I was saying, and why I was upset.
Final Thoughts: Learning the Art of Conversation
If you want to engage in small talk with me, I would rather you ask me what book I have read lately or what book I am reading. Or even what interesting projects I am working on. If you are an introvert, more than likely you do not like small talk. But every now and again, try to talk about the mundane, it may not be as bad as you think!