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Small talk and silences

December 10, 2015

This is the time of year when articles proliferate on social media on topics relating to respecting others’ sensitivities. It is festive season, peak small talk time, and so we are reminded of a raft of dos and don’ts to protect the privacy and feelings of those who may be sensitive, for any number of reasons, at what can be a difficult time of year. They list all the comments we shouldn’t make and the questions not to ask.

I generally agree with their advice.
Subjects such as reproductive choices, partnerships, careers, parenting styles, family histories or festive season plans are all potentially fraught and should be approached with care. So I am cautious, so very, very cautious…

The problem for me is that I naturally struggle with small talk at the best of times. It is not, as some have assumed, that I am not interested and therefore am not curious about other’s lives. No, the problem is I don’t want to accidentally prod a “sensitive spot” and as there are potentially any number of these to be avoided, at least in my overactive imagination, I clam up.

Imagine me last week getting a trim. My hairdresser is lovely, but I know nothing about her life. We fall into silence and I rack my brains for things to say, but everything seems either potentially inappropriately invasive or mindlessly shallow and pointless. And so, until she takes the conversational lead, silence prevails.

So should I ever meet you and say “the wrong thing” I am truly sorry as I never want to prod or pry. But, much more likely, if I should meet you and I seem “stand-off ish” (as I’m reliably informed I often do) please understand that my lack of small talk is not because I do not care. I simply struggle, as I suspect many people do, to strike that conversational sweet spot that exists between the light and fluffy subjects of little consequence and the ones that potentially might rend you speechless with private pain. I will keep trying.

So should you meet me, or someone conversationally challenged like me, please be patient. Remember my silences are not born of judgement, lack of interest or snobbery. I do care, and I don’t want to cause upset, and so I sometimes fall into silence. Work with me to find a subject of mutual interest and we’ll be right.

We could talk about the pitfalls of small talk perhaps? I will try not to talk your ear off!

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