This week an email request arrives from a friend who has the weird belief I know something about communicating with people. Although she’s an expert in her field, I know she’s shy and uncomfortable in crowds. What she initiated with her seemingly simple question was an honest response that then led into the absurd.
For your entertainment, in this post I’ll share our exchanges. I’d love to read your personal stories and reactions…
In her first email, she asks, “Can you coach me I how to make small talk?”
To get a better perspective of her need, I write back, “How small? The size of an inch, a foot, a yard? Who’d be the recipient?”
Then I add, “I just tend to wander away.” (Which is true when I find myself bored or uninterested in the conversation).
She responds with, “I’m going to a fundraiser for our local MLA next Saturday. Not sure how to interact with the people there. Want to feel more confident. It’s only 2 hours, late afternoon.”
Okay. After a bit of thought, I send her this:
“All you have to do is ask any person about themselves. And away they go…
- How are you connected to this?
- Have you lived here all your life? No? Where are you from? Yes? Where’s your family from?
- What are your interests/hobbies?
- Have you read any good books lately”? Movies? Tv programs? Theatre? What are your favourites/recommendations?
- What are your favourite activities?
- Do you have family here?“
I suspected any of these questions would lead into a fuller conversation.
Next, I get this surprising response:
“Believe it or not, it would not occur to me to ask these questions, feels like I’m prying…”
Hmm. Now, she’s opened the door to my imagination… So-o-o-o, I go there with,
“Ask more generic question. Are these less personal …
- What brand/colour is your underwear?
- Do you have a lover? Do you mind if I share his/her contact info w a few people I think may be interested?
- Have you had any surgeries? Yes? Show me your scars.
- Are your family members speaking to each other?
- How many cavities do you have? Please show me?
Are these better?”
After sending those, I think of another, “Ask people how tall they are, and compare heights (back to back). Ask if they’ve shrunk.”
My friend responds with, “Fabulous! Game on.” And then adds,
- “how did they make their money?
- What kind of future do they envision for Canada/ is it aligned with the one they want…”
At first, I’m pleased that she’s galvanized. Suddenly, I reread the money bit, and realize that she often doesn’t ‘get’ jokes and may very well think that the suggestions in my last two emails are serious.
Oh my. She/I could be in real trouble.
At first, I re-direct with, “How did they make their money? Or, what’s your specialty?” Then, to be totally clear, I write, “You know I was joking w the last bunch of questions?“
She says, “Yup. Great questions too – stirred my thinking”
My final words in this exchange:
“I had so much fun w the absurd ones. And shared them w Paul and a friend w a hearty sense of humour. We laughed crazy. Thank you!
Glad to be your pot-stirrer. As I said, people like to talk about themselves. Many do not learn a thing about the questioner.
Once they get going, one question will lead to another.
Another possibility is introducing people to each other, which can lead to more conversation.
I had the biggest laugh on myself a few months ago when I met two women separately at a family function. I found each so fascinating, I made a point to introduce them to each other. They burst out laughing and let me in on the joke: they are sisters.
So, ask if they already know each other, and if so, how.”