I don’t know about you, but I have been fascinated with the fine art of interpersonal communication for many years. Specifically, I am intrigued by the complex subtleties involved with human conversation. Although I fail miserably at small talk, I enjoy following its unfolding and continually look for opportunities to lure the conversation into deeper, more relevant territory. Frequently, such attempts are met with unenthusiastic mockery, as conversing parties prefer to revel within the safe corridor of idle banter. I have to admit, jovial sparring and padded laughter have proven entertaining on a number of occasions, however I often find myself disappointed at the inevitable shallowness of everyday conversation. It’s like, ha ha yeah we all get it.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for everything. If you happen to be in the mood for mindless chit-chat, jibber-jabber, or whatever you want to call it, then great. The problem is that an apparent majority of people engage in small talk even when they don’t feel like playing along. As far as conversations go, there is nothing worse than forced small talk. For crying out loud, if you don’t want to discuss serious topics and aren’t in the mood for chit-chat, then please, for the love of all that’s true and good in the world, shut up and pay attention or physically exit the conversation.
Many years ago, I arrived at a point in my life where I was faced with a decision. Either I could continue my openly expressed disdain for conversational “small talk,” or I could accept its prevalence and develop my own “small” arsenal of conversational weaponry. For many years I managed to escape from many situations involving small talk, even avoiding many casual conversations on the grounds of borderline uselessness. Eventually, I stopped hiding and would openly criticize people wasting time with such nonsense. Of course, throughout high school and even college, not many people seemed to care about my conversational preferences. However, after aging a few years and relocating to my family from downtown Seattle to small-town Moses Lake, openly rejecting meaningless dialogue quickly isolated me from everyone else.
As time went on, I gradually learned to “speak the language,” as it were. Especially at work, small talk and joking around is the order of the day, every day. Now that I have the picked up the general rhythm of everyday jibba-jabba, I find the days passing much more smoothly. Nevertheless, despite having acquired the native tongue, so to speak, I have simultaneously manage to nurture a rather high level of contempt for human reluctance to venture beyond the conversational toilet bowl and into the upper chambers of abstract thought and philosophical discourse. Thus, after several years of intense, focused study, I am now fluent in “dumb-ass” like everyone else, but also enjoy the lush benefits of approaching public dialogue with an ability and eagerness to delve into deeper conversational waters. Seriously, sometimes I feel like a double agent or something — a conversational assassin covertly executing small-talk sabotage around every corner.
Now, whenever I am confronted with unwanted chit-chat, I may play the “nice guy” and entertain the ultra-witty with a phew phast ones; or, if I find the conversation to be nothing more than an egotistical cage match, I will follow along and try to mix things up a bit. One of my favorite techniques for shifting conversational gears involves listening and responding to the literal meaning that is being communicated during such wit-fests. Rather than fueling the idiocy with additional innuendos and unspoken implications, I will begin following the conversation “below the radar,” so to speak, listening to the actual ideas that are being exchanged rather than their inferred abstract associations. Then, when the opportunity seems golden, I will casually insert a simple “why is that?” or “what do you mean by that?” Simple questions asking “why” and “how” are excellent points of contact for redirecting an otherwise mundane chat toward a mutually beneficial exploration of human thought.