Monday, January 29, 2018

Stamping on the Hermit Gene

There are a hundred websites dedicated to the art of conversation. I should have read the information on one of them before I went on a staff leaving do at the weekend. For years I battled with extreme shyness. I am still not comfortable in the presence of people. I was talking to a friend of mine about my approaching retirement. Right now I have to interact with people – soon, I won’t have to. The hermit gene will kick in and I will start hunting for an empty cave. God has told me that mine is not the role of the hermit – but my DNA feels wired that way.

Back to the website on conversation. An autopsy of the evening is probably not a good idea but I might learn how to be not such a dull dodo of the person sitting next to you the next time. This cones from a page highlighting six tips to a better conversation.

!. Lead with a compliment.

I didn’t do this. I thought about it twice. The people either side of me had poshed up for the occasion. I had changed my top for something brighter. We did compliment the food and the size of the portions. We had been led to expect something along the nouveau cuisine line with an emphasis on presentation rather than quantity. I’d planned a stop off at the chippy later.

Oh yes, I forgot to say that I had left my hearing aids behind. It wasn’t deliberate. I thought about going home to get them but I’m one of these must-arrive-early kind of people and there were roadworks everywhere. 

2. Embrace small talk.

“Small talk is what leads the way to deeper conversation, much in the way that a car must gradually accelerate to a certain speed rather than hitting 60 miles an hour instantaneously.” I don’t do small talk. Actually, I don’t talk, small or otherwise. I do silence and I do deep and nothing in between.

Did anyone talk about the weather? I don’t think so. The people around me were conversation experts and I was happy to nod and smile in what I thought were appropriate places. Remember I was without my hearing aids!

3. Ask lots of questions. 

This I did well. One of the ladies near me was a keen skier. I shared my skiing story with her – note the use of the singular rather than the plural. I tried it once, without lessons, and with a young lad trailing after me to pull me back to my feet when I fell over. I fell over often. 

She also has many American connections. What to say about President Trump can be a bit like walking on ice. To those who are Trump supporters her response is a chuckle and a “He’s a bit of a rascal.” To those who are not supporters she can be a little more direct. 

The lady on the other side of me was holding down a second job. She was being paid less than some of the younger staff and doing more work than them. They seemed to spend time, elbows on the counter, mobile phones in front of them if they weren’t serving someone. They could have been wiping tables or brushing floors or something more useful. 

You should be scouting the entire conversation for “tell me more” opportunities.” The people around me seemed quite happy being nudged into more talking. That’s not to say I didn’t say anything. Eyes almost popped out of heads at the news that I was one of six children, the boys topping over six feet and the girls barely scraping five feet nothing. Once upon a time I was four feet eleven inches – but I’ve shrunk a few inches. Was I going to keep shrinking? They seemed concerned.

4. Be nice
I really don’t know whether I come across as friendly. I’m not sure I do. Remember – I don’t have my hearing aids. Asking someone to repeat what they said could have been taken as me not paying attention, or me apparently not interested enough to listen. It’s me trying to hear in among the general noise of scuffed chairs, dropped cutlery and other restaurant noises.

Maybe my smile had taken on a manic look – me overcompensating for the lack of being able to hear!

5. Let the other person do the talking

Definitely happy with this one. I rarely dominate conversations. That’s an understatement if ever there was one. ”Try to keep the focus on them as much as possible.” This is where I come into my own in conversations.

I wouldn’t say that I live a boring life – but watching paint dry probably has more appeal! That’s not true. I think the problem is that I can’t bear for people to show too little interest in the things that float my boat. Or maybe it’s the potential of mockery. I don’t know many people who love poetry – the writing and the reading of it. To confess to being a poet feels like it is too far out of people’s experience. They don’t seem to realise that every song they listen to is poetry put to music. There is so much about what I do that I feel I have to justify doing it. People’s natural reaction to learning that I’m an RE teacher is to tell me that they didn’t like RE in school. And you needed to tell me that…why?

And of course, there’s God who floats my boat – in a world where He gets so little respect. 

6. Keep it light

The workplace had just gone through a mini inspection. I had escaped the experience because one of the people due to visit me was sick.  There was no complaining about the visits. No one has added any song and dance routines to appeal to the visitors. It was business as usual. No one really talked about the job and all the pressures at all.

I would have liked to have ordered dessert – but no one else did. I suppose I could have asked for extra spoons and allowed people to dig in. I didn’t think about it at the time and I do tend to be a little territorial where pudding is concerned. I settled for coffee.

I remembered it was Friday and putting two coherent thoughts together on a Friday evening is a challenge. I wasn’t wanting to be the first to leave – but neither did anyone else want to be. Someone has got to be the first. I left first. I didn’t stop off at the chippy.

I wish I found being sociable easier. I am reminded of something Elizabeth Bennet says to Darcy in “Pride and Prejudice” about being sociable – one needs to practice.

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