Social Woes

Despite being in the newspaper, I’m terrible at making small talk

Morgan Tate

Any conversation I’m part of usually goes something like this: we start off talking about school or a book or something or other. The conversation’s fun and I’m engaged. Then, from that point, it can go a couple of ways. 

Maybe the conversation turns to a topic I know nothing about, a topic I can’t add anything to. So I sit off to the side, trying to listen. I want to know what everyone has to say. I care about them, it’s just,eventually, I space off and I’m in my own head.

Or I might try to add to the conversation to show I care. But then I realize the only thing I can do to add more is connect back to whatever is on my mind, the book I read or the class I suck at or the song I’ve been listening to on repeat. However, those things are never what’s on anyone else’s mind so I come off as a disconnected. I look self-centered and random. Then, at some point, I start rambling about whatever I’m interested in at the moment and add too much to the conversation.

Maybe I’m listening to a friend rant about their teacher. It’s hard to express my feelings with words at the moment, so I share a meme that may not be tonally appropriate, an image of pasta with a caption saying “this is a Fettuccine Alfredo moment.”

This is how I show I care, but to them, I come off as a crazy person. 

The worst thing is, they don’t react. They just treat me kind of like a child who just showed you their messy macaroni art project.

But, that’s just me in casual conversation. 

I am not good at talking to people. Surprising, I know, because I’m a writer for the newspaper. I talk to people all the time for the paper. 

The difference? I interview people. I don’t have to be a part of small talk with other people.

It gets much worse in stressful social interactions. When people start talking about heavy topics, such as politics or their ailing grandmother or religion. Or my post-high school plans. As soon as the question pops up, I shut down immediately or try to joke about my lack of plans. 

I have another big problem when it comes to conversations, I have trouble making direct eye contact with people. I don’t mean to be rude. Direct eye contact just feels… well, itchy. This carries somewhat into my interviewing, but I’m better at it.

Interviewing is different from talking to people because interviewing requires a clearly defined goal. I know I need to get the information required to write a good story. I have preset questions I’ve carefully thought out and written down. Even when I don’t use those, I still know the angle of the story. I’m not forced to add much to the conversation, which makes it even easier. I just ask the questions and sit back to listen and think about what to ask next.

Impromptu conversation remains difficult for me. I don’t try to be annoying, selfish or rude, but I can come off that way. I’m trying to solve my conundrum, attentively listening to others, not tiptoeing around the difficult stuff and keeping the tone of the conversation in mind. 

As I learn and grow, please bear with me and realize, I know my small talk sucks.