Thursday, May 21, 2009

Talking Point

I’m shy. I was extremely shy as a little kid. Then, in third grade, with the help of Mrs. Farley, I began to turn things around. By the time I hit high school and college I was an extroverted introvert. So much so that as a college upperclassman, freshmen sometimes thought the gregarious, outgoing me was inebriated. My friends would tell the newcomers “Nope. That’s just Lee.” Later, life threw me a couple of curve balls and I found myself right back in Shyville. It was safe there. Quiet and invisible has its rewards; safety chief among them.

Happily, my life has been very good for many years now. Most of the time, folks I meet have no idea I’m shy. But sometimes I struggle mightily. One of the places where I still reflexively retreat is in large social situations with all new people. That dreadful, awkward, painful small talk one has to make with complete strangers, can leave me quaking in advance. Every social faux pas I have ever made threatens to play in a continuous loop before I arrive at the gathering. Once there, I have to muster my courage and latent acting skills to banish the deer-in-the-headlights-look or the equally likely I’ll-just-stand-here-and-look-at-the-framed-certificate-of-occupancy-over-here-in-the-corner.

Well, I just found a cheat sheet to help me in those ever so strange stranger moments. Gretchen Rubin of the Happiness Project has “Seven Tips For Making Good Conversation With A Stranger”. The suggestion which resonated most profoundly with me was the following question:

”What’s keeping you busy these days?”

It’s brilliant isn’t it? Instead of “What do you do?” you can ask: “What’s keeping you busy these days?” which allows the person to answer from any area of their life they’re comfortable with. If they want to tell you they work for a collection agency and your name sounds familiar - fine - awkward but fine! But they might volunteer that all their free time is spent Geo-Caching and wouldn’t that be interesting.

Having been on the receiving end of some blunt and insensitive questions over the years, I want to spread the word that “What’s keeping you busy these days?” is a gracious and welcome way to begin a conversation with a stranger; especially a naturally shy one like me.


Sue said...

I love this. Most of my friends don't think I'm shy either, but put me with people I don't know and I just can't find the words to make a conversation flow comfortably. Unless I've had a glass of wine, of course! I'm especially bad with men, which leaves me with little hope...

Thank goodness for blogging, that way we can get to know new people, without actually standing face-to-face and one day (hopefully) when we eventually meet up, we'll all know each other so well. Hey, we should organise a bloggers getaway somewhere...

dancingmorganmouse said...

It's a great idea but I suspect if someone asked me that in a situation where I wasn't comfortable, I'd probably just come up with "oh, stuff" of something equally lame.
Like Sue said, thank goodness for blogging, tis a great way to "meet" for we shy folk.

Pink Granite said...

Hi Sue -
Blogging is a remarkable thing, which really does allow us to get to know each other without those awkward silences!
I can just imagine a Blogger's Getaway - none of us would be able to get a word in edgewise!
- Lee

Hi DMM -
Oh dear, I hadn't thought of that possibility!
But I am thinking that the next time I get asked one of the less gracious questions, I'll take a deep breath and say: "Well, what's been keeping me busy these days is..."
Here's hoping it catches on!
- Lee

Roo said...

Aha! My problem is not shyness, but more the
a) god I have a gob on me when I'm drunk, and
b) I can be guaranteed to put my foot into a conversation... like the time I once asked a customer if she would like baby carrots, and after about 4 refusals, I, not giving up, pronounced, "well they are good for your eyesight"... deathly silence, until her guide dog moved under her chair... I fled, she laughed, I apologised, she was in hysterics. Sometimes it is better to go with the first answer!

Unfortunately my brain hates a conversation vacuum, and my comedy centre conspires with it and my mouth to make me look like an idiot on numerous occasions. I am famed and damned by it in equal parts ;o)

Roo said...

Oh, and a Blogger get-together, great idea. So far we have one UK resident, one SA, one US, and one Oz... who is the easiest to get to? and do I need to bring a bottle?

Gretchen Rubin said...

Hi Lee,
I saw the nice mention of my blog, The Happiness Project, here. I very much appreciate those kind words and you shining a spotlight on my blog. Thanks and best wishes! Gretchen Rubin

barbie2be said...

that is a great idea for someone who is a little shy. me? i will talk to anyone, anywhere. :)