Introverts generally lack the social skill of “small talk.” And it’s not because they don’t like people or don’t know how to talk to people, it’s more that they don’t see the value in apparently meaningless small talk. Conversations should have purpose and direction. Aimlessly wandering chit chat feels labored and forced.
I’m an introvert.
I had two slightly different, but related, experiences with my lack of small talk skills within the last week.
I invited someone to come watch me teach my class and then I’m going to go watch him teach so that we can compare notes. We are teaching different sections of the same class. It’s my fifth time teaching this class. It’s his first. And I TAed for the class three other times as well. After the class he came up to me and said, “You know, you’re more outgoing when you teach than you are regularly.” Which to me was kind of a “duh!” moment.
Teaching is my thing! I love it. It makes me feel alive! Regular small talk is a not a live feeling kind of thing. Plus, teaching is a conversation with direction and purpose.
While I do not do well with large groups and chit chat, I do just fine teaching or speaking in front of a large group because of the purpose behind it.
I am just about finished with the challenge to read one non-fiction book for every letter of the alphabet. In fact yesterday I finished my book for the letter U – The Elegant Universe. It puts string theory in normal people terms. I am loving this challenge because it gives me so many different things to think about. And well read people are generally more interesting. However, while “what are you reading?” might be a great small talk conversation starter, obscure non-fiction is rarely a good small talk answer.
Brett and I were at an event this weekend where star shaped cookies were served. While eating a cookie I commented to Brett that they made me think of string theory (in the early 1990s there were five different versions of the theories, eventually it was discovered that they were just different ways of looking at the same theory, rather like looking at each of the arms of a starfish individually and then learning that they all connect in one whole).
And if it had been just Brett and I, that wouldn’t have been bad. He and I have had many different conversations about this topic. But it wasn’t.
Another woman was standing at the cookie table with us and she looked at me when I said that. Which for some reason meant I then started explaining the whole starfish thing to her and the basics of what it meant with regards to the theory and how it was a metaphor for the unification of the different versions of the theory. Which just got me more strange looks before she walked away. She’ll probably never talk to me again.
Next time I must remember that unification theories in physics are not good topics for small talk.