Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Art of Conversation

Yesterday I had to attend a work related function, a sort of trade show type thing. Dozens of tables were set up with various toys and games and it was my job (and the job of a hundred or so other toy folks from around the NW) to walk around playing the games and chatting with the representatives so that we could go back to our respective bosses and share our opinions about what games our stores should carry. (That makes me sound important doesn't it? Believe me, I am but a minor cog.)

As I was walking around chatting with representative after representative, I felt so very awkward. I don't know if I looked awkward or seemed awkward, but it occurred to me that even now, at almost 35 years old, conversation and small talk doesn't come to me easily and when I'm with a large group of people I still feel like a social freak. I feel like I have to work really hard to be as normal as the rest of the room.

All my life I've always classified myself as 'shy' mainly because that was the label everyone else gave to me. But as I've gotten older, I really don't think that label applies and I'm starting to wonder if it ever did. I consider shy people to be people who are afraid to talk to others. That's not me. I'm not scared of people and I'm not afraid that I'll look silly or say something stupid. Simply put, I just don't always have something to say. Even if the conversation is about something I know a lot about, it's sometimes hard for me to put the right words together to express how knowledgeable I actually am. By the time I sort it all out in my head, the conversation has moved on. The words are there, but somewhere between my brain and my mouth, they get stuck. I wonder why this is?

Jay, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. He always has the words and will say them to anyone and everyone. Because of this he sometimes (completely innocently) talks for me or over me. Or before I get a chance to. I certainly don't blame Jay for this. It's his personality and he can't change it anymore than I can transform myself into a Chatty Cathy. But it's frustrating. When we're out together, there are times I feel like his sidekick. Or a minor character in The Jay Show. And I don't want that. I think everyone wants to be the star of their own show. It's just that my show, unfortunately, happens to star a mute who mostly wants to live in her own head, and no one wants to watch that.

Does anyone else feel this way sometimes? Often?


Veronica said...

I can totally relate! Sometimes I just don't talk because it's too much work to keep it entertaining. That's just me being a) Lazy; b) Struggling to find a common ground with the other party; or C) Sending out nonverbal messages like "I don't like you, please go away."

I think I'm ok one-on-one, but I've noticed that when i'm in a large group (ok, it's really two or three people), I just don't want to participate or when I do participate, i feel like the socially awkward brother-in-law from The Hangover ("How bout that ride into Vegas? heheheheheh." yep, that me!).

I don't think i was like this when I was younger, but over time, something happened.

Emily said...

I think your talent lies in writing words. I bet Jay isn't as talented in the written word, you are the star in the Tammie Show in that area.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

You write so well.
You are funny, articulate and damn smart so that makes it so difficult for me to see you the way you describe yourself.

I understand all that you say and while it all makes perfect sense to me I guess without meeting you in person it is hard for me to wrap my head around it.

I would guess you neither look awkward or seemed awkward but it is a feeling you just have about yourself. But it must be a bit exhausting to do as you say, "work really hard to be as normal as the rest of the room."

As you know I am Jay.
But because of that appearance of the ability to talk to anyone everyone thinks I have all this confidence. It's all smoke and mirrors baby!! :-) Those so called "normal" people are probably thinking things along the same line as you.

I have a saying - When I was young and I walked into a room/party I wanted everyone to like me. Now when I walk into a room/party I hope I like somebody!
Keep thinking that way and it may make you more comfortable in those situations over time.

If not, fuck 'em. You're perfect to me! (and your family)

Anonymous said...

I have the opposite problem, which believe me is just as bad. By that, I mean I sometimes speak before I think. I also tend to be too honest, which has really endeared me to the other moms at school functions (NOT)!

Maria Rose said...

Since my dad was/is a pastor I have always been forced into strange conversations. I think that I can find something to talk about with anyone. Now as I age I find that I am a bit more reserved because I don't feel the strong need to fill in the awkward silences. Plus I can gratefully let Eric do the talking in many situations.

Tammie said...

veronica: yep! thats exactly how i feel. and i think im fine one and one also, but ive noticed that i tend to gravitate towards people with personalities either exactly like mine (so they dont mind the occasional awkward silence) or completely opposite mine (so they can fill in the blanks and keep the conversation going.)

emily: yay! thank you! i can write the script for the tammie show and find someone else to play me. im fine with that. i choose winona ryder.

peggy: thank you so much for all the kind words. and yeah, when i have to be in a true social situation, where i have to mingle with a lot of people, its incredibly stressful and exhausting. and i really like your advice-to hope i like someone- just thinking that takes some of the performance anxiety off of me.

zoe: if i knew you in real life, id probably be drawn to you because standing next to you would take the pressure off of me. but yeah, im sure your situation comes with its own challenges.

maria rose: i can NEVER think of anything to talk about with ANYONE. although, its better here than it was in the south, where my likes and dislikes never synced up with anyone elses.

~ The Jolly Bee ~ said...

I'm finding of late that I have less and less to say to people. Small talk just doesn't rank high on my list of things to do. No. You are not alone.

Daphne said...

Hello, INFJ! You + me = peas in a pod. I totally know what you are talking about. I'm *usually* okay in a one-on-one but even then I am often struck dumb and can't think of a single thing to say. I SUCK at small talk. And going to a trade show where I'm supposed to talk to tons of people? Nightmare. I like people, and I like, for instance, sitting at a table with a bunch of people, but I don't usually want to say much. I listen. And then offer a comment or two to the person next to me. But I really, really, really suck at smalltalk and chitchat. Dismal failure. I really need to work on that one. So you're definitely not alone. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) Terri is an actual shy person (as opposed to me, who is not really shy, but just reserved and not a talker), so if we're in a group, it's up to me to talk (usually). So we're a pretty quiet pair. :)

Tammie said...

daphne: after i wrote this i reread my INFJ profile again. the fact that it is so spot on is somewhat reassuring. also, i love how whenever im talking to you in person, i dont have to worry about keeping the conversation a float. if it dies it dies. we're both aware that that's just us being us. :)

jodi: i think thats a part of it to. i can usually tell right away if im going to feel a connection with someone. if i know im not going to, i dont waste my time TRYING to make small talk.

mandy said...

you are definitely not alone! i love talking to people but then often find myself second guessing things i have said, was that weird, was that too much, and my goodness, when there aren't kids around, i sure do use a lot of curse words, should i stop doing that...more than shy, i'm pretty sure i am awkward, which i guess, is one reason i like to blog. your writing is wonderful, and i would love to talk to you in real life one day because i think so many of us who don't 'fit' in really 'fit' well together, if that makes sense?

DysFUNctional Mom said...

That trade show thingy sounds very cool.
I dont have that exact problem, but I loved your description of being a minor character in the Jay Show.
My problem is, I have to warm up to people before I talk a lot, so sometimes people can't get a good impression of me early on because I don't talk much. Once they get to know me they may really like me, but if they don't take that chance they may not ever know. This can make things like job interviews especially hard, so I have to really try to come out of that shell and show my real personality.
However, give me a couple of drinks and I talk waaayyyy more than I should.

hester said...

This was such an interesting post and comments. Sounds like lots of people struggle a bit with the whole conversation with strangers thing. My problem is usually the opposite of yours - I ramble on saying too much to avoid an awkward silence and then feel like an idiot. At least you sound dignified!

sitting on the mood swing at the playground said...

I often find that when I'm in similar situations I feel that my awkwardness is so apparent. I feel I stand out because I'm not as "smooth" as others. I leave and think of all the witty remarks, bright observations, etc. that I could have made.

I envy (and admire) people who are be truly comfortable in those circumstances because it's foreign territory to me.

Dani said...

I can relate. I'm not shy...but sometimes I look at a group of people and think, "I have nothing in common with you people...we aren't going to be friends...what's the point?". That sounds snotty, but sometimes it is what it is.

Then, there are those times when I don't give a rat's ass and can talk to a tree. But usually alcohol is involved.

ain't for city gals said...

I think most people talk just to talk...they are not really saying anything. In the book A New Earth it describes it as our ego talking...then most people aren't even listening...just thinking of what they are going to say next. Looking forard to reading your past and future posts..

kraftykash said...

I tend to be more like Jay. I find myself talking too much at times. I am good at filling in the quiet awkward silence. Its a talent, yo

jessie at luna pacifica said...

I'll admit, my willingness to open up depends greatly on how much alcohol I have consumed.

I always feel out of place. Doesn't matter what group of people I am in, I feel like the odd ball.

Michelle said...

I know what you mean. I'm not shy, or scared of folks, either but I do feel socially awkward anytime a social environment calls for small talk. It may be a part of some personalities to have this come easier to them, but it is also a skill that can be learned with practice. And if one finds herself/himself in the position to practice often, no matter what their personality type, a certain level of skill will come. People who work with other people, for example, and communication is part of the environment work their style out with practice, even when they are painfully shy.